Interior designer Robyn Collins has a very different take on gardens. She sees her one-acre garden as a series of other “rooms” that are part of her house. It’s a place where accessories and flower arrangements vary according to season and where there are “secret places” to relax and hide out. Above all, it’s a space where family and visitors feel just as comfortable outside as they do indoors.
“I’ve always thought a garden should be as welcoming as possible, just like a house,” says Collins, who runs her design firm, RDC, out of her Bethesda home. In her garden you’re greeted by cheery primulas and stately irises, nodding daylilies and waving ornamental grasses as you stroll across a beautifully crafted stone bridge that traverses a narrow creek. Approaching the front door on a spring day, vibrant purple pansies line the front walk on either side and surround upright boxwood in large urns on either side of the front door. A small planter filled with more violet pansies adorns a coffee table that completes the front porch seating arrangement. It’s clear that this is the garden of a designer who brings her professional eye and flair outside.
When Robyn Collins and her husband, Bill, bought the property in 2004, they completely renovated the house, opting to leave the existing swimming pool and pool house in place. However, they decided that the garden needed a major overhaul. Collins immediately turned to Melissa Clark of Landscape Projects, Inc., who worked on parts of the garden in the couple’s previous home in Potomac.
Together, Collins and Clark walked the landscape and decided which plants to save, which ones to discard and which elements to include in the basic design. “Robyn wanted a kind of English-looking garden,” says Clark, “with lots of lavenders and pinks and soft pastel colors, and spots of yellow here and there.”
In the rear yard, Collins designed the pond and waterfall just off the rear patio in conjunction with Burtonsville, Maryland-based Premier Ponds. Tall ornamental grasses seclude the pool from view. Clark explains that a spring runs under the entire site, so much of the yard contains plants that tolerate wet sites, such as sweetbay magnolia, red-twig dogwood, summersweet and Virginia sweetspire.
Collins alters her garden’s décor with the change of seasons. In spring and summer, she relies on her bountiful flowering plants for arrangements, but in winter she switches to holly and Southern magnolia leaves, berries and tiny Japanese cedar pinecones. In the breezeway that runs from the front to the back yard, Collins often rotates the adornments, from watering cans to coffee pots to birdhouses or figures of squirrels or rabbits. She swaps the green cushions covering her outdoor furniture in fall and spring with khaki-and-white ones in summer. “Whether it’s the stonework, the fencing, the candles you put on your deck or the cushions you put on your seating pieces, it all plays a part,” she says.
She also believes that sound plays an integral role in a home’s décor. “A house has music; it has the noise of the people and all the commotion,” she says. Collins sets an audible stage outdoors with the soothing sounds of the stream in her front yard, the waterfall in back and wind chimes strung here and there. “A garden,” she says, “needs to have a voice, just like a house does.”
Jane Berger is a Washington, DC-based writer and publisher of GardenDesignOnline.com. Melissa Clark is a certified landscape designer and photographer at Landscape Projects, Inc., in Bethesda, Maryland.
Landscape Design: Melissa Clark, Landscape Projects, Inc., Bethesda, Maryland