As an elementary school principal, Pamela Hubbard, of Effort, knew that when she retired, she wanted a less stressful existence. She imagined spending her golden days tending an English cottage garden, just like her grandmother's and the ones she grew up with in her native country of England.
Some dreams do come true because that's just what she has been doing for the last five years.
"I retired to garden," says Pam, with a gentle English accent.
Pam was a first-grade teacher in England. When she moved to the United States in 1978 with her daughter and son, her teaching degree was not recognized here. She worked in the Pleasant Valley School district as a library aide, went to school and received a library science degree and became a librarian for PV, then a media specialist in a school in New Jersey for eight years. She earned her Master's Degree in School Administration and became an elementary school principal in the Bethlehem School District until she retired in 2005.
"When Duane and I married in 1988, Astolat Farm was known for my mother-in-law's dogs. It had dog runs and kennels and one lonely little flower bed."
Duane's parents were the late Constance and Elwood Hubbard. They bought the circa 1850 home in 1948. It was located on a dirt road in Effort. Connie loved the poem "Idylls of the King" by Alfred, Lord Tennyson and named their home, Astolat Farm, from the story of Elaine, of Astolat, a castle in Scotland.
Connie raised and showed Shetland Sheepdogs. She won two "Best of Show" at the Westminister Dog Show.
When the township paved the dirt road, it was named Astolat Road after the Hubbard's farm.
"I love being part of the history of it," says Pam.
After her marriage to Duane, they moved in with Duane's mother. Pam didn't have a lot of time for gardening then, except for a few container gardens.
"But I read everything I could and took classes occasionally," she says.
As soon as she retired, she enrolled in Penn State's Master Gardner program and took an intensive spring course.
"You don't pay tuition for it. Instead you are required to do so many hours for Penn State. I give gardening programs."
Pam says she has become an obsessive gardener. When she isn't tending to her gardens, she blogs about it, gives gardening classes and visits other gardens.
Pam, born in the Midlands of England, inherited her love of gardening from her family. Her grandfather grew wonderful vegetables, her father had a small but beautiful rose garden and her mother tended a typical English cottage garden.
An English cottage garden, by Pam's definition, is when you plant for abundance in a small space.
"Because it's small, the garden has a lot of vertical plants and vines, not a lot of lawn. I believe in sustainable gardening. I don't use chemicals, of which manicured lawns require too many. In this day and age, we need to conserve our resources," she says.
She collects water in four rain barrels, one of which is her pride and joy. Jan, of the blog "Thanks for Today," asked bloggers to write about sustainable gardening in honor of Earth Day and Pam's article won first place. The rain barrel was her prize.
If she has to use tap water, she uses soaker hoses and she uses mulch to retain moisture. She also makes her own compost.
"But I couldn't do all of this without Duane. He has added all the water features, bird houses, does the mowing and made the Woodlawn Walk, which is quite rustic and beautiful. He did a fantastic job. It was the farm's overgrown orchard. He carved out lovely paths. I simply added the little restful vignettes along the way," says Pam.
This year they added a rose garden and are in the process of putting in a pond.
Pam has broken the grounds into several separate gardens, like the Entry Garden, ("You call it a front yard," says Pam,) Stone Garden, Container Garden, Shade Garden, Kitchen Garden and the Woodland Walk. Each area has a charming entranceway. Pam believes every garden should have a notable entrance.
The first stop on her guided tour begins with her Container Garden, a nice shady area in the front of the house. It holds a statue of St. Francis of Assisi, bird houses, a stacked stone border and stepping stones, making it a perfect spot for a few moments to meditate.
"This was my first garden. I fill pots and various containers with flowers and plants. They're easy to take care of and can be moved easily."
She walks past the home's welcoming red front door with a wreath under a portico. A quaint white wicker chair holds an amazing potted inpatients plant with a charming lady's shoe planter filled with the same. This is the Entry Garden.
Pam leads the way to another entranceway into the Shade Garden. This one is a white wooden arbor covered in fragrant honeysuckle. From it hangs an unusual cone-shaped hanging planter filled with geraniums, a gift from her daughter, Marie. The shade is provided by a white maple Catalpa tree, an old pear and a cedar tree.
Most of Pam's flower beds are raised.
"You can't get a spade in the ground. So I use the lasagna method of layering. I layer wet newspapers, then mushroom compost, newspaper, peat moss and more newspaperabout 16-18 inches deep. I let it set for a week and then plant. I learned this in England. It's taught by an Australian gardener, David Holmgren, who co-founded Permaculture, which is a lot about not disturbing the earth."
Mom's Garden is Connie's original flower bed and is filled with hostas, Tiger Lillies, (some of which are at least six feet tall,) and Lily of the Valley. Pam has planted over 100 Daffodil bulbs.
The gardens are in constant bloom from spring to fall.
"Whenever you come into the garden, there is something special. This week it's the Tiger Lillies."
Pam loves to host English teas in her gardens for her friends and fellow Master Gardeners. She serves cucumber sandwiches, scones with cream, trifle and of course, tea, on a charming stone patio with tables, chairs and umbrellas.
"We have the most fabulous birds and wildlife here. There's a purple bunting," she points out one sitting on a branch nearby.
Duane leads the way to the Woodland Garden entrance, decorated with English Bluebells. The paths are named after each of their grandsons: Anthony Lane, Mateo Road, Harrison Way, Jonathan Walk and one for Duane's nephew, Calvin Court.
A dear family friend gave the Hubbards a large old lamp with a knight as the base. Duane removed the electrical workings and turned it into a path marker. Grandson Harry says it is now an English knight guarding the garden.
The Woodland Garden was an old orchard and pasture for horses that became overgrown over the years. Duane has planted over 100 white pine seedlings and Pam has planted several plants and ferns ("which the deer like") that do well in a shady rustic area like Foxgloves and Mt. Laurel. Along the path are several points of interest like a statue of St. Francis of Assisi and various bird baths. It's also a quiet restful place where Duane's beloved dog lies - "Imp is buried here" says a marker.
The entranceway to the Cottage Garden is draped in fragrant pink honeysuckle. Inside the garden is a wrought iron trellis, another gift from her daughter, with Iceberg climbing roses and a clematis, perennial geranium, and lupines. Miniature roses edge the garden of roses, perennial geraniums, lavender, lupines and crossmia.
She planted Lichfield Angel roses, mainly for its name.
"I went to school in Lichfield, and know every corner of the cathedral," she says.
The building that had been Connie's kennel has window boxes that Pam plants with coleus of vibrant colors. There are even lace curtains at the windows.
"Connie would be appalled at those," Pam chuckles.
A wooden picket fence surrounds the Kitchen Garden. Everything is in raised beds or containers because a large walnut tree stands nearby and puts out juglone, which poisons the soil.
She grows herbs, cucumbers, zucchini, snow peas, tomatoes, beans, bush beans, peppers, beets and lettuce. There is a strawberry patch and three blueberry bushes. Brightly colored flowers are planted throughout for pollenation.
Grape vines are beginning to grow heavy with fruit.
"Oh, when they ripen, it smells like Italy," Pam says.
In a touch of grandmotherly whimsy, her pole beans are in the shape of a tepee and inside the tepee is a small table and two small chairs, just right for two young grandsons to read a book, color a picture or have a cup of cold lemonade on a warm summer day.
Pam's potting shed is also in the vegetable garden, where she keeps all her necessary tools to tend her gardens and start seedlings. It is decorated with many items she found in the family home's attic.
"A cottage garden is constantly in need of working. You have to keep thinning out the plants, working for a balance, because they need air."
But Pam doesn't mind. She's happiest when she's either planting or tending her garden or hosting English teas for family and friends in among the labors of her love.
"Duane is a flower lover but doesn't know a weed from a flower. But he appreciates what I do. Recently he said, 'When we got married 22 years ago, did you ever think we would have such a beautiful place?'"
Dreams do come true.
If you would like to learn more about Pam's English Cottage Garden, visit her blog at http://pamsenglishcottagegarden.blogspot.com.