Karl Mattson’s house on Doubleday Ave., near the Peace Light in Gettysburg, looks like every other from the street. But hidden behind is a two-acre flower garden that would be the envy of any gardener.
Located under a canopy of towering shade trees, the garden is lush, green and flowering, even at the beginning of August.
Paths twist through the wooded space, producing new surprises at every turn. On either side are blooms of all colors, shapes and sizes.
There is a pool with a fountain, a hand-dug well, stone walls, an apiary and many sculptures, each blending seamlessly into the landscape. In the evening the garden is lighted.
Mattson, who was the Gettysburg College Chaplain between 1977 and 1991, started the garden when he bought the house about 20 years ago with his wife Marge. He has been assisted by local gardening consultant Liz Chronister for the past 13 years.
Mattson learned to garden when he was young, he said, earning five cents-per-hour working in Connecticut.
“I made a living doing crazy things. I’m obsessive-compulsive,” he said with a grin.
Brilliant in the garden at this time of year were lavender amistad salvia, ruby-red cardinal flower, yellow “prairie sun” rudbeckia, and gigantic “midnight marvel” hibiscus. Hardy begonias, “painted sticks,” and hundreds of other specimens are also on display. There are “lots of flowering tobaccos of different kinds,” said Chronister.
The Bishop of Llandaff dahlias are “quite floriferous,” said Mattson.
A painted bright-red magnolia sieboldii, denuded of its leaves makes for a particularly stunning feature. The tree died last year and the gardeners painted it.
Although focus is drawn to the bushes and flowers, the stately trees above create a cozy environment for the garden. The trees are “the glory of the place,” said Mattson.
The garden is not formal, but represents the creative, but casual approach of the gardeners.
“We never got around to creating a log of the plantings,” said Chronister.
Latin Names? “That’s not us.”
Mattson, who was accompanied by his red-golden Labrador Chloe (the “goddess of agriculture”) on the tour, said the garden is “constantly changing.”
In the spring the garden is “full of yellows,” including forsythia and daffodils, said Chronister. In June, the foxgloves and lilies abound with their unique fragrances. By August, “the ferns are getting tired,” said Chronister, but “any time you come there’s always something.”
The “ruins,” a secluded section of the garden containing old stone statues and columns, are special to Mattson. The section was designed by Marge before she passed away.
What had been a “polite conversation” with Mattson at a church event has turned into a long-term commitment, said Chronister.
“It’s hard work, (but also) amazing and magical,” she said. “People come and they can’t believe it.”
The garden has grown and grown.
“Every year we opened up a new area,” said Chronister, adding that the ground in Gettysburg forced some creative solutions. “You have to know your soil. Different areas are really different.”
Mattson said the land the garden occupies was once owned by abolitionist and former PA representative to the US House of Representatives Thaddeus Stevens.
Mattson recently sold the house and land to the National Park Service. He admitted the garden is “slowly coming to an end.”
“Everything is ephemeral,” he said.
As garden visitor Tricia Frazee noted, “It’s the kind of place you drive by so many times and you have no idea it’s there.”
Mattson graciously shares his lovely garden with others. To schedule a visit email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.