If Nancy Hughes isn’t working on one of her mystery novels, there’s a very good chance she’ll be out in the gardens at her Spring Township home.
The author, who has had five novels published and is currently crafting her sixth, spends as much time outside as possible, especially at this time of year, when the azaleas are blooming.
“I probably have 20 varieties of azaleas back here,” she said during a chilly (and socially distanced) visit to her shady back yard.
Nancy was inspired to start planting azaleas after watching the Masters Tournament in 1997 – the year that Tiger Woods won it for the first time.
“I was watching that golf tournament and I saw this sea of azaleas behind the 13th hole,” she recalled. “I knew that I wanted to create something like that here.”
She and her husband, Bill, started buying and planting a variety of the plants, which now cover a large part of their back yard. There are Hershey’s red azaleas, Delaware Valley whites, Girard’s in white and fuchsia, Hino crimson and many others.
Because of different blooming times, the azaleas provide color over a long period, explained Nancy. Except for this year, she said, many of them are not blooming when they normally do.
“This year has been very different,” that’s for sure,” she said.
While azaleas are the stars of the show right now, they’re not the only game in town.
The property contains numerous gardens, each with a name and its own personality.
There’s the bluebird garden, which currently houses a brood of bluebirds; the bench garden; the round garden; a small rose garden at the side of the house that gets some sun; and the fern and hosta garden, located against the woods at the back of the yard.
“I love the textures with the hostas and the ostrich ferns in that garden,” Nancy said. “There also are mayapples mixed in back there and some new shade-tolerant hydrangeas. I’m anxious to see how they do.”
Since moving into their home in 1984, the couple has created gardens with plants that flower from late winter until late into the fall.
“There is something blooming from the time the hellebores start in February until well into November,” Nancy said.
In addition to a great variety of plants, there are birdhouses and feeders, birdbaths and hummingbird feeders to encourage visitors to the garden.
There also is Nancy’s summer writing cottage, a small building her husband built using 100-year-old barn wood. During the winter, it holds outdoor furniture, but in the spring it gets cleaned out and Nancy moves in.
“I can sit there with my laptop and look out at the azaleas while I work,” she said. “It’s the perfect spot.”
Through her many years of gardening, Nancy has learned that patience is a desirable and necessary virtue. Not much is certain when you’re planting and tending to a garden, and there are many factors not within your control.
Gardening requires vigilance, versatility and large amounts of perseverance.
“Gardening is for patient people,” Nancy said. “I can’t think of anything else that requires the patience of gardening.”