In 1991, when Shari Wilson moved into her first home, a rowhouse in Fells Point, it had rooms with views—but unfortunately, they were of the knee-high weeds that were growing in the backyard. In an effort to improve the vista, Wilson and her partner, Hans Miller, decided to take matters into their own hands. After a full weekend of digging in the dirt, to their delight, they found an old brick patio with a deep square of dirt in the middle nearly a foot beneath the soil’s surface.
“When we discovered it, Hans and I went to Hechinger’s and bought these sad-looking plants leaning in the corner that had been reduced to 75 percent off,” recalls Wilson, laughing at the memory. “We bought a dogwood tree and bags of crocus bulbs. I remember saying to Hans, ‘I don’t even know what to do with them’—I grew up in South Florida where everything grows prolifically, and I never really paid any attention to gardening. I’ll never forget what Hans said to me: ‘You plant them in the ground, and they grow back in the spring.’ So I planted them and forgot about them, and the next spring all of a sudden I looked out the window and the dogwood was in bloom, and the crocuses were in bloom, and I was like, ‘Wow.’”
Fast forward to 1996, when Wilson and Miller decided to tackle a much larger project—a 1914 shingle-style house in Ruxton sitting on just under a third of an acre (not exactly a huge property, but compared to their Fells Point plot, a veritable Versailles). “At first we were overwhelmed,” says Wilson. “[But] I just started to imagine each piece of the yard like a little garden or ‘room.’ That was the only way I could get through it.”
And she quickly realized that perfection was neither possible, nor necessary. “Gardening is so forgiving—if you put something in a place and it doesn’t do very well, a week later you can just move it,” she chuckles.
Once she got into the swing of things, Wilson, an attorney who works for Baltimore City redeveloping hazardous-waste sites, knew she wanted to go organic with a profusion of native plants. “In my professional life, I’ve worked with organizations related to environmental issues,” says Wilson, who uses saved rainwater to feed her container plants, “and there’s a big push in this area to promote native plants. They are drought tolerant. They are easy to care for. Native plants just make so much sense. It is easier to go with the flow. Why would you try to contain nature when you know that the plants that are native are going to do well?”
To date, Wilson’s garden is not only doing well, it’s thriving. Native perennials, shrubs, trees, and vines grace nearly every corner of her property. Her dazzling
combinations of color—warm blues and purples playing off cool greens; reds highlighted by yellows—have transformed the one-time English country garden into a haven for hummingbirds and other wildlife.
Wilson sees the connection between what she sees at work (the transformation of industrial sites) and her chosen hobby. “In the garden, with patience and very few resources, there’s transformation in that you can create a habitat so that you have birds and butterflies.” She smiles, savoring the thought: “I love progress.”