Home & Garden

A Pa. home surrounded by an English country garden

Heidi White was determined to create an English garden when she and her husband, Andy, purchased their first home in 2005. Though, she admitted, "I didn't know the difference between tulips and impatiens."

Heidi was inspired by her father-in-law Colin's garden outside of Sheffield, England. "It was natural and free flowing. No matter when we visited," she said, "there was always something in bloom."

The Whites' stone home in Merion Station had original 1925 features such as crown molding, ceiling medallions, and a leaded glass window in the center hall staircase landing. But the house needed refurbishing inside and outside, where an overgrown cherry tree blocked the sun, and concrete walkways were crumbling.

Heidi cut down the tree and pulled out unkempt grass. With the help of landscaper Jim McShane of Reading, she densely planted the quarter-acre lot with bird- and bee-loving perennials. Flagstone paths wind through ajuga and sweet woodruff ground cover shaded by a Japanese maple tree. Bright pink azaleas show off in spring; hydrangeas blossom in the summer, and in the fall, camellias.

Behind a fence trellised with tomato plants, a rectangle of lawn provides space for sunning, picnicking, and kicking a soccer ball. The Whites' son, Harry, 13, plays soccer and tennis and runs. Daughter Sadie, 15, swims and rows. Fortunately, the garden does not require mulching or weeding, leaving the parents time to attend sporting events.

Athletic equipment is stored in bins and shelves in the enclosed porch, where there is also a homework table. When the children were younger, the porch was a playroom, and homework was done on the dining table until Heidi realized pencil marks were damaging the surface.

The piece was one of the few furnishings the Whites had when they moved in. They found complementary chairs and a buffet at Bloomingdale's in King of Prussia. A woodworker friend made the oval coffee table in the living room, copying the curved legs of the dining table. The beige couch and burgundy chairs pick up colors in the Oriental rug. The children use the globe by the fireplace to find places the family has traveled, including Sri Lanka, Africa, and Ecuador.

By the front door hangs a collage of white ribbons and tags calligraphed with well wishes, which were attached to a gift of 12 bottles of wine – one a month for the first year of the Whites' marriage – from a bridesmaid. Tag comments from Brits are funny, and from U.S. guests, very earnest, the couple said.

Heidi, who grew up in Glenside, and Andy, who grew up in Sheffield, were introduced by a mutual friend in New York. Their romance continued after he flew back to London, and she returned to work in Chicago. Eventually they both moved to New York and later lived in London. They married in 2002.

Heidi now is in marketing brand management, and Andy is with the software firm SAP. He has a home office that Heidi calls a man cave with an ironing board.

The Whites had new windows installed and two second-floor bathrooms renovated. Andy refurbished the third-floor bathroom, which still has an original claw-foot tub. Old wallpaper was stripped and walls painted cream or pale yellow with deeper shades such as olive or gray-blue below the chair rail.

As stubborn as Heidi was about her English garden, she was just as resolute in her resistance to tearing down the wall between the dining room and kitchen to open up the space.

"I didn't want guests looking at my dirty dishes," she said.

Also, she couldn't see how the formal dining room and new kitchen could blend. Paul McAlary at Main Line Kitchen Design allayed her fears. A deep sink hides dishes, a side counter conceals small appliances, and a breakfast bar screens a food preparation area. The dining room's original oak floor was refinished to match the new oak kitchen floor. White cabinets replaced the 50-year-old dark cherry, and they have ample room for Heidi's grandmother's and great-aunt's china.

When Heidi cut down the cherry tree, friends said it would take away privacy. Instead, it has brought her closer to neighbors whose yards she views.

"We encourage each other's gardening efforts," she said.

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