In the Garden: July at a Glance with Estate Gardener, Ainsley Chew

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Is there anything better than July in the garden?  It may depend on who you ask, but for me it doesn’t get any better than this.  After several summers of hot and dry weather, we now find ourselves fully immersed in a truly hazy, hot and humid summer.  After a decade of tending gardens in San Francisco’s dry, Mediterranean climate, I became quite accustomed to managing landscapes with limited access to water.  This skill came in handy when I moved back to the drought-laden East Coast in 2019 and the subsequent summers that followed.  This summer of humidity, rain and dramatic thunderstorms evokes nostalgia for the idyllic Rhode Island climate of my youth.








For those of you unable to visit Rough Point this summer, allow me to share some reflections from the garden thus far.  The first of the roses began to make an appearance on June 20th this year; a few days earlier than previous years. Although the grass and the gardens have benefited from the rain and humidity, the roses have made their sentiments known.  Humidity and large amounts of rain can create a challenge for roses to stave off powdery mildew, black spot and rotten blooms.  With nothing but pure synchronicity to blame, I had spent this past winter doing a great deal of research on how to effectively grow healthy and resilient roses using only organic methods.  Going into the spring, I created a rose maintenance plan to assure they could thrive despite what Mother Nature threw at us.  I was pleased with the blooms this year, and look forward to continuing to improve the health of the roses over time.









The restoration of the East Garden at Rough Point has evolved into a labor of love for me this season.  Over a period of time, the garden had fallen victim to hungry rabbits and a number of underperforming plants.  Starting last fall, I began working to create a bountiful collection of plants that would thrive in the space for years to come.  For those of you who may need a refresher, the East Garden lies in the Northeast corner of the formal gardens.  With kempt boxwoods providing symmetrical structure to the beds, my vision has been to create a naturalistic and eclectic collection of perennials that would be historically representative of Rough Point’s heyday.  Reminiscent of traditional English country gardens, the formal structure is a lovely juxtaposition to the whimsical grasses, bee balm, and Russian sage that now inhabit the garden.









Did I mention how I feel about rabbits?  This winter, I kept busy by installing rabbit fencing around the dahlia/annual flower garden.  Feeling like I had achieved victory against these adorable yet destructive critters, I was bewildered when I witnessed a rabbit effortlessly squeeze through a corner of the fence.  Armed with nothing but Yankee ingenuity, I was finally able to outsmart these furry residents of Rough Point by creating a barrier that rivals the security of Fort Knox.









On the subject of dahlias, it’s been a delight to see new additions to our tuber collection come to life this year.   We have a number of aptly named ‘Doris Duke’ dahlias in the garden right now, which are always show stoppers.  Be on the lookout for ‘Black Narcissus’ and ‘Cafe au Lait’ next time you visit, as they are just beginning to bloom.  Annual flowers surround the dahlias this year bringing subtle hints of purples, yellows and blues creating a playful backdrop for the real stars, the dahlias.









With the arrival of August in a few weeks, I will be starting to prepare the garden for the bittersweet interlude to the autumn season.  Please come take a look around, say hello and share highlights from your own garden adventures this summer!


Rough Point Museum is open—including the Grounds and Gardens—Tuesdays-Sundays from 10:00AM until 5:00 PM. Plan your visit at For more garden-related content, follow us @nptrestoration and you can follow Ainsley @ains_bot