Charles Mann

Plants and furnishings define spaces for meditating, entertaining, and relaxing

Linda Thornton,  – November 18, 2004

Born in England “with a trowel in my hand,” as she puts it, Susan Blevins honed her horticultural skills in the Alban hills near Rome after moving to Italy in 1965. Then, a decade ago, she moved to northern New Mexico and began creating a landscape around her restored adobe house (circa 1830) in Ranchos de Taos. Here, Blevins has designed a suite of intimate garden rooms, decorated them with eclectic plants and furnishings, and linked them with archways and paths.

Blevins uses blue as the unifying color because it works so well with the apricot-colored walls of her house. Adobe walls also enclose many of the garden rooms. The walls, which absorb solar heat by day and release it at night, allow her to push the planting envelope here at an elevation of 7,000 feet (Taos is located in Sunset climate zone 2b). Blevins can’t resist growing many of the frost-tender Mediterranean plants she came to love in Italy, including agapanthus, bougainvillea, lemon, oleander, and rosemary, which she keeps in containers and brings indoors during the cold, snowy winters.

Stroll through three rooms

Step into the sunken meditation garden, where an adobe banco, or bench, is fringed by California poppies growing between flagstones. Fitted with a single mattress, the sofa-shaped bench is heaped with Middle Eastern pillows. Blevins likes to sit here, sipping a glass of wine while dangling her other hand in the pool behind and listening to the soothing splash of waterfalls. This garden is landscaped with a variety of deciduous and evergreen shrubs and trees, including aspen, Colorado blue spruce, crabapple, lilac, juniper, rose, and viburnum. 

In the belvedere, essentially a summer terrace of the kind traditionally seen in Europe, Blevins serves drinks and hors d’oeuvres to guests before they adjourn to a nearby dining area. Framed by adobe planters, the belvedere is adorned with glazed and terra-cotta pots and furnished with a few benches and tables. An archway frames a pair of rustic wood doors Blevins found in Santa Fe. On one side of the arch, two deciduous vines (fiveleaf akebia and porcelain berry) drape over the wall above a Turkish tile mural and a small fountain. On the other side of the arch, a weeping Atlas cedar forms a twisty living sculpture.

Winding through drifts of California poppies, a path of concrete cobblestones leads to the Japanese pavilion, where a 5-foot-wide wood swing seat is suspended from the roof. “It’s the most restful part of the garden. When I swing, it’s like being on vacation,” says Blevins. Built of rough-sawn timbers, the pavilion is entwined by clematis and grapevines and flanked by black locust, espaliered dwarf peach trees, and redbud.

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