Home & Design September 10, 2008
As Serendipity Dictates
The strength of Helen Stone’s Hailey garden is its forgiving caretaker.

Tucked away behind thick green foliage near the center of Hailey is a garden sanctuary of remarkable beauty and charm.

At once a cool, shady oasis and a riot of color and texture, this living art gallery is where gardener Helen Stone plants and pulls, nurtures and creates. She and husband Ben Schepps have spent more than 30 years shaping and transforming this beautiful work in progress they call home. With her welcoming smile and warm laugh, it is more than clear; this is a woman who literally loves what she does.

Stone has an expansive, almost encyclopedic, knowledge of gardens and plant life, much of which cannot be found on those small plastic nursery tags, she says. With her garden as her guide, Stone has cultivated her vast knowledge through trial and error in some cases, and serendipity in others. Much of her success can be attributed to her genuine enthusiasm and abundant appreciation for the natural world. There is basic common sense and practicality, too. In her own words, “You had better do it now because you never know about tomorrow.” And for Stone this applies to everything from deadheading your allium to transplanting an unhappy primrose.

Gardening can be tedious, demanding, difficult work. It can be confounding and surprising. It is composed of all sorts of living, breathing, ever-changing elements, and the gardener needs to be flexible and accepting, even forgiving. Stone embraces the necessary symbiotic relationship. Even though her birches are dying because of their need for more water, they remain in place. Stone is “leaving them for the birds for now,” she comments quite matter-of-factly.

Luxurious and bountiful, Stone’s garden consumes all but a medium-sized central lawn at the corner of First Street and Silver. In the middle sits the old white house originally belonging to the Mallory family. 

LEFT to RIGHT No denying the beauty of lilium lillies. Curly fern provides a green backdrop. Helen Stone standing with a kolkwitzia beauty bush. 

 

“Those wonderful old black and white photos you see around town, you know, the ones with the fish and Main Street and everything,” explains Stone, “well, those were all taken by Martyn Mallory Sr. and developed right here in the darkroom he dug under the house.”

Stone beams a little and continues, “As a present a number of years ago, Bill (his son) gave us one of his father’s photographs of the house. We have it hanging inside.”

Photographs from the Mallory collection grace the walls of the Hailey Public Library and various Valley restaurants and retail shops. Originally built in 1895 as a one-room cottage, the Mallory house (see sidebar page 51) soon became the only darkroom in the entire area. Hand-dug and river-rocked by Mallory himself, the home is a source of pride for Stone and Schepps for the important part their home plays in Hailey history.

The garden was already graced with a wonderful collection of 70-year-old Douglas fir trees. Stone began planting silver spruce, lilac, and many other still-living plants and trees back in the late 1960s. Today, they more than adequately block out the surrounding neighborhood, offer marvelous shade and privacy, and contribute to the variety of microclimates present in this large corner lot. Accordingly, Stone created mini-gardens around the house by working with the incredibly site-specific details of sun, shade and soil. >>>

 

 

Over time, Stone and Schepps designed and incorporated water features, sculptural accents and the occasional wind chime to further complement the character of each garden area. There is an “Oriental garden” that truly enchants with a smiling Buddha and stone pagoda, goldfish swimming in a small pond and a sculpture of glass blocks. Schepps stacked the slate and river rock around the perimeter of the hand-built pond, installing a copper green turtle and companion goldfish to spout water into the pond.

Most striking, though, are the colors. The pale lime-yellow leaves of paradigm hosta are set against the barberry’s deep maroon foliage and pale orange huechera in the spring. So beautifully orchestrated, Stone’s artful use of orange blooms continues with the unmistakable Asiatic lily and gentler troleus. By fall, the barberry turns to flame oranges and bold pinks while the hydrangea offers up its plentiful white blooms. The effect is visually engaging and quite stunning. By incorporating bushes that turn color more than once a season and flowers that bloom twice, Stone creates gardens that are continually evolving and continually capturing our attention and appreciation.

Stone’s ability to keep the color happening from spring through fall reflects on her masterful knowledge and dedication. As spring-blooming crocus die off, Stone neatly braids the long thin green leaves and lays them on the ground. A truly thoughtful practice, the braiding allows the plants to continue to utilize their energy.

“This year’s leaves are next year’s flowers,” Stone comments. They also free up the space into which Stone will plant dahlias to keep the area full, vibrant, and in continuous bloom.

LEFT to RIGHT Deep purple bearded iris. A garden mosaic. The Austrian Copper Rose is a favorite among gardeners’ for its show of bicolor.

 

Nearby, a collection of peach, salmon, and yellow blooms on short green stems sits atop yellowish-green, slightly-wrinkled flat leaves. There is an antique quality to these particular primroses I had never seen before—subtly exquisite with the shading on each small petal and the fullness of each double bloom. Stone says these are a new variety that she came across last summer and simply had to have.

New colors and bloom formations are debuted in nurseries around the country every spring. Some make it and others don’t.

“The light lime-yellow you see,” Stone points out as an example, “is a relatively new color for plants.” One of her favorite color combinations uses this new lime-yellow together with deep red or maroon, as evidenced throughout different areas of the garden. You could call Stone an interior decorator for the garden with the way she incorporates and uses color, contrast, texture and height to create these distinctly different garden areas around her house. The use of the garden, too, plays a role for Stone. Some areas are for sitting and contemplating, others for growing vegetables, and some pure decoration for the eyes.

The deepest, coolest area of the yard enjoys a more subtle approach to color and composition and falls into the contemplation category. Blanketing the ground beneath enormous old trees is a sea of bishop’s weed, also known as Snow on the Mountain. Interspersed along the outer edges is a gorgeous collection of fern—Ostrich, Alaska, Purple Royal and Athyrium or Ursula’s Red.  Most striking are the tiny delicate white blooms of the numerous Lilies of the Valley.

Stone cautions, though, the use of certain plants. >>>

Ben Schepps built this fountain in honor of his mother and it is a central element in a contemplative niche in Stone’s yard.

 

 

 

“You have to be careful what you plant and where,” she says in all seriousness. “Bishop’s weed can be invasive and difficult and can choke your other plants out.” Appropriately, Stone has seen to it they can’t get too far. But, beautiful can be nasty in the natural world. Soon I learn that the dainty, aromatic Lilies of the Valley have a darker side in the fall when they grow red poisonous berries. Nature is certainly full of surprises.

There is the pleasing sound of trickling water in the background as we sit on the nearby bench. Visibly happy and appreciative, Stone tells me this is the perfect place to sit on a hot summer day. At our feet is a lovely pond surrounded by pavers, a terrific copper green fish rising up from a big blue-green pot, spouting water back down into the pond. The effect is total and complete—cool and contemplative.

Nearby, color and variety take center stage in a vibrant and cheerful garden along a tall wood fence. One of the sunnier locations in Stone’s largely shaded garden, the spring bloom of pastel-colored tulips and daffodils make way for opulent yellow and purple monk’s hood, tall blue fountain delphinium and an array of lanky columbine. The colors repeat with purple and white faces of Johnny-jump-ups and various pansies flecked with bright bits of yellow. Interspersed with statuesque purple, white, and yellow iris blooms with their long green blade-like leaves, the whole effect is exciting and engaging in a very decorative fashion. Low at the feet are large pink clumps of sweet william and white candytuft. A bit unexpectedly, Stone admits she’s “not really thrilled with white flowers anymore.” If she were going to use white in a garden it would be in a dark green space. “The white,” says Stone, “draws your eye too much and takes away from the others.”

By incorporating bushes that turn color more than once a season and flowers that bloom twice, Stone creates gardens that are continually evolving and continually capturing our attention and appreciation.

 

As we move along the garden bed, Stone points out some of her favorite flowers and shares tidbits of her interesting garden know-how. “See how the black beauty snake root have burgundy leaves,” she points out. “Now, look underneath.” They are green on the underside with deep purple-red stems. They are truly fascinating. “Here,” says Stone, as she points to a fantastic peony at least four feet tall with gorgeous white, many-petalled blooms, “this one needs just the right amount of sun and shade and definitely needs to be tied.” The approach to peonies, she informs, is really based on color. Familiar with the stately purple globes of allium that grow so well throughout the Valley, it is a bit surprising to find an allium with small delicate yellow flowers that compose a round form almost hidden in a patch of wood hyacinth. With their darker green blades, two large Virginia spiderwort blooms are unexpectedly small purple and white flowers of just four or so petals each. “Clematis,” she shares, “well, I just can’t get enough of, and see how the maroon and purple of these bearded iris go with this gorgeous red-purple plum tree.” Stone’s enthusiasm is contagious, and on we go.

Just opposite a 15-year-old Red Horse chestnut tree covered in spring with pink and yellow blooms that bring to mind a more exotic, rainforest-kind of tree, is an astonishingly different kind of garden—a succulent garden. Composed mostly of plants in the Sempervivum family, hardy alpine succulents known for their rosette and star shapes, this garden is dense and low, following the contours of numerous lava rocks barely visible above ground. The unmistakable texture of a succulent presents itself in a range of maroon, deep red, lime green, and bright green-yellow.

While bunches of pink and pale purple phlox begin their bloom in early summer, the vibrant yellow euphorbia, or myrtle spurge, start to fade. Warmer days bring the Red Hot Poker into bloom, so aptly named for its telling bloom formation, and signal the end of the viburnum’s fragrant white blooms in the background. Fall brings a rebirth for the viburnum, and numerous other bushes and trees, as its foliage turns a brilliant red studded with bright red berries. The symphony of color continues as each flower, plant, tree and bush takes its turn center stage in Stone’s gorgeously dramatic gardens.

Towering over the fence behind and to the side of the succulents are lilacs in every shade and bloom formation, more spruce and fir trees, and an outstanding crab apple. Walking out the gate into the alley behind the house, Stone points out an exquisite mock orange with the most incredible smell and conspicuous double blooms. “It started with a single seed from a neighbor’s single mock orange,”

Stone explains, “and in the middle of one spring it became a double mock orange.”

Nature, again, is full of surprises. The “volunteer” crab apple that blooms fragrantly amongst the many different white and purple lilac bushes Stone planted more than 20 years ago is a perfect example. In garden-speak, the term “volunteer” refers to a plant, tree or bush that has planted itself in your garden without your knowledge. For Stone, it is like getting a gift when it isn’t even your birthday. Certainly the most beautiful and pleasantly aromatic alley I have ever walked, this is the home for plants that Stone couldn’t keep inside the garden anymore. Laughingly, she remarks, “Some people put old cars in the alley, I put old plants.” Huge bunches of tall, hairy, green-stemmed bright orange-red Oriental poppies that are beautiful today will shade out other plants, not allowing them to grow. “So,” she says, “they had to come live out here where I don’t mind so much.”

The Southern California native grew up in a household that composted, so Stone has set aside a decent portion of her alley for three years’ worth of compost piles. The dark rich soil in the pile from two years past is what Stone currently uses to feed her garden. “Everything gets a handful of compost,” Stone commands cheerily. And we head back into the garden. >>>

 

 

Helen Stone’s garden border.

 

Continuing around the house, there is an area that has yet to really take shape, something Stone and Schepps are still developing—a water garden with a pond and cattails, perhaps. One of the wonderful aspects of gardening is the continuation of time, growth, and the evolution of the garden itself. Planning and knowledge are key in the early stages. Valley residents have been fortunate to receive Stone’s guidance both privately and professionally for many years. Stone consults and maintains a host of gardens, from the Ezra Pound House and KB’s, to numerous private residences. Additionally, Stone has taught a course through the College of Southern Idaho Hailey Campus appropriately titled, “Gardening in the Wood River Valley.” A very hands-on approach with an incredibly detailed and highly useful handbook, Stone’s class meets at her home to discuss everything from starting seeds indoors and preparing a vegetable garden to troubleshooting insect and fungus problems. True to her nature, Stone is enthusiastic and caring, inviting students to bring a problem to the “classroom” which can then be solved or addressed on site. Her dedication clearly shows the fundamental connection Stone shares with garden life.

Not surprisingly, Stone was raised by a gardener; it was her mother’s great love. “Gardening was her life,” Stone adds a bit wistfully. Looking out over the hundreds of plants and flowers with their vast array of blooms and colors and magnificent foliage and the incredible living canvas Stone continues to create, she says with a twinkly smile, “My mother would be proud of me. She’d be really happy.”

The amount of time and devotion that Stone and Schepps have given lovingly to these gardens over their many years here is truly exceptional. The abundance of beauty and charm, the continuous displays of color and texture, from spring through late fall, the inviting and engaging mini-gardens that coexist throughout—all speak visibly of their talent and dedication. In 2003, I was one of the fortunate many to tour Stone and Schepps’ garden on the Hailey Garden Tour. What I lacked in understanding then, I made up for in amazement and awe. Even with her patient and steady guidance through her gardens these last few weeks, I continue to be awed and amazed by Helen Stone, gardener and extraordinary human being.

 

Click here for more photo’s of Helen Stone’s Garden

Meagan Ryan Stasz spends a few hours a week working in her own garden south of Bellevue in hopes of creating some sense of order and beauty in her world. Working with Helen Stone was an honor and a privelege and has given this author many wonderful helpful hints to take home.

 

 

This article appears in the Fall 2008 Issue of Sun Valley Magazine.