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Doorways seem the obvious place to start designing a garden. What you see from them becomes the garden's introduction, and the paths that extend from them are an invitation to explore. When I moved with my family 30 years ago to Duck Hill, a 19th-century farmhouse painted yellow and white and perched on the side of a hill in upstate New York, it had no gardens. No flowers at all except for some old, gnarled stands of lilac that bloomed extravagantly in May. Statuesque sugar maples and white ash trees lined the perimeters of the three-acre property, but the interior space, sloping down the hill to the south, was mostly rough grass, with an outlying thicket of scraggly trees. With this virtually empty canvas, I began to plot the garden. I knew I wanted separate areas in which to grow a variety of plants: green rooms, essentially, opening out from the house. It seemed logical to use Duck Hill's doorways as my launching pads.
Pictured: A door to a porch leads to a courtyard of Malus 'Snowdrift,' a single-bloom crabapple and Buxus sempervirens 'Vardar Valley,' a hardy boxwood.