The nationally recognized horticulturist, author and lecturer shares the secrets of her Lewes garden
Casual strolls through the streets of Downtown Lewes have been enjoyed for centuries. The town’s historical significance and timeless charm have made these walks a rite of passage for locals and visitors alike. From March through November in recent years, the sidewalks along Kings Highway and Madison Avenue are occasionally congested, however, thanks to the talents of residents Holly Shimizu and her husband, Osamu.
Holly, a nationally recognized horticulturist and former executive director of the United States Botanic Garden, and Osamu, an award-winning garden designer, have created a world of wonder outside of their home, built in 1730, and passersby cannot help but stop and take note.
“People are full of curiosity, and we share stories of our successes and failures,” Holly said. “It’s been such a fun process because people are so friendly.
It’s been great to have people stop and chat. We love that.”
Holly and Osamu were meticulous in their garden planning, tweaking the layout of a circa-1730 Massachusetts garden found in a book and obtaining permission from a formal commission for the project.
Today, their gardens are thriving with plants, flowers and herbs in four distinctly different sections, bursting with vibrant colors and bustling with pollenating activity from birds, butterflies and bees. Comprising nearly 10,000 sq. ft., the front is dedicated as a tea garden, in honor of Holly’s time living in London, where she gained a love and appreciation for its rich tradition. Here, she grows plants to make teas, including lemon balm, mints, lemon verbena and herbal varieties.
Holly also created a fairy garden for neighborhood children to enjoy, a courtyard garden with a beautiful fountain and her interpretation of a dooryard garden, historically used for growing herbs for medicinal purposes and flavoring, which she uses personally.
“During the growing season [March to November], I average about 15 to 20 hours per week in the gardens. It’s a lot of work for the most part,” Holly said, noting that the recent winter was fairly quiet.
Holly harvests additional fruits of her labor and teaches others how to make all-natural skin products, essential oils, fragrances and insect sprays from the extracts of plants.
Her other garden inspirations, which pay homage to the classic Southern gardens of Charleston, New Orleans and Savannah, can be found locally at Cape Henlopen State Park and the Adkins Arboretum. Cultivating her gardens in Lewes also provides Holly the opportunity to work with well-draining soils for the first time in her life.
“Having lived various places throughout the world, I always found the soils to be heavy with clay, which always results in situations where plants suffered,” she said. “I had always dreamed of buying a home in Lewes, to work with this amazing soil, with sand where everything grows.”
For wannabe gardeners whose thumbs are lighter shades of green, Holly encourages them to dig right in.
“Try it! Plant away,” she said. “Plants die, so when they do, remember it’s okay. It happens to me, too. It’s no big deal. Move things around until you find the right place. It’s really fun if you’re relaxed about it. Don’t take it too seriously. Enjoy the journey and learn from it.”
Holly was host of “Victory Garden” on PBS for 10 years and a consultant to the White House Gardens and Camp David Plant Projects, with former First Lady Laura Bush.
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