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A lush Ruxton garden that’s always growing

The welcoming evergreens and flowers in the front, the backyard pool enveloped in gardens, the views of the lush landscape — that’s not how the grounds looked when Bruce and Polly Behrens bought their Ruxton home in 2001.

Before they renovated the three-acre landscape, the backyard was largely a tiered lawn with a stone wall. The front yard had a substantial hill with a family pool in the top.

“You walked out the front door, and here was the pool,” remembers Bruce Behrens, 73, a retired investment firm partner.

Now the pool is in the back of the 1903 shingle-style house, with greater privacy and better views, and the redone backyard is a lot less lawn and a lot more garden. The maturing landscape has grown into blended layers of spreading plants, from inch-high perennials to large trees.

But the stylish setting — one that blends classic English looks with looser New American design — is always evolving. Nature and human hands have been making tweaks ever since the couple decided to remove the front-yard hill and pool.

“We moved a lot of dirt,” says landscape architect Kirsten Coffen, owner of Garden Architecture, who turned the Behrenses’ ideas into reality and continues to work with them.

The hill was replaced with a courtyard on level ground, featuring boxwoods and the home’s original porte-cochere. In addition, a strategically sited terrace became home to a putting green — where Bruce Behrens says he practices “not as much as I should” — hidden by multi-hued evergreens, shrubs and perennials.

Foliage and blooms also surround the pool area.

“A lot of the purpose for developing the garden was to create privacy for the pool,” says Coffen.

A few years ago, orange butterfly weed was added to a multihued pollinator garden; last year two nearby trellises were replanted with coral honeysuckle vines that are hummingbird magnets.

“We try to attract butterflies and bees and birds,” says Polly Behrens, 74, who cuts from the garden to fuel her passion for flower arranging.

The former grassy terrace was redone as a flagstone patio off the kitchen and a family room addition. (The couple removed two black walnut trees to make room for the addition, then used the wood to panel the home’s library.) The patio is a go-to spot for morning coffee, offering a view of the garden terraces and a vista of mixed woods.

From there, stairs head down to the pool, with gardens going from woody shrubs higher up to casual perennials below. Poolside plants like fountain grass and wispy bluestar sway in the breeze. Paths through the garden link to the house and porch; fieldstone steps tie the pool to the home’s finished basement.

Last May, the pool area got a classic addition: The goddess Pandora now oversees everything from Bruce Behrens swimming early morning laps to the grandchildren and their friends splashing. The statue, which the Behrenses spotted at the Garden Festival at Ladew Topiary Gardens in Monkton, brings height to the front of a garden bed. And coral ground-cover rose, a season-long bloomer, joined the mostly muted tones around the pool, replacing annuals that Polly Behrens used to plant there.

“We really wanted to make it so something is always in bloom,” she says.

Shrubs and trees add long-lasting color and form as well. By the porch — a favorite place to eat, read, chat or nap in afternoon shade — azaleas and cherry laurels flower, followed by hardy geraniums and pink and white spirea, roses and then the purple flowers of the gold variegated liriope border in late summer. All season, the red weeping Japanese maple, greens of the shrubs and dark green of a tall holly provide interest.

In the backyard garden, shrubs with burgundy leaves like Wine & Roses weigela extend the seasonal interest beyond their blooms. Evergreen shrubs such as variegated false holly provide year-round color.

So does the Mountain Fire Japanese pieris that last year replaced bushes devoured by deer — a growing issue that led Coffen to add deer-resistant plants outside the pool fence.

In the winter, Polly Behrens makes arrangements from cuttings with berries, attractive foliage or interesting branches and displays them at Notre Dame of Maryland University’s Alumni House, Baltimore’s Second Presbyterian Church and the family’s home.

“There’s some beautiful winter stuff — holly, magnolias,” Polly Behrens says.

Sizable trees grow elsewhere on the grounds, including a Blue Atlas cedar nearly a century old that is so massive the couple added cabling and lightning rods to protect it.

Saucer magnolias have grown large, and consequently, the lawn shrank. In recent years, a drainage channel of stones was installed to slow runoff water, followed by a shade garden that brightens the area beneath the trees with Lenten rose, ferns and other low-growing plants.

“Things grow and change,” says Polly Behrens. “It’s like people. We age and change.”


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About Mary Ellen Bellusci

Mary Ellen Bellusci is a longtime resident of Baltimore, Maryland... A foodie, traveler, writer, and pursuer of happiness.