A peaceful garden retreat at Tiffany Gardens B&B
Kathy McMahon never intended to be a gardener, but now the grounds of the Tiffany Gardens Bed and Breakfast in Londonderry are home to more than 300 varieties of flowering trees and shrubs, five water features including a pond with goldfish and a three-tiered waterfall, gorgeous roses, rock walls, pathways for relaxing strolls and many more floral delights you could spend all day exploring.
This sprawling near-acre of gardens began with the realization of a dream kitchen. When their last child moved out of the house in the late '90s, McMahon and her husband decided it was time to build the kitchen they'd always wanted. The changes required that the septic tank be exhumed and moved, which left the homeowners with a choice – and that turned into an opportunity.
"I don't know whatever possessed me," explains McMahon, "but I said, 'What if we didn't put the lawn back?'" She started with some stones that were already on hand, building a few modest circles that she eventually filled with plants. From there a gardener was born and over the years those stone circles grew into the current display of plant life that surrounds the bed and breakfast.
"I found that I just really loved the work," says McMahon. Watching her ideas come to life, she adds, was a wonderful feeling.
Her favorite part of the garden "is whatever we're working on next." She and her husband and partner-in-gardening Jim walk the gardens each day, admiring their work and constantly making plans to improve upon and change it.
In addition to all the plants are a number of stone walls, benches and water features. "My husband is the rock guy," says McMahon. Stone work can be prohibitively expensive, she adds, so Jim McMahon's talent with stone comes in handy. So does the makeup of the land – we don't call it the Granite State for nothing, after all. McMahon doesn't buy stone – most of what you'll find in the gardens came from the property and often painstakingly hauled to their current locations. "Once you start digging around they come," laughs McMahon. For instance, one large stone that now serves as a bench was discovered when they were digging the hole for what is now the goldfish pond.
The pond is one battleground in a constant struggle with nature.
When gardening, says McMahon, "you're in nature but it's also a strange kind of war – it's a balance," she adds. Blue herons can often be found perched on the roof, ready and waiting to snatch up the goldfish – much easier pickings than in the marshes.
Voracious voles devoured the hostas that were once interspersed among the 35 arborvitaes that border one side of the property. However, says McMahon, that's sometimes just how it goes. The self-taught gardener got her start with trial and error and no prior plant knowledge, so she
learned to accept that some plants just wouldn't make it.
"I've learned that you don't want to get too attached," she says. When her favorite tree – a Japanese Snowbell – "just up and died" a few winters ago (before she learned the Japanese Snowbell just wasn't meant for New England weather), McMahon realized that sometimes things die, but that it's also an opportunity to plant something new and beautiful.
This year's bizarre October snowstorm wreaked havoc, claiming large parts of the magnolia tree and two entire pear trees, but McMahon is already planning new things for her gardens. With more trees and shrubs already on order, plus more plants she's planning to buy, the Tiffany Gardens are sure to be as beautiful as ever.
Though there seems to be no end to the visual stimulation, one thing you won't find much of is hardscaping or a carefully weeded lawn.
Lawns, says McMahon, are just paths between garden beds, not a particular point of uniform, manicured pride. Not only is this much less expensive than hardscaping on grounds that extend to almost an acre, she enjoys that grass paths can be changed whereas hardscaping is virtually permanent.
McMahon believes in weeding by hand and trying to remain chemical free wherever possible, which might require more physical labor but is more environmentally friendly. Most of her spare time on weekends and in the daylight hours that remain after work are spent in the gardens, and you can tell that it's a real labor of love.
"It's addictive," admits McMahon, "but it's great – it's a wonderful habit."
Though guests of the bed and breakfast can obviously take advantage of the beautiful grounds, anyone is welcome to stop by for a stroll, to take pictures or even to create art. Local artist Elaine Farmer and a group of painters can sometimes be seen engaging in en plein air sessions – some of their pieces featuring the gardens now hang inside the house.
A great time to visit is during the Garden Conservancy's Open Days Program, where you can tour Tiffany Gardens as well as a number of other private gardens in the area. There are a total of five Open Days in New Hampshire, and you can see the Tiffany Gardens on the tour taking place from July 21 to 22.
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