The Primrose Path
Perennial gardens lure visitors with visual splendor
Photos by Robin Victor Goetz/RVGP Inc.
“I don’t think everybody is lucky enough to have a big piece of property like this,” says Beth modestly. She designed and does most of the gardening on this domain herself. Beth has gardened all of her adult life, and has a keen interest in plants and wide knowledge of their cultivation.
The formal entrance garden was the first to be developed, “because it was the only place that had good drainage,” says Beth, looking around the walled garden. With its blue and white planting scheme, it is graceful and elegant. The Karps have positioned a piece of Rookwood pottery on the house wall. A marble statue of a woman anchors the plantings, which include white roses, iris and larkspur.
In the back, the garden’s main axis leads from French doors on the patio down a flagstone path through a vast lawn, bisecting a boxwood hedge that separates the front of the back yard from the back half. A huge, dyed concrete urn is the focal point, and glimpses of distant gardens draw the visitor down the path to see what lies beyond.
“I personally like it when you can’t see everything at once; you have to get out there and walk to see it. This lends an air of interest, of mystery,” Beth says.
At the very back of the property lies a large garden shed, which Beth and Jay have laughingly christened The Vacation Home. This, too, attracts visitors for a closer look. To its left, a path leads through a large mixed garden enveloping a pond chock full of water lilies. Beth’s favorite path is through this garden with its moist soil and boggy areas that never completely dry out, even in the summer.
Beth loves Japanese iris, and they grow like gangbusters in the moist soil. Filipendula ulmaria, or meadowsweet, blooms at the same time as the adjacent spirea shrubs. It lends bold texture to the garden, remaining attractive all season. A celosia that Beth grew from seed blooms in front of a clematis vine sprawling through a ninebark shrub.
Primroses, impossible to grow in dry areas, thrive in this garden. One of Beth’s favorites, Primula japonica, is a candelabra-type primrose, called so because of the many whorls of flowers superimposed on the flower stem. They flower for a good six weeks and are really spectacular.
“The most important thing is to know your property, and learn what plants will grow in your conditions,” says Beth. She tries new things—just about every new tree, shrub and perennial gets a trial somewhere in her garden. If they don’t work, she has no regrets; she simply moves on to something else.
Other garden rooms include the conifer garden, the front hosta bed, and the rock garden. Beth laid every stone on the path and every rock in the garden. This is where she can plant things that don’t like wet feet. “I had to prove that it could be done,” she explains.
Throughout her garden beds, Beth incorporates numerous urns, statues and other garden decor. Some of her finds come from antique shops, others are gifts from friends.
While the Karps are attracted to sculpture with an aged patina, not all of the pieces need be old. “I bought one statue that was sold as an antique. When we were placing it in the garden, we saw a sticker on the back that said something like ‘Home Décor, 1996!’” laughs Beth.
Matters of maintenance
One might think that the upkeep on a garden this size would be overwhelming, but Beth takes it in stride. She explains, “When you first start a garden, the plants are tiny, and they are so far apart, and they look silly, and it’s a lot of work. But once they get big, the maintenance isn’t as intense as it was when they were first planted.” Edging and mulching are great time-savers, too, she notes.
Jay cuts the grass and edges the beds and borders. According to Beth, he claims that nobody cares about the garden unless it’s well-edged!
Another maintenance chore is critter control. Beth uses a combination of deer fencing and various repellants to deter both deer and rabbits. She has a rubber snake and a fake alligator, but has to wonder, “Do Cincinnati rabbits know about alligators?”
Beth also keeps busy with her landscape design business: Beth Karp Designs. She designs gardens, and has regular clients for whom she plants annuals and designs containers each year. Her son, Justin, installs woody plants under Beth’s direction. He is a co-owner of a landscaping business called The Complete Outdoors.
The root of it all
When asked how she got into the garden design business, Beth explains, “Somebody had a really big property and they had a daughter who was getting married, and they asked for help with the garden.” From those roots, the passion grew. In fact, Beth’s own daughter was married in her mom’s fabulous garden.
Beth’s gardens have been toured by hundreds of people to benefit various charitable organizations and to provide education and conservation. Her gardens were among more than 300 gardens open for touring across the U.S. by the Garden Conservancy in 2009, and have recently been catalogued in the Smithsonian Archives of American Gardens.
This property is a bold testament to her work. “I wake up in the morning and look at the garden and I love it . . . I just love it!” But after 13 years spent perfecting the garden, Beth feels like she is ready to move on to a new garden. “This garden is just glorious. But the fun and the challenge is in developing and nurturing the garden. I’m hoping for the opportunity to start over again,” she says.
A few of the gardener’s favorite plants:
Bracken’s Brown Beauty Magnolia
“A Southern magnolia that is hardy here, it has shiny evergreen leaves with fuzzy brown undersides.”
“The leaves are shiny, and the backs of the leaves are really white, and in the winter when the wind blows, it looks like a shimmering waterfall.”
“Endless SummerTM is a star. I also really like the big, arching hydrangeas, like ‘Pink Diamond’ and ‘Unique.’ ‘Tardiva’ is more upright, but it gives that late summer color that nothing else gives you.”
Gold Rush Dawn Redwood
“This plant has gold-tinged foliage. It looks like the sun is shining on it all of the time. It makes me happy!”
“It has wonderful, peeling bark. Planted in a less wet area, it lends all-season beauty.”
“I love the way this perennial sprawls, climbs and weaves through other plants in the garden.”
“It is a re-seeding annual that pops up in new and interesting places each year. Goldfinches love it and flock to it like crazy.”