Christie Dustman’s yard is like an outdoor sculpture garden, and she takes such good care of her plants that you could almost say they’re curated. Stone walls and wood panels help divide the 8,000-square-foot West Roxbury lot into six outdoor “rooms,” or little galleries. Each starring plant has its own supporting cast of textural ground covers, stonework, and found objects that combine classical Japanese and campy American sensibilities. The high standards of care and sophistication reflect the two decades the owner has spent running Christie Dustman & Company, a professional garden design-build-maintenance firm headquartered in Hyde Park.
Dustman is the first to say, “This is not a flower garden.” About 70 percent of the plants are evergreens, and many of the rest are Japanese maples. While most gardens shine in the spring, a well-planned Japanese garden looks good 12 months a year, and that’s true of this one. “Conifers offer a lot more than just winter interest,” says Dustman, a member of the American Conifer Society. She enjoys the way evergreens respond to thoughtful pruning and shaping, “as compared to, say, a spirea, which doesn’t really hold any possibilities.”
Japanese influences include a dry gravel pond with a stone bridge in the backyard. The metal railing on the front step, created with Ray Ciemny of Artisan Iron in Groton, resembles waves from a Japanese woodcut print. But the garden also has a sense of whimsy that feels purely American. Both Dustman and her partner, Patti Ryan, a furniture maker, have welded garden tools into sculptures. “We love repurposing objects,” says Dustman, who has incorporated wrenches, organ pipes, a basketball hoop, and fireplace andirons into the yard as points of interest. A porcelain doll’s head is stuck on a farm implement, and a 1950s telephone sprouts under a spring-blooming enkianthus. “It’s fun,” Dustman says, “because I can say to kids that I want them to find objects on a scavenger hunt.”
Cedar shingles on the house, built in 1900, complement white cedar screens designed by Ryan that are strategically located to create privacy “without slapping up a fence in a routine way,” says Dustman.
Dustman doesn’t relax easily in her garden. There is too much to do, and she has too many ideas. The space is more a work of art than a place to unwind. “The only time we sit on the patio is when family is visiting,” Dustman says. Most of the time she’s caring for her plants, with which she feels a deep empathy: “It hurts me to see plants that are not well cared for.” Sometimes she sits on the back steps with her morning coffee gazing out over the garden, musing about what she wants to change.
“I can be a bit compulsive,” admits Dustman. “When I want to relax, I visit other people’s gardens.”
Christie Dustman singles out a half dozen of her favorite conifers:
> Van den Akker Alaskan cedar (Chamaecyparis nootkatensis “Van den Akker”): Tall, dark, and handsome, this conifer is a vertical accent that sways in the breeze and peers above the rest.
> Mini Twists white pine (Pinus strobus “Mini Twists”): Each bunch of foliage is both dwarf and twisted, creating a swirling pyramidal plant.
> Robusta Green juniper (Juniperus chinensis “Robusta Green”): Hauntingly sculptural, this juniper looks wind-swept.
> Aoi Japanese white pine (Pinus parviflora “Aoi”): A gorgeous mix of blue and green coloring on the needles characterizes this medium-sized pyramidal tree.
> North Light dawn redwood (Metasequoia glyptostroboides “Schirrmann’s Nordlicht”): A deciduous conifer, this dwarf dawn redwood has white, cream, and light green hues in its ferny foliage.
> Umbrella pine (Sciadopitys verticillata): A large, slow-growing conifer with waxy, thick needles, the memorable tree resembles a parasol.
> Dustman’s is one of five properties on the Garden Conservancy’s Greater Boston Open Day tour on June 11 from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tickets ($7 per garden, five for $30) can be purchased from the Wakefield Estate, 1465 Brush Hill Road, Milton (617-333-0924; wakefieldtrust.org).
Granite boulders from a North Shore quarry support a wagon wheel in the front yard; plants include golden coreopsis, variegated yucca, and a dwarf chamaecyparis.
An iron pagoda by New Hampshire artist Jill Nooney.
A new cedar-shingled garden shed buffers the view.
Clematis Niobe has burgundy flowers.