Garden Design, Restoration and Maintenance by Andrea Watson
A GARDENER OF DELIGHT
Courtesy of Loudoun Art Magazine written by Merri Nelson
6 APRIL 2001
A gentle wood sprite flits about Loudoun. Dressed in her jeans, big sweater, and wellies, Andrea Watson is a familiar sight. For over 30 years she’s been quietly at work in gardens large and small, transforming the Loudoun landscape. Andrea has a unique gardening style, and her secret is simple: a gardener with heart, she cherishes growing things and believes in the magic of a garden. Clients choose her for the look she creates, weaving her own style in harmony with each garden site and owner’s needs. Andrea has an artist’s eye for design and a love and knowledge of plants, a rare combination. “A garden should reflect the owners’ personality, be an extension of their living space and a haven, a peaceful retreat,” Andy listens thoughtfully to her clients as they walk about the space together, hearing their expressed desires, expectations, and hopes. Her designs reflect that and more, adding an element of elegance, magic, mystery, and always tranquility. Gently curving paths wind through beds filled with drifts of flowers and foliage in soothing colors, past the texture-tapestry of trees and shrubs. A path disappears, beckoning the visitor to explore what lies beyond the bend. She deftly orchestrates the space in even the smallest garden to feel welcoming and restful, a place to restore the soul. With an air of composure and quiet confidence, Andrea inspires trust. Clients know that the beautiful garden space she envisions for their weed-choked lot or barren acres of ground will happen: she sees it, and they believe.
A Gardener of Delight
When it’s time to get down to hard work, the wood sprite is transformed into taskmaster, construction boss, and crew foreman. Dressed in her worn work boots and khakis, she’s ready for the dirty, hands on business of getting things done, often working beside her crew, showing them the proper depth to dig the hole for a sapling, lugging shrubs, transplanting, dividing, plugging in bulbs, and muscling rock walls and pond liners into place. She’s equally at ease directing the backhoe operator, discussing joists with the carpenter, or the repointing of old stone with the mason. Hiring only skilled craftsmen, she’s on the job early and late, and no small detail escapes her. Her clients know that they’ll have the best garden possible; and she delivers, bringing to life the plans she drafts on paper. “I usually work six months in advance: designing in the winter and planting in spring to see the garden develop by fall. A garden takes three to five years to grow into itself. There’s a rhythm to the process; gardens need time to mature,” Andrea smiles. “I don’t do instant gardens. And the success of a good garden depends on design - it’s all about the underlying structure. Andy understands hardscape and structure, carefully planning paths, drives, pergolas, and garden beds, blending aesthetics with practicality. She can create a design that lies so lightly on the landscape you’re barely aware of its presence, allowing the plantings to take center stage. A deep respect for the land and the environment underlies all of her work; each garden is unique because she works with what the site offers - its soil, trees, land contours, microclimates, the history, age, and styles of existing structures - rather than imposing her will upon it. She takes an organic approach, using natural fertilizers and compost that enrich the soil and help the plants thrive.
A Gardener Begins
Andrea fell in love with gardening as a teenager in Reston; meeting women professionals who worked the soil and shaped the landscape, she decided to make gardening her career. Andy’s mother was an entrepreneurial role model: a dancer who, as a young divorced mother, founded and ran a successful dance school and children’s theatre in Reston. “I saw that with dedication and hard work you could succeed on your own as a woman in a creative field,” says Andy. She worked long and hard, first as a gardener/crew leader for Reston Homeowners Association, then as head gardener for several estates. She started her own garden design business, attended NOVA and learned computer aided design, receiving her Associates in Applied Science Degree in Horticulture Technology/Landscape in 1987.She came to Leesburg as an estate gardener in 1985, worked as a landscape designer for a large nursery, and then became Assistant Horticulturalist at Oatlands Plantation under Alfredo Sianni, restoring and maintaining the formal gardens. Pursuing her love of historic design and preservation, she’s traveled to great estate gardens in England to observe and learn. “I love living and working in Loudoun. The countryside is beautiful and inspiring; I enjoy the people, and there is a sense of history here. Andy has a reverence for strong, formal design, the knot gardens and boxwood alees that reflect Virginia’s colonial heritage. Restoration of gardens on historic properties is a specialty, and her handwork is everywhere: at Oatlands, the Laurel Brigade Inn, historic homes in Leesburg, and many country estates. “Garden restoration is only part of my work; designing for new properties is fun and challenging, and it’s a nice balance. I especially enjoy creating natural gardens with a woodland feel that echoes the Loudoun landscape.”
All Things Beautiful
Since beginning her business in 1975, Andrea has lived in Loudoun - Hamilton, Bluemont, Leesburg, Purcellville, and Round Hill - and feels a part of the local landscape. She’s created gardens wherever she's lived, but she’s never had a retail space to base her business. For years there’s been a faerie sitting on Andrea’s shoulder, whispering, “you need a greenhouse, a shop.” And it’s finally happening. Last year, Andy and her two daughters, Morgan May and Airynee May, formed a team and moved into the historic Walker and Clark building on Route 9 in Paeonian Springs. Both girls have been involved in the plant business for years, following in their mother’s footsteps after growing up playing and pulling weeds with Andy in the gardens she designed. Andrea is pleased and proud that they’ve decided to join her. Morgan, a graduate of the Vo-Tech Horticulture program, worked for a large local garden center, learning all aspects of growing and retail business. A Certified Virginia Nurseryman, she’ll manage the greenhouse and garden shop. Airynee has been part of Andrea’s seasonal crew for years; now working toward her degree in Horticulture, she’ll take over as crew foreman. This will allow Andy the freedom to do what she enjoys most, design gardens. “Our garden shop and greenhouse won’t try to compete with the “big box’ garden retailers; we have a small niche. For us, it’s all about delight, whimsy, and magic in the garden,” smiles Andy. “Gardens of Delight” says it perfectly. Now there will be a place to nurture the special plants she enjoys, fragrant, and night blooming varieties, her signature pastel colors of mauve, pinks, and blues, and subtle foliage. She can indulge her desire to provide gardeners and clients with great garden finds - elegant teak benches, rustic garden seats, unusual clay pots and planters, fanciful garden signs and ornaments, trellis, and garden sheds. Serious gardeners in search of something different will find it here. Andy, Morgan, or Airynee will greet you - three gardeners with green thumbs.
Gardens of Delight
Andrea has favorite plants that she loves and particular themes she enjoys: “gardens where dreams are created.” Moon Gardens fit today’s world; gardens to be enjoyed in the evenings, with scented flowers opening as the sun sets. Cottage Gardens have a cheerful informality and abundance, expressing a new personality as the seasons change. Woodland Gardens are a shady place to escape summer’s heat and rest the soul, with ferns and wildflowers and the soothing sound of water from a pond or fountain. Gardens of Delight Greenhouse and Garden Shop is now open in Paeonian Springs on Route 9, at the Historic Walker and Clark building beside the Shell station. Offering a variety of rare annuals and perennials, garden furniture, containers, garden accessories, art for the garden, and quality wood potting sheds and structures by Donnie Walker Jr. of Walker and Clark Builders.
Merri Nelson, author of this article is an artist who specializes in botanicals, grows the flowers she paints. Her art, featuring plants and landscapes, will be on exhibit in a one-person show(April/May) at Blandy Farm, the State Arboretum of Virginia in Boyce. Merri teaches spring art classes at Blandy, the Loudoun Academy of the Arts, and the Rust Sanctuary in Leesburg. The artwork for this article was created by Merri Nelson.