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How their gardens show

Most people have doormats.

Bill and Linda Pinkham have fish.

Visitors to the Pinkham’s home hear the light trickle of a waterfall in the background and the splash of the flame-colored koi swimming inches from their feet, below royal purple irises and water lilies as big as a hand, as they walk across their pond on their way to the front door.

The pond is one of the six gardens on the Pinkham’s six-acre wonderland.

With nearly an acre of garden space on the premises, the setting is the culmination of Bill and Linda’s talent and passion, represented by more than 60 years of professional gardening and landscaping experience between them.

The couple met in college while they were studying horticulture at Virginia Tech. After graduation, Linda became an agent with the Virginia Cooperative Extension and later joined Bill working at Smithfield Gardens, the nursery they opened in North Suffolk in 1972.

This year the Pinkhams opened their private garden to the public, as one of the seven Suffolk stops in the Virginia Historic Garden Week Tour, which came through Suffolk in April.

“This was the first year our garden was on tour,” Linda Pinkham said. “I’ve been a part of the Elizabeth River Garden Club, which helps host the tour every year when it comes through Suffolk. I’ve been able to spend more time in the garden since my husband and I retired eight years ago. When we were lining homes up for the tour this year I said, ‘I think I’d be ready to do that now.’”

The gardens on their property overlook the James River. During 12 years of developing the project, the Pinkhams have planted tropical, marsh, formal, secret and rock gardens.

“If it’s above 35 degrees and sunny, I’ll be out there,” Linda Pinkham said. “There’s a perennial garden book that tells you how much time to spend in the garden, depending on how many flowers you have. According to it, I should be spending 80 hours a week in it.”

Bill Pinkham’s handiwork also could be seen in another of the gardens on display during this year’s home and garden tour.

Barrell Point belongs to Mr. and Mrs. Richard F. Barry III and is located at the confluence of the James and Nansemond rivers. The property has broad, waterfront exposure and a panoramic view of the Hampton Roads harbor. Bill Pinkham helped with the landscaping there.

With masses of a single kind of flower or plant grouped together in separate areas throughout the gardens, the resulting environment is a visual symphony and indicative of the landscape style made popular by Wolfgang Oehme and James Van Sweden, whose book, “Bold Romantic Gardens: The New World Landscapes of Oehme and van Sweden” helped redefine American landscape architecture.

“It’s just full of big, bold sweeps of color — just masses of color,” Linda Pinkham said. “Instead of one or two knock-out rose bushes, they have 30. When they bloom, they make a big show.”

But it’s not just the roses and bright colors that lend themselves to the broad brush of the garden’s artistry. The concept also is carried over to the grasses.

“The outlying beds near the marsh emulate the grasses in the marsh,” Bill Pinkham said. “They’re masses of different types of ornamental grasses.”

Even when the majority of the garden goes dormant, “the structure of the garden lends itself to its beauty,” Bill said. “It’s beautiful moving in the wind and when the snow falls on it.”

The property also boasts winding pathways and a pier.

Another favorite garden feature of the tour was found at the home of Harry and Tracy Tillman.

The home boasts a butterfly garden, a hobby that began when Tracy Tillman helped her daughter with a Girl Scout project in Florida. After the family moved to Virginia, Tracy’s enjoyment of the hobby led her to plant a new garden in Suffolk, this time assuring that it would meet all the requirements necessary to become a certified butterfly waystation.

“As they migrate, they stop in our garden, and there’s nectar sources and host plants for them to lay their eggs on,” she said. “It’s been a really good project we just found and love. We even catch the butterflies with a net and tag them from April through December.”

Each year the gardens and homes in the tour change.

“No two gardens or homes are alike,” Nansemond River Garden Club Chairwoman Jodi Browne said. “I don’t think people realize they have neighbors that are as passionate as they are about their gardens. It’s great to let people see that.”

The 2011 tour is scheduled for April 16-23.