Healer’s Garden

One winter day nine years ago, Pete Hedrick looked out at the ice and snow that covered his yard and had a vision of what the space should be. Having just purchased his Federal-style home in Philadelphia’s Chestnut Hill historic district after living for years in a 15th-floor high-rise condominium, he admittedly knew little about gardening. Sitting in the home’s demilune conservatory room, he painted a watercolor rendering of how he thought the outside areas should look.

When spring rolled around and the ice melted, Hedrick launched a campaign to turn his plan into reality, and soon discovered he needed more than good decorating sense to prevail. "Originally, I saw the garden as a design project, but I read so many garden books that my interest soon became equally balanced horticulturally and designwise," he says.

It took Hedrick, a family practice doctor, the first summer to clear masses of ground ivy leaves, cinder blocks, and debris from the property. Then he began to formulate his plan, based on classical garden design–characterized by symmetry, balance, and axial geometry–and garden styles seen in Provence and the Mediterranean, which utilize clipped hedges and topiaries. He created a skeleton, or fixed space, for each portion of the garden "so it looks good in the winter," and then added focal points with strong shapes and geometric order. With his favorite color, blue, often taking center stage, he added plants, statuary, and fountains.

Hedrick’s love of tropical plants did not coincide with the region’s cold winter weather, so he decided to change the look of his garden each season. During the summer, tropical plants fill the yard, then hibernate in the conservatory during colder months. Pansies and heartier plants fill the garden in fall and spring.

The overall effect is a pleasing mix of classical elements and relaxing informality, one that perpetually draws passersby to sneak a peek through his garden gate. "It especially seems to appeal to French visitors, who say they rarely see a garden like this outside France," he says. Hedrick’s garden has attracted more than the casual guest: It has garnered first prize in the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society’s annual city garden contest in the mid-1990s. The garden will also be on view during the Chestnut Hill Business Association’s Garden Festival on May 6.

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