Serenity and Symmetry: Year-round interest and privacy guide Florence gardener’s plant choices

  • Foliage form, color and texture are key factors in Dahlquist’s plant choices. SUBMITTED PHOTO/LARRI COCHRAN

  • Kendra Dahlquist’s back fence garden LARRI COCHRAN

  • Kendra Dahlquist’s extended berm LARRI COCHRAN

  • Dahlquist’s back garden LARRI COCHRAN

  • A Pink Shell Azalea is among the plants in Dahlquist's garden. GAZETTE STAFF/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Dahlquist moved to Florence from Simsbury, Connecticut in 2013 and immediatley set to work transforming her yard. GAZETTE STAFF/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Hosta's in Kendra Dahlquist's garden at her home in Florence. —GAZETTE STAFF/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Kendra Dahlquist's garden at her home in Florence. —GAZETTE STAFF/CAROL LOLLIS

  • A Variegated Iris in Kendra Dahlquist's garden at her home in Florence. —GAZETTE STAFF/CAROL LOLLIS

  • A Variegated Iris in Kendra Dahlquist's garden at her home in Florence. —GAZETTE STAFF/CAROL LOLLIS

  • A dogwood tree grows along one path in Kendra Dahlquist's yard. GAZETTE STAFF/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Kendra Dahlquist sits on the steps of her home leading into her garden. —GAZETTE STAFF/CAROL LOLLIS

  • The view from Kendra Dahlquist's home of her garden. —GAZETTE STAFF/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Dahlquist has a master plan done by a landscape designer, but uses it more as a guide than a blueprint. GAZETTE STAFF/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Dahlquist said she wanted a new view when she moved into her ranch-style home. GAZETTE STAFF/CAROL LOLLIS

For the Gazette
Thursday, May 17, 2018

Graceful sweeps of tranquility greet visitors to this traditional ranch-style corner home in Florence. Five years ago this one-third acre property had an expansive, exposed yard punctuated with a smattering of mature pines and maple trees. Now, curvilinear grass pathways weave between deep garden beds that feature an understory of young shrubs, perennials, grasses and bulbs, inviting meandering strolls.

The creator of this transformation is Kendra Dahlquist who moved to Florence from Simsbury, Connecticut in 2013. “Plants are my paint and palette,” said Dahlquist, whose artistic sensibility is honed by a background in art history. Gardening is her main creative outlet and last June, her yard was featured in the 2017 Forbes Library Garden Tour. This year’s tour, featuring different gardens, takes place June 9 (See sidebar at right).

When Dahlquist first moved into her Florence home, she decided she wanted a new view. “I stood looking out the back window and all I could see were rooftops — rooftop, after rooftop, after rooftop,” she said in a recent interview. Coming from a large garden of shade and privacy at her former home, she wanted to look out on a scene that would provide a comforting, familiar sense of enclosure.

She set to work installing a 3-foot berm behind the house made from 20 yards of loam and anchoring it with three 6-foot tall concolor fir trees, creating an attractive foundation and 9-foot high living fence.

Then, Dahlquist expanded the berm garden outward, focusing on foliage form, color and texture in her plant choices instead of flowers, planting them with an eye toward the order and symmetry she likes. She flanked the pale blue-green fir trees with a pair of claret red Japanese maples (Acer palmatum), supported by thick-leaved sedum, burgundy penstemon and numerous green grasses yielding airy seedheads in late summer.

To draw attention to a center focal point, Dahlquist installed a tall square container and filled it with annuals echoing the same color theme. A pair of river birch (Betula nigra) at the outer edge of the garden by the house, frame the view.


After a year of working with her own design, Dahlquist says, she decided to hire a landscape designer to create a master plan. Though she says she often has deviated from it, it has helped her think about the property as a fluid whole instead of individual parts.

Guided by this, she extended the living fence horizontally, creating a long back garden. Pendulus pine, golden Spirea thunbergii ‘Ogon’, felty silver-leaved snow-in-summer (Cerastium tomentosum), scallop-edged lady’s mantle (Alchemilla mollis), fern-leaved astilbe and various daylilies are part of the supporting cast. A custom-made slatted wooden fence borders each end of this garden.

Tucked into this long bed on either side of a young oak tree are two metal sculptures, each approximately 3-feet high, providing strong lines to contrast with the surrounding soft textured leaves and greenery.

One sculpture is a pair of overlapping round steel wheel-like rings, the other, a hard-edged square Corten steel planter. These pieces, with their rusty patina, provide the size and mass needed to aesthetically connect them to the rest of the plantings.


Year-round interest and privacy are Dahlquist’s prime objectives as she designs her gardens. When she looks out the east-facing front living room window she sees burgundy-leaved Japanese maples, flowering stewartia, and various evergreens. Near the road she planted mariesii viburnum and bottlebrush buckeye (Aesculus parviflora) as a gentle shield from passersby.

Continuing southeast and bordering the driveway on the left there are more Japanese maples complemented by low-growing procumbens junipers, and numerous perennials. Closer to the house there are shade-loving epimedium and purple and copper-leaved heuchera. Lining the southern-most edge of the yard under towering mature trees grow azaleas, hydrangea, buckeye and rhododendrons underplanted with hosta, lamium, brunnera, ajuga, lady’s mantle, astilbe and candelabra primrose (Primula bulleyana).

A curved path added three years ago connects to the back garden, featuring hosta, hydrangea, kousa dogwood (Corunus Kousa), viburnum, and fringe tree. The following year brought a full sun fence garden of intensely purple black foliaged black lace elderberry (Sambucus nigra), deep burgundy ninebark (Physocarpus spp.), various evergreens, grasses and spring-blooming iris.

This year’s plan is to add a screened-in porch in the shady back corner and a north side garden to soften that yet-untouched edge.


Dahlquist says her approach to gardening was heavily influenced by two excursions that remain vivid in her memory. The first was a 2007 trip to Kyoto, Japan where she visited the Saihoji Temple, aka Kokodera the Moss Temple. Created in 1338, this almost 600-year-old moss garden exuded a sense of immense calm, she said: “I felt the garden.”

Reinforcing this experience was a trip years later to the Bloedel Reserve on Bainbridge Island, Washington. There, the beauty and calm of a long, rectangular, spring-fed reflecting pool surrounded by a graceful hemlock hedge struck her as “a brilliant example of getting things right by very carefully and gently shaping nature.”

These experiences, she says, were put into perspective for her in Julie Moir Messervy’s garden books, including “The Inspired Garden.”

“Gardening brings you into another world,” Dahlquist said. “A bit of fantasy.”

Working with the Forbes Garden tour volunteers and other people from western Massachusetts, Dahlquist says, has taught her to incorporate respect for the natural world into her gardens. Her initial garden designs, she says, were first an aesthetic exercise, then an environmental one. Now she better understands the importance of bees, birds and butterflies as pollinators and native plants as important local ecosystem players. As gardens evolve, so does the gardener.

Priscilla Touhey of Florence is a Master Gardener with the Western Massachusetts Master Gardener Association.