November 09, 2023
I love a good play on words, and the garden of Barbara and Robert Tiffany employs two in its name. Mill Fleurs occupies the site where two old mills — from the 1700s! — perch along Tohickon Creek. Thirty years ago, the couple purchased the derelict structures, one a gristmill, the other a lumber mill, and turned their combined 10,000 square feet into their home, offices, and (I think) a furniture-building workshop. Mill Fleurs is also a tongue-in-cheek play on millefleur, a style of art that means “thousand flowers.”
Today Barbara’s extensive gardens on 10 acres in Point Pleasant, Pennsylvania, are a showplace for her skills as a designer and a collector of rare and variegated plants, and an example of how to tame an extremely steep property. I toured it on a rainy afternoon in late September during the Philadelphia Area Fling.
Barbara, clad head to toe in purple, greeted her visitors with a big smile and lots of energy, despite the rain still pattering down after Tropical Storm Ophelia had blustered through.
I was a little surprised to see three variegated American agaves right off the bat, although I shouldn’t have been. Gardeners in the Philadelphia area grow lots of tropical (or otherwise not cold-tolerant) plants, and are apparently willing to move even big ones under cover for winter. These are parked at Barbara’s rare-plant nursery, where she holds on-site sales during the growing season.
Barbara led us down her sloping driveway, past a sheer and cracked wall of granite. Japanese maples cascade their bronze leaves across the stone — a contrast of feathers and iron.
A border of red and bronze plants — there’s one of those Philly-area bananas again — leads you toward the house.
The old stone gristmill, circa 1742, sits on the left. The 1790s lumber mill sits alongside on the right (hidden from view here).
Before we explore around the house, let’s turn and take in the small front lawn and sunken bog garden. A bench of the couple’s own design perches above, offering a view of the house and garden.
A closer look
This curvy wooden bench — wow! I believe this is part of Robert and Barbara’s Spirit Collection, which they “design, manufacture, and offer privately.”
I noticed a tree of graceful tendrils, a weeping katsura. What was it hiding beneath its skirts? I had to find out. I parted the festooning branches…
…and with an exclamation of delight entered a secret hideaway. Can you imagine lounging under this green umbrella with a book on a clear summer day?
A contemporary deck juts from the end of the lumber-mill side of the house.
Variegated trailing ivy softens stacked stone.
Barbara invited us up to her covered patio atop the old ice house, where ice was once cut from the creek in winter and stored here all summer in sawdust from the mill. We enjoyed cookies and tea and a little respite from the rain.
And then we divided into two groups and followed our guides into the lower garden. I’m not very good about sticking with a tour group, so I lagged and missed a lot of the info that was shared with us. But I do remember Barbara — or Karl quoting her — saying something like, put all your variegated plants together. Mass them! I’ve been thinking about that since.
Millstones galore decorate the garden, including this one standing on edge…
…with lavender, thistle-y flowers harmonizing with the putty-pink stone.
Frilly flowers of double purple datura
A moss garden with a solitary boulder — and Ophelia puddles
I liked this oval lawn encircled with Barbara and Robert’s benches so much that I had to sit and enjoy it, even in the rain. Kim Woods Rabbidge of Our Australian Gardens snapped this photo of me, happily sittin’ in the rain.
Back up at the house, another bench overlooks Tohickon Creek below.
And boy was it raging! It looked almost up to the lower terrace.
Another millstone set in a path
And yet another — a massive one — leaning against the wall by the front door.
Check out the porch light — another creation of Barbara and Robert’s? I’d love to see it illuminated.
I was also intrigued by this one-of-a-kind handrail made from gears and chains.
What a unique garden! One last look at the weeping katsura with the secret hideaway, and it was time to go.
Up next: Inventive garden rooms to explore at Paxson Hill Farm. For a look back at Jenny Rose Carey’s playful Northview Garden, Part 2, click here.
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