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Exploring Chadds Ford’s Hidden Garden Oasis

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“I didn’t like it the first time I saw it,” says Wayne Guymon.

The year was 1998, and Guymon and his wife, Doris, had already fallen in love with the 1960s contemporary set on nine-and-a-half acres tucked in a quiet residential cul-de-sac in Chadds Ford, Pa. The Guymons bought the property, and Wayne immediately started visualizing a redesign of the open land sloping away from the house.

They named their new home “WynEden,” combining a family name with the Bible’s most famous garden. “But, really, the name boils down to “Wayne’s Garden,’” the owner sheepishly admits.

During the couple’s first year in Chadds Ford, Guymon studied his “blank canvas” to see what plants were already there and what he wanted to add.

 

All photographs by Jim Graham.

 

Before he could bring in anything new, however, he had to remove the weeds that surrounded a large pond filled with blue gills and bass in the center of the yard. He replaced the rotting bridge over one of the smaller ponds, and he expanded an isolated “postage-stamp-size” bed of hostas to integrate them into the landscape.

Removing paths that made no sense to him, Guymon replaced them with ones that allowed for meandering among the plantings. He transformed two patches of daffodils and an abandoned square of thistles into the backbone of the magnificent daffodil display visitors see today. The “big sweeps” of foliage on either side of the house are also his creation. “Everything I’ve done seems obvious to me,” says Guymon, who periodically climbs on the roof of his home to rethink the shape of his beds and make sure they flow as they should.

Today, WynEden is recognized as one of the premier private gardens in the Mid-Atlantic, offering an astounding array of plant material carefully managed to emphasize order and serenity. From an island in the central pond reachable by a Giverney-inspired bridge painted bright blue, one can sit on a bench and contemplate a majestic solitary willow tree. A breathtaking palette of foliage plants, trees and water features extends from one section of the garden to the next.

There are over 4,000 different plants and cultivars. The notable 15,000-hosta collection boasts more than 400 named varieties. There are 7,000 rhododendrons and azaleas, along with a trumpet pitcher collection. Four thousand specimen plants contribute to the landscape design. Plants range from small to large in an array of colors and forms. Mature dogwood trees shade a wide selection of plants, from golden bleeding hearts, candelabra primroses, hellebores and jack-in-the-pulpits to exotic terrestrial orchids.

WynEden is open to the public by appointment. It’s also a popular spot with garden groups and fundraising tours like Wilmington Garden Day.

Though Guymon designed WynEden primarily as a foliage garden, there are blooms on display every season. Spring, however, is the showstopper. It’s also Guymon’s busiest time of the year, as he does most of the weeding, mulching and edging himself. “Everything is blooming, and I’m pressed to keep it looking its best because people want to visit and tours start,” he says. “It’s a very beautiful but stressful time for me.”

 

One corner of the property takes its inspiration from the Far East. There, Guymon constructed a wooden zigzag bridge (avoiding straight paths wards off evil spirits, he says) with bamboo railings, which straddles a koi pond filled with clusters of exotic water iris. The pond is edged with a dense bed of Japanese primroses and sheltered by a large grove of bamboo. Guymon keeps the bamboo from spreading with an open ditch he re-digs every year with the help of three part-time assistants. Dry-stone walls, a Thai Buddha and carved granite lanterns complete the scene.

 

Growing up in Provo, Utah, Wayne Guymon wasn’t exposed to much flora. A Provo spring lasts about two weeks. “Then the sun comes out, burns everything, and that’s it,” he says with a chuckle.

Guymon’s only early experience with landscaping was mowing lawns on the nearby National Guard base in the summer. But he realized that he did like working outside.

The self-proclaimed workaholic got his master’s and doctorate degrees at Columbia University, where he applied linguistics and semiotics to the study of French medieval literature. He also began growing plants in his apartment—over 100 of them in bottles and jars on every windowsill. Morning glories trailed up his TV antenna.

 

Guymon’s work ethic served him well throughout a successful computing career for large companies. In the 1980s, he transformed the grounds surrounding the New Jersey lakeside cottage getaway he and Doris purchased. As Doris puttered in the flowerbeds, her husband looked over her shoulder and micromanaged every move.

Doris soon realized that if they were to stay together, she’d have to leave the gardening to him. Back in their New York City apartment, he pored over his handful of gardening books, planning the cottage’s flowerbeds. In 1993, the couple moved to California, where Guymon immersed himself in the study of desert plants. By the end of their five years there, he’d created a sprawling xeriscape garden filled with a variety of plantings.

At WynEden, Guymon records and manages his vast inventory of plants on a computer spreadsheet. He orders most everything online, but he also enjoys sharing with fellow gardeners. “My most unique plants are from people who gave them to me,” he says. “I always think of the person who gave me the plant when I look at it.”

 

Doris died in 2017 following a three-year battle with cancer. In her final days, she visited with friends and enjoyed looking out over WynEden as she sat under the pergola Wayne built for her near the house. “She was my biggest supporter,” says Wayne. “She never objected to using family funds for my garden projects, and she loved serving as WynEden’s social director.”

These days, Guymon’s poodles, Nico and Alexi, continue to chase each other through the gardens and the five acres of edited woodland, thanks to fencing around the perimeter of the property. The manmade barrier also keeps out deer and other animals, though Guymon swears off chemicals. “I’m a keeper of nature,” he says. “I’ll be damned if I’m going to kill anything.”

When his days of caring for WynEden are over, Guymon hopes to leave it to the Garden Conservancy to live on. “I treat it as a public garden now,” he says.

To all but Guymon, WynEden seems perfect. “I have a rolling 20-year plan—the garden still isn’t what I want it to be,” he says. “One day, I’ll have a real garden.”

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