Most Beautiful Garden Contest Winner

We are fortunate in Southern Maryland to have so many talented gardeners. I have been blessed to have visited an abundance of local gardens and gained helpful gardening tips at each. These bits of information have been invaluable over the past 24 years and really helped shape my garden.
Annually, Southern Maryland-This is Living magazine holds a “Most Beautiful Garden Contest,” and every year
I am struck by the beauty of the garden entries.
In 2021, the entries were so incredible, we decided to choose two winners instead of one.
We published one winner (Mary Ida Rolape’s) in the fall 2021 edition, and in this issue we are featuring the garden of the second winner, Kathy Padgett Straka.
Her home and gardens are on a corner lot overlooking the Chesapeake Bay in Scientists’ Cliff in Port Republic.
While Kathy has been shaping and transforming the gardens in her Port Republic property for a little more than seven years, she has been a gardener for more than 40 years when she moved to Chesapeake Beach and completely transformed the gardens of her home there.
She is a graduate of the second class of Maryland Master Gardeners in Calvert County. While she has all the knowledge and experience, because she no longer volunteers, she is considered a Master Gardener Emeritus. She still uses the knowledge and experience obtained and promotes sustainable practices in the community.

When she first became a Master Gardener, her philosophy was the “more the merrier,” with lots of beautiful uncontrolled growth in her yard. She has since sold her home in Chesapeake Beach, and while she still loves to garden, she has changed her style, transitioning to what she calls “low-maintenance gardening.”
This means plants that spread go in pots, her beds are divided up with a walking path allowing for easy access, less plants and streamlined maintenance.
It means less is more — less work and more time to enjoy it!
She recently retired from the Census Bureau after 30 years, married her boyfriend of seven years, and is ready to spend more time on new adventures.
There is no less beauty, of course.
Her gardens are still incredible. The blooming beauties include clematis, Asiatic lilies, astilbe, the purple oxalis, miniature roses, hellebores, camellias, daffodils, contorted filberts, columbine, coral bells, bearded iris and more.
Shrubs and trees include dwarf holly, Japanese golden grass, pieris japonica, inkberry holly, dwarf red maple tree, Japanese maples and viburnum, just to name a few!

In the left front of Kathy’s lawn is a flower bed with a stunning viburnum tree, which Kathy has carefully pruned into beautiful shape. In that same bed, blooming in the summer are dozens of stunning amaryllis.
Every spring Kathy and husband Steve pull dozens of amaryllis bulbs out of dry storage the previous winter and plant them. They will bloom beautifully in the summer, and stay green into the fall. In October, they are dug up and put back into dry storage under their house.
Sometimes they will pull a few bulbs to force to bloom at Christmas, which is when we are accustomed to seeing them bloom.
Steve, who has lived in the house for more than 20 years, continues a tradition started by his former father-in-law.
Scattered throughout the gardens are whimsical pieces of handmade art Kathy purchased mostly locally. But some of the outdoor art came from as far away as Slovenia, the birthplace of Steve’s parents. Hanging on her potting shed are beehive fronts, hand painted with comical scenes.
The artwork throughout the gardens adds a layer of entertainment and enjoyment.

Across from Kathy and Steve’s home used to be an unused corner lot, owned by the community association, that was full of weeds and a broken drainage field.
Kathy said after some neighborly discussion and planning, she and Steve built a 46-foot-by-53-foot garden, had the drain repaired, and planted inkberry, fragrant sumac, cotoneaster and a continuous border of yucca.
The mix of evergreen, deciduous and semi-evergreen give this now beautiful garden year-round appeal. Looking out across the street is a lovely sight.
It is clear that Kathy has a passion for gardening, she is excited to help others (me too!) with their gardening challenges, and her gardens are well planned, maintained and simply striking.
Kathy is on to something … low-maintenance gardening is gorgeous and gives time for enjoying the other wonderful pleasures of life. •