An Inspirational Gardener


Helen Snuffer was one of my earliest gardening inspirations. She captivated my imagination with the way she had divided her small back yard into garden rooms, each “room” having a different purpose and ambiance. Her garden was always impeccable. Helen demonstrated leadership in several clubs, even founding/co-founding two gardening clubs in St. Joseph. In addition, I had not experienced such extent of generosity of plants and horticultural knowledge before I knew Helen.

One of the design lessons I learned from Helen is that is important to have good structure in the garden. For many of us (I am the worst!), the first thing we do is buy plants rather than thinking about the importance of the underlying backbone of the garden. This framework provides continuity throughout the seasons as the other plantings ebb and flow. Helen’s front walkway is beautiful year round.

Structure includes hedges, walls, fences, evergreens, trees, paths, and arbors. These are powerful tools giving the garden its year-round interest. Here a large evergreen hedge creates privacy. Helen has a great deal of evergreens, large and small in her gardens. She likes the green background they provide for her flowers.

When you pull into the drive, the view is of Helen’s decorative fence that divides the area into two distinct gardens. In front of the fence is a perennial border that changes throughout the season, including her prized dahlias. Behind the fence and through the garden arbor is her vegetable garden. Always full of tomatoes, spinach, carrots and a variety of herbs.

Trailing through her long back border is a walkway that I have mimicked in my own flowerbed. Instead of just having one deep border, one now has double the pleasure seeing the front border from both sides and being up close to the plantings. Helen’s statue stands proudly at the end of the walkway.

Garden design principles are demonstrated throughout. Here an arbor frames the path ahead and below the repetition of the hosta keeps the eye moving forward.


Helen is excellent at creating exciting texture contrasts in her plant combinations, adding visual interest. I enjoyed this combo of Hosta “June” with boxwood, ajuga, and lamb’s ear.

While walking though Helen’s garden I was intrigued with the number of small fences she has used throughout her spaces. I was especially taken with this small antique piece.

At 98 year’s old, Helen still inspires me. I recently calculated that when I first met Helen she was the age I am now. She began gardening when she moved to her current home in the 1950s. The garden has evolved greatly. At one time she had a large rose garden but the roses were replaced with plants that took less maintenance. Hosta have always been one of her go to plants. When asked what was her favorite plant she explained it was the white bleeding heart she had seen in my garden because she did not have any. I will make sure she does. 🙂

Helen accounts her love of gardening as one of the secrets to her long life. I believe her nurturing spirit, whether in the garden or in her relationships, is a key to a life well lived. (photo by Verna Jennings)