Our first home was in the Pioneer Valley near the University of Massachusetts where we attended school. While Kristin was obtaining her degree in Plant Pathology and Stephen was studying for a Masters of Landscape Architecture, we rented the first floor of a farmhouse near the Connecticut River . From the lookout atop Sugarloaf Mountain, the house and its postage stamp size yard surrounded by trees and gardens looked like a lush island in a sea of open farm fields . It was our ‘Oasis' with our first vegetable garden carved from an adjacent, soon to be, field of pumpkins.
During the 1981 winter of oil shortages and while Stephen was still in graduate school, we had the opportunity to live on the island of St. Kitts (www.stkitts-tourism.com) in the British West Indies for three months . Stephen researched and wrote his thesis on the effects of tourism and historic preservation on the world famous fortress Brimstone Hill (www.brimstonehillfortress.org) , while Kristin shared her plant pathology knowledge at the island's agricultural research center and created pen & ink drawings for Stephen's thesis.
With degrees in hand, an opening at Walt Disney World lured us from Massachusetts to Orlando as Kristin started as a plant pathologist at The Land in the still under construction EPCOT and a long career in horticulture with the mouse. Our new rental Oasis in Osceola County was one in spirit only since the new subdivision was stripped of all vegetation. Do you see our yellow van parked in the driveway and our first Florida garden around the house? The vegetable garden required hand pollination and it struggled with nutrient poor soils and summer heat. Where were the pollinators? We had a lot to learn about Florida gardening!
Florida proved a fertile ground for a young landscape architect. Stephen learned a totally new plant palette while experiencing reversed growing seasons. He worked with an engineering firm and then ran the design-build department for a large landscape contractor in Orlando. Within a few years we purchased our first house in Orwin Manor, one of Winter Park's tree canopied neighborhoods.
This 1947 bungalow with a tired landscape was soon transformed into a cottage-style garden. With a wisteria-covered pergola, a bubbling birdbath and a welcoming deck at the front door, we truly had an Oasis again . In a few years Kristin was onto her second career at Disney as Manager of the Walt Disney World Nursery and Stephen's passion for photography led him to the Garden Writers Association. Soon garden writing and garden photography became a part of his career.
In 1989, Stephen left a landscape architecture firm to start his own business. We set up his office at home, with views to the front and rear gardens. Our Oasis was now integrated into our work.
Soon, gardening was not only our hobby, but also our passion, touching upon all aspects of our lives. When we traveled it revolved around gardens to visit and photograph. We stayed in beds & breakfasts both here and abroad so we could be closer to gardens and their owners. Fresh herbs in containers could always be found on our sunny south facing deck and made their way into our kitchen. We eliminated the grass in our yard to expand our gardens, which became a testing ground for the budding perennial industry in the southeast. Yes, perennials had finally arrived south of the Mason-Dixon Line.
Over the next ten years, we traveled the United States, France and England, saw Stephen's photography published on the cover of American Horticulturist, started the monthly column Pategas On Plants. and had our front deck garden featured in Southern Living Magazine. We organized our neighborhood to build an award winning park, The Park at Orwin Manor, on land that was slated for three houses. Our overseas travels began with Kristin's assignment to the 'Opening Crew' for EuroDisney to develop a topiary program with Edouard Gaujoux. Stephen joined her and we spent an exciting but cold February just east of Paris soaking in French food, scenery, culture and a handful of gardens.
Kristin soon became a featured speaker for horticulture at Walt Disney World. Her extensive horticultural experience and understanding of how people learn differently made her a natural to become the Program Manager of the Epcot International Flower & Garden Festival. Soon, the Disney Institute tapped on Kristin to become the Program Manager for its hands-on gardening programs. For five years Kristin designed and taught gardening programs, designed the award winning Teaching Garden with Stephen, appeared on Good Morning America, Next Door With Katie Brown, Gardening By The Yard with Paul James and saw two seasons of HGTV's daily show WayToGrow filmed at the Teaching Garden.
By 1999, we were running out of interior and garden space at our home of 15 years and we purchased a 1925 Mediterranean Revival style house just 10 houses down the street. The black & white photo shows how it looked in the 1950's and to the right what it looked like at purchase. We doubled our square footage and increased our lot size by 250%. Unfortunately the mortgage also grew. This stately home overlooks The Park at Orwin Manor, which we designed in 1994. The side yard contains a magnificent southern magnolia (Magnolia grandiflora) and the inspiration for the Hortus Oasis logo was born. Now we have enough space to hold our gardening dreams. This is how our new home looked in the fall of 1999 before we moved in.
In 2000, the Disney Institute's enrichment programs came to an end. It was a bittersweet day when Kristin decided to leave Disney - bitter to end a wonderful 18-year career, but sweet to join her husband in our new business, Hortus Oasis.
As we continue to build our business, we also dream about and design our landscape. The numerous gardens we have seen and photographed in our travels which now include, Singapore, Bali, Hong Kong, Thailand and Laos have made this an involved process. There are many more ideas than the space will hold or the budget will allow. We have determined that our gardens will stimulate all of the senses with color, fragrance, the sound of water, edible plants and textural surfaces. There will be spaces for entertaining, contemplation, butterflies and the display of interesting plants and garden ornaments.
The front garden with a magnolia blossom mosaic in the brick walk is finished. In the rear we completed the vegetable garden with four raised beds and a butterfly garden with over one hundred blooming plants. Future plans include a petangue court (the French version of bocce) and a garden temple ruin.
We invite you to return to see how our Master Plan develops and to see installations as they progress. As always, we welcome your ideas and comments. Scroll down to see how the look of the front of our home has changed since we moved in.