Home GardeningGarden Diary Tropical terraces, color, and meadow at Owl Creek Farm

Tropical terraces, color, and meadow at Owl Creek Farm


October 30, 2023

One of my favorite private gardens at the Philadelphia Area Fling back in September was Steve and Ann Hutton’s Owl Creek Farm. It’s not really a farm, so far as I could tell. The Hutton garden is sizeable, though, and its rural setting in West Chester, Pennsylvania, gives the owners plenty of room to play. I was wowed by a dramatic container garden of tropicals on the back terrace, which segues to flowery perennial gardens around the house and extends to a tall-grass meadow and large vegetable garden. Steve, a former nurseryman and retired CEO of Star Roses and Plants, knows how to create a moment with plants and color.

Terrace garden

The terrace garden extends out from the back door, like another living room. Generously sized, it’s outlined with artfully arranged containers showcasing tropical or subtropical foliage plants. Three vine-swagged, rectangular arbors offer framed doorway views to other parts of the garden, completing the feeling of enclosure.

The back steps of the house lead to a brick landing in a dry gravel garden. On either side, annual flowers and colocasias ka-pow with color and big leaves.

This is clearly the garden of someone who loves all different kinds of plants and finds a way to grow and display them. I did wonder where he crams all these pots come winter.

A panorama shot better conveys the scale of this showy space. The arrangement of pots and dramatic foliage reminded me a bit of Longwood Gardens — and that’s saying something!

There’s a red banana, which everyone in the Philadelphia area grows, seemingly. And no wonder. Those paddle-shaped leaves add such drama.

I adored the rectangular metal arbors at each of three doorways into this space. Even in winter they must add structure to the garden.

Another view, with a pedestal of guara and sedum in the foreground

A wider view

A sago palm — an old Texas standard — is given pride of place in a pretty arrangement of pots.

In another cluster, it’s Bismarck palm that’s the star of the show.

A pair of spring-green wire chairs accents another pot grouping.

The design of a 2-dimensional metal arbor is charming with rectangles and spirals.

More wire chairs add another dash of color and extra seating.

Outer garden

The arbor on axis with the back door leads to a lawn gently terraced with granite steps.

Twin urns with alliums are cleverly accented with garden-art alliums.

A wider view

A large bamboo arbor — like something out of King Kong — beckons from the lawn, leading to…

…deep mixed borders with conifers, dark-leaved shrubs, flowering perennials, and — hello! — another banana.

I love the banana with red dahlias and yellow sunflowers.

Dahlias are so beautiful in a late-season garden.

Steve and Ann feature several pieces of abstract ironwork in their garden, which I really liked.

A few cute frogs too

Big tropical pots and a tall birdhouse add verticality to a perennial bed.

Black-eyed Susans, sunflowers, and dahlias were stealing the show in late September.

Happy color

Love those red dahlias

A stripey grass adds a little zing to the mix.

One more

French doors on the side of the house open up to this wave of color.

A Zen frog amid silvery ferns

Meadow garden

The outer part of the property is devoted to a grassy meadow. Wire spheres in the lawn add a playful element, and colorful flags standing tall within the meadow urge you to explore.

This sphere-and-grasses vignette reminds me of Cornerstone Sonoma in California.

The grasses stood chest-high in late September, and I hoped it was no longer tick season, although the owner did suggest we do a tick check afterward. Pennsylvania is Lyme Disease country, after all, although folks who live here don’t seem to worry excessively about it. At any rate, it was lovely to explore the meadow along the mown path, with grasses gracefully leaning on either side.

Goldenrod and plants gone to seed add their own autumn beauty.

A snag left standing for wildlife

The flags draw you to a mown clearing with a metal arbor and seating — a hidden garden room!

Asters and grasses

Vegetable garden

A large fenced vegetable garden is closer to the house for easy access.

Even its entrance is given a flourish with a pedestal planter and decorative arbor.

And an excited bamboo fellow waving a flag!

Up next: Exploring new public garden Stoneleigh: A Natural Garden. For a look back at the Asian garden and ponds at WynEden, click here.

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Digging Deeper

Tour several Austin gardens on Saturday, November 4, on the Garden Conservancy’s Open Day tour for Travis County. Tickets must be purchased online in advance and will be available beginning September 1st.

Come learn about garden design from the experts at Garden Spark! I organize in-person talks by inspiring designers, landscape architects, and authors a few times a year in Austin. These are limited-attendance events that sell out quickly, so join the Garden Spark email list to be notified in advance; simply click this link and ask to be added. The Season 7 lineup can be found here.

All material © 2023 by Pam Penick for Digging. Unauthorized reproduction prohibited.

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