According to John Skillman, a long-time Hartney Greymont customer, the secret to achieving the effects you want in your trees and yard has three parts.
The first is to know what works best in the New England climate. The Skillmans rely on Hartney Greymont for this expertise. For example, Japanese maples were recommended, which are hardy enough to take local winters in stride. (Mark also suggested that the Skillmans plant swamp azaleas. Twenty years later, they’re still enjoying the intense fragrance.)
The second key to success is realizing that beautiful grounds will always be a work-in-progress, with many an unexpected turn along the way. John Skillman says that finding the right location for certain shrubs—and even trees—is an experimental process. “I don’t mind waiting,” he says.
One strategy that Hartney Greymont has recommended to the Skillmans is planting trees and shrubs so that one can be seen through another. The juxtaposition of different colored leaves can be impressive, and there are several striking examples of this technique around the property.
Finally, it’s important to remember that the work never really stops. “The British take a multi-generational view,” John says. “There are gardens in England hundreds of years old. But they think in terms of season to season, if not day to day.”
Pruning is a never-ending task and it is essential to bringing out the beauty of shrubs and plants. John’s approach is to layer the pruning so that the inner structure of the plant is visible. When it comes to ornamental pruning, however, he looks to Hartney Greymont.
Careful but aggressive pruning is also critical to maintaining the health of the Skillmans’ plants and trees. John advises against creating the solid-looking façade favored by some. “Better to cut in layers so that the sun can penetrate all the way through.”
There are dozens of shrubs and trees on their property, including over 20 varieties of Hosta (Big Daddy, Francis Williams, Janet), viburnum, clematis, cardinal flowers, day lilies, sweet woodruff, American holly and Japanese snowbell. Every single plant is thriving.
Any arborist would be eager to tour the Skillmans’ large and eclectic assortment of trees. There are several varieties of Japanese maple--including a rare Northern Californian variety--a Sourwood (or Sorrel) tree, grey birch, white and red oak, yew trees, hemlocks, a Weeping Larch, pines, lilac trees, a Paper Bark Maple and an Acosa dogwood.
How involved has Hartney Greymont been in all this? “Closely involved, from the earliest planning stage,” John says. And they have done such an outstanding job for him that, after he retired, John went to work for HG. Working with the crew that maintains the garden in Post Office Square is deeply satisfying to him.
One final note. Although most gardener/arborists never reach this level of execution, John has carefully lit the property so that at night he and his family can enjoy “a truly magical environment.
“I only wish I could share this place with more gardeners,” he says. “I think it would inspire just about anybody.”