Carrollton’s ‘secret garden’

Published 7:32 pm Thursday, April 8, 2010

Tucked away off the James River is the pride and passion of Linda and Bill Pinkham, the couple who founded Smithfield Gardens.

The couple’s combined 60 years of horticulture and landscape design experience has materialized into their garden at 24389 Mouring Drive in Carrollton. The garden is part of The Garden Club of Virginia’s Historic Garden Week and is one of two Suffolk-area gardens that will be featured on April 23.

“I’ve been participating as part of the Elizabeth River Garden Club for years, but this year when they were lining up gardens and homes to be on tour, someone asked if we would open ours,” Linda Pinkham said. “I said, I think I’d be ready to do that now.”

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This year will be the Historic Garden Week’s 77th anniversary, making it the oldest and largest statewide house and garden tour event in the nation. More than 250 homes and gardens open their doors and gates to the public during the event to benefit the restoration of important historic grounds and gardens throughout the state.

While the Pinkhams bought the property in 1990, Linda said there wasn’t much time for gardening. It has been in the past 12 years that things began to blossom, with even more of their time being spent getting their hands dirty since they retired eight years ago.

“We knew when we retired we wanted to spend a lot more time in our garden,” she said. “Even though we were in landscaping for over 30 years, we like to collect plants, too. Instead of your typical landscape, we have a little of everything. My husband did all the beds and together we put in gardens. We’ve been working on it for a total of 12 years.”

The property is a total of six acres, but “if you squish it together it would be about an entire acre of garden,” she said.

They include two formal gardens on either side of the green house, a south-facing rock garden, a woodland area, a pond, a flower border overlooking the James River, a conifer garden and a tropical garden that features manmade and natural limestone rock sculptures from Indonesia.

One of Linda’s favorite areas is her pond garden, which has lotus and lilies blooming in the summer.

“We really love it,” she said. “You walk up the front pathway and across the pond to the porch, but when you’re in the living room you can see the pond from indoors. It’s something you can enjoy all year round.”

Pinkham estimates she spends the majority of her day in the garden.

“There’s a book on perrenial maintenance that allows you to calculate how many hours you need to spend in your garden in order to maintain it,” she said. “It told me I should spend 80 hours a week on it. I can’t spend that much time out there, but if the sun is shining and it’s above 35 degrees, I’m out there.”

In addition to the garden, Bill Pinkham’s pottery studio will also be open to the public.