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May 2022

Marcia Doering & Her Storied Garden

Gardening has always called to Marcia Doering. Her love for trees and plants was first cultivated by her mother who created a front yard garden at their home on Chicago’s North Shore. In 2007 Marcia purchased her Wilmington residence with the same intention. Welcome to the garden she calls:

Peeking’ Through the Pines at Coral Cottage

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Marcia tells us: I knew this was the right garden for me. The 36 native pine trees on the property were magnificent. Their high canopy gives you filtered light all through the summer, ideal for azaleas and camellias, even roses. The Long Leaf needles produce the best pine straw you can get.

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(photo courtesy of Matt Born/StarNews)

Marcia, a horticulturist and certified arborist, tended the gardens at UNCW’s Kenan House, the Chancellor’s residence, until her retirement. She heard of the Azalea Tour and knew she wanted to be on it, so she set about creating garden rooms. I followed the advice given in the Alexander Pope poem to “consult the genius of the place” … so the trees and the sun determined how I laid out the garden. It all happened quite quickly. I made bed lines with pine straw using a pitchfork.

On the 2022 Azalea Garden Tour, visitors fell in love with Garden #5 and wanted to know who helped with its creation. I design, install and maintain the garden by myself. Most people don’t believe it but l ask them to look at my hands. They’re blistered and calloused as I don’t want to be encumbered with gloves. I like the direct feel of the stone and the plants.

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I always look for ways to introduce color, pattern and texture, a product of my 25 years of interior design experience. I once lived by a park designed by Jens Jensen who worked with Frank Lloyd Wright. He did a lot of stonework in his gardens and has been a huge influence. Hardscaping makes a garden interesting.

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The only thing more fascinating than Marcia’s landscaped rooms are all the stories behind them. The vignettes are inspired by her memories of childhood, people she’s known, and places she has been. Marcia likes to name everything and plans to add signage to share this with visitors.

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Squirrel Gate, the entrance point into her garden, is marked by the two creatures adorning its posts. The huge threshold stones were my first purchase from Stone Garden. They’re 4-5 feet across and about 20” wide. I hauled them home in my little car and levered them into place by myself.

Moon Walker. I chose white- and plum-colored stones to represent the Moon. The pathway is designed to slow people down as you have to watch where you walk. It’s a commemoration of the 50th anniversary of the Landing on the Moon – a dedication to my brother, an aeronautical engineer, who designed a fuel pump used in the Apollo rocket and to Neil Armstrong who was actually on that flight and later attended my son’s wedding. The Man in the Moon stone is one of my favorites.

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Secret Garden showcases a bronze Cupid statue looking for his arrow. I raised him on a turquoise quartzite stone that is heart-shaped and added two stones behind him in the shape of wings. Everything planted in this little hideaway takes the form of a heart.

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Fairy Landing has three fairies surrounded by jade pebbles and offset by loropetalum, a plant with purple leaves and red flowers commonly known as Chinese fringe flower.

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Perch Point is my most favorite place to be. It’s not only my perch, for coffee in the morning and something else later in the day, but a favorite for local birds as well since it gets both morning and evening sun. I like to add a lot of seating. Landscape architect Thomas Church said gardens are for people – you don’t want to hurry through them – so having places to stop and reflect is very important. I do a lot of color coordination, so furniture is painted to match the stones and plantings.

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I named the Savannah Bird Girl statue Pinkie, after the painting by Thomas Lawrence. She was made iconic through the novel Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil. Baby birds and snakes (which I am not afraid of) thrive in my certified wildlife habitat. The squirrels have a riotous time hopping from tree to tree. Pinkie is the perfect color as she matches the pine straw color.

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(Judi Niemann, 2022 Azalea Paint Out)

Camellia Cathedral has a gothic theme. I like to incorporate beautiful design with practicality. I built it with the idea of hanging climbing roses on it, so I’m going to South Carolina to select roses from a specialist there. Gardens take a long time to establish, so you have to have patience. The climbing roses won’t be fully realized for about four years.

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I love being out here listening to the wind through the pine trees. It’s a special sound different from wind through deciduous trees. I love the movement of light during the day. The dappled light plays games with the colors and the textures of the garden revealing new opportunities. Here there’s always something to do or add or fix. Every garden is constantly improving. – Marcia Doering