Folks who regularly drive along Litchford Road in North Raleigh have probably noticed the gardens at 6401 Litchford Road. Poppies nod their bright red heads at passersby, and yellow kale blossoms beckon. Sometimes you can see two people walking among the plants, bending and pulling weeds. And trellises, which will soon be covered with tomatoes, beans and peas, have been built on the property next door.
Frances Alvarino Norwood and John Norwood are making changes, and visitors at their annual Larkspur garden party and art show can have a look next weekend.
Frances and John have worked these gardens together for about five years. Frances bought this property with her late husband, Al, about 28 years ago. (The Alvarinos checked the condition of the soil before signing on the dotted line.) Frances, a sculptor, started Larkspur about 18 years ago when she and some friends wanted a way to show their art.
Frances and John met 5½ years ago through a matchmaking website. It was a match made in the garden. He was attracted to her description of a cantaloupe. “It had a jewel-like drop where the stem was broken off. The drop was apricot-colored and smelled like your dream cantaloupe.”
It was pretty, but it didn’t taste very good, she said.
Hundreds of different plants – vegetables and flowers – grow in the Alvarino-Norwood gardens. The couple ate out of the garden all winter – kale, leeks, artichokes and winter greens. They also grow herbs, such as cilantro, and peppers, beans, peas and tomatoes.
“We eat lots of vegetables,” Frances says.
These are not formal gardens, but a lovely, eclectic mix of colors, textures and heights.
Wild ginger grows just off the back steps. Near the road, kale and cilantro grow among poppies and peonies. A massive blanket of pink Cecile Bruner roses overwhelms a wooden arbor. And of course, there’s larkspur.
Tables hold pots with bedding plants for Frances’ business; she and her brother, Stewart Kennedy, install and maintain gardens for customers. If you wander around the property, you’ll see a greenhouse, where she overwinters customers’ plants, grows tropicals and starts vegetables.
The couple recently bought the property next door, partly so they could expand the gardens. John built trellises, using trimming from a big old oak that had to be cut, and they have plans for English peas, lima beans, tomatoes, eggplant and several varieties of peppers, melons, corn and broccoli.
What else? Lovely lavender foxglove, blue anemone and bachelor’s buttons, spiky milk thistle, speckled lungwort, Jerusalem sage.
Each has favorite plants. Frances calls herself a mushy romantic in the garden and she favors pastels. Among her favorites are: larkspur, the show’s namesake flower; poppies, even though they’re bright red (she says they were part of John’s dowry); wild ginger, a heart-shaped, evergreen ground cover; and old-fashioned annuals.
John prefers bright, loud colors: red hot pokers (I saw blooms when I drove by the other day), orange and yellow cosmos, purple Mexican sage, bright red and purple salvia, irises and peonies.
A garden this beautiful and this diverse doesn’t come easily. During peak season, each works about 20 hours a week, mostly on weekends, weeding and mulching. They love this work. “That’s the only thing to explain (why we do it),” John says.
They offer this advice: “Take care of your soil,” (remember, theirs has been in the works almost 30 years) and “give things space.”
Keep trying and things eventually start to work, John says.
“There are magic moments when it works,” Frances says.
The magic is in full bloom on Litchford Road. See for yourself.