Stephanie Groth's passion for gardening stretches back more than 40 years, when she became a charter member of the Ferndale Garden Club. Yet it wasn't until she retired in 2000 that she had the time to indulge in her passion.
When she moved into her home, the 1/5-acre yard consisted of grass and a couple of Burford holly bushes. To brighten it up, she planted some flowers around her mailbox.
That modest beginning was the start of a complete yard makeover. Today a mulched path and stepping stones wind through a sloping backyard that features a waterfall and koi pond. A side garden designed to be reminiscent of an English country garden boasts an eclectic collection of perennials that provide blooms from the hellebores and euphorbia in January to the camellia and late chrysanthemums in November.
A herb garden is located in one of the few sunny areas and includes lavender, parsley, chives, thyme, sage, rosemary, lemon balm, St. John's wort, sweet woodruff, tansy and chocolate mint.
"I was looking for color," says Groth, who spends about five hours a day tending her garden. "I love combinations of pinks and purples, as well as reds and yellows."
Groth says much of what she learned about gardening came from her membership in the Ferndale Garden Club, the Friendly Thyme Herb Club and the Freestate Daylilly Society.
"Over the years, the different presenters we had made gardening so much more interesting," she says. "I would encourage people to get involved with groups who love gardening and people who enjoy sharing their love and knowledge."
Favorite plants: Japanese rose, saxifraga (although she says she has no luck with it), crocosmia and Arkansas blue star amsonia. "Any flower I find that's blue, I make sure to find a place for it," Groth says.
Lessons learned: "The biggest lesson I've learned is that just because I've planned where to place a flower, it doesn't necessarily mean that's where it will come back next year," Groth says. "Plants determine their own time frame and location. As gardeners, we need to just go with the flow. Allow them to self-seed and just work with it. The plants know better than I do where they want to be."
Runner-up: Kim Peters, Ellicott City