Gardening: digging was therapy for Emer Featherstone
By PATRICIA CONOVER
For Montclair Local
For Emer Featherstone, gardening was therapy. Her garden began to take shape after the loss of her husband, Richard Featherstone, 25 years ago.
He had been a math and science teacher in Montclair. Featherstone, who is originally from Ireland, hadn’t planned on creating a large garden but she somehow found herself outdoors, working in the yard, often until well after sunset.
“It was instinctual. It was therapy,” Featherstone said. “I was digging in the dirt, moving things, planting trees, flowers and shrubs. There is something healing about digging, rearranging and planting.”
She had always envisioned recreating the kind of Irish country garden she remembered from childhood.
“My father was a great gardener,” she said. “He turned our backyards into voluminous vegetable and flower gardens.”
She chose plants that had color and texture after the blooming season was over. She bought shrubs and trees at the end of the season when they were on sale.
She learned which plants would thrive, and when and where they would thrive. She took her time and created a vibrant, welcoming landscape.
“There was always something else to do. When one project was finished, there was another one waiting to be started,” she said.
In time, she found peace in the garden.
Featherstone’s garden was featured in the most recent “Roses to Rock Gardens” tour sponsored by Van Vleck House & Gardens. It’s a favorite that has been featured more than once.
It’s easy to see why.
The garden stands out for its color, informality and charm.
Visitors meander up the long driveway and suddenly view a deep-red carriage house with green trim surrounded by eye-popping crape myrtle, calycanthus, fuchsia and roses.
Starting with the original 1890s carriage house, Featherstone designed a fairy tale landscape that includes perennials, vegetables, a pool, a pond and several stone patios. There are bold begonias, lots of different varieties of viburnum, cotinus (aka smoke bush), katsura, lilacs, caryopteris, many roses and countless flowers to attract butterflies.
Hydrangea, geraniums and cosmos frame a turquoise pool set in a grove of trees. There are over 100 hanging baskets and pots brimming with dazzling perennials.
Featherstone transformed a former garden shed into an inviting office. It’s where she works every day.
BLOOMING IN MONTCLAIR
She was born in Galway, and grew up in a succession of towns before leaving home to attend boarding school. After completing her education in Dublin, she became engaged to an American. She arrived in the U.S. in 1958, planning a wedding. But that engagement didn’t last.
Instead, she met the love of her life and soon-to-be husband, Richard Featherstone, at a dinner party. The couple arrived in Montclair in 1959, and raised their three children here.
When they first moved into what was then a rented carriage house, there were four “awful” apple trees in the yard.
Featherstone’s two young sons played lacrosse with the apples.
“Our neighbor walked over and told me to stop my ill-mannered boys from pitching the apples about,” Featherstone said. “One of our first projects was removing those ugly old apple trees.”
She designed the renovation of the carriage house and an early incarnation of the garden with her husband.
“It was a real carriage house. There were horse stalls and troughs downstairs,” she said. “After a few years we purchased it — we were waiting for the owner to sell it — and we renovated it. Then I planted an English border. I planted hydrangea and rhododendron. I didn’t know it then but hydrangea aren’t fond of sunny spots.”
Each year she took on a new project.
A few years ago, after reading about the global decimation of bees, Featherstone made room for a beehive. She now hosts approximately 70,000 bees in addition to many species of butterflies and birds.
“Watching the bees, listening to the birds, and observing the life of the garden throughout the seasons gives one a sense of peace, serenity and renewal,” she said. “Part of our purpose is to create and to keep our world beautiful.”