Susan and Mark Adams first went gung ho for gardening as newlyweds in 1987, after buying a charming Hunting Ridge bungalow set on a hilly eighth of an acre.
"We didn't know anything at the time," recalls Susan. "But we were inspired by our neighbors who loved to garden. We got some lilacs from them—which, of course, love the sun—but we stuck them in the deepest dark. Our neighbors were just laughing at us. But after that, we began to learn."
Before long, Susan, a venture capitalist, and Mark, a visual artist with a home studio, had gotten their own garden—dense with azaleas, hostas, astilbe, and other shade-loving plants—off the ground. Mark's art also found its way into the garden, such as his recreation of Renaissance painter Antonio da Correggio's "Jupiter and Antiope"—originally painted for a production at the Peabody Opera—that they hung on the back wall of the garage.
"It was this satyr looking over a sleeping, naked nymph," recalls Susan. "It was painted on this massive piece of muslin." Adds Mark, "It was not uncommon for us to find people wandering around our yard who were curious about the painting. It became known as 'the house with the nude painting.'"
The garden even won an award—of sorts. Giggles Susan, "We were bestowed with 'Yard of the Month' in the local neighborhood leaflet. Needless to say, we were thrilled."
Despite the good press, by 1994, the couple found themselves yearning for more property and a garden with some southern exposure. "We had gardened that garden within an inch of its life," laughs Susan. "It was hard to grow things in the shade, so we moved to a two-lot, 10-acre property in Reisterstown. We thought it was going to be great, but it wasn't. As it turns out, everything grows in the sun." Weeds were an issue.
"The grass is always greener," says Mark. "A weed in the shade is a mayapple or a fern. A weed in the sun is a thistle which is a horrible thing that hurts when you pull it. When we lived in the shade, we wanted sun. When we finally got sun, we realized we wanted shade."
By 2009, the Adamses decided to uproot one more time, building their French-country style dream home on a rambling one-acre piece of property in Sparks with equal amounts of shade and sun. To help them fulfill their vision, they hired award-wining landscape designer Bob Jackson to lay out the space in conjunction with the building of the house.
A new, breathtaking garden takes center stage with an abundance of Lenten roses, clematis, peonies, lilacs, specimen trees, as well as an herb garden, peaceful pond, and a bluestone patio for frequent entertaining. "What we learned is that we really love spending time outside, " says Susan. "We almost spent more time on the outside than the inside. You buy a sofa and it just sits there, but a garden always brings you pleasure."
This time around, the couple has gotten exactly what they wanted. "In many ways, what we've tried to do in our new home is recreate the original garden where we first fell in love with gardening," says Mark. "It's such a thrill to see it unfold." Sums up Susan: "In this case, the third time is the charm."