By PATRICIA CONOVER
For Montclair Local
“I love digging in the dirt,” Jennifer Bakshi said.
Intuitive and whimsical, garden designer Bakshi uses the history and meaning of plants to create exuberance and meaning in the garden.
She approaches her work with enthusiasm and a unique creativity. At the same time, she has an encyclopedic knowledge of plants and the understanding to blend historical relevance and environmentally appropriate plants with imagination.
On a sunny summer day, she throws open the doors of the glass-enclosed greenhouse/workspace she designed from scratch to show her own garden, brimming with lavender, roses and hydrangea.
Bakshi’s Montclair garden is brimming with white, yellow, blue, purple and pink perennials. She loves whimsy and has several follies. There are several seating areas for guests. There’s also a painted lady who appears to dance among the trees and flowers on a stone wall at the edge of her property.
“I love hydrangeas and Shasta daisies and irises and hardy geraniums. There are many stunning flowers but the long-blooming variety are gorgeous and you can enjoy them for a
long time,” Bakshi said.
Early on, she discovered poetry and beauty in “The Secret Garden,” the beloved book by Frances Hodgson Burnett.
“I lived in Sri Lanka and England as a child, and I connected to the characters and the garden,” Bakshi said. “I realized that we can find healing and connection there. I visited many beautiful gardens, too, but it took me a little while to find my way to gardening because I didn’t have a garden of my own.”
She lived in Switzerland and India before returning to the U.S. and Montclair 1991.
“I finally had my own space and I started to garden. I had a lot of ideas. And I loved being outdoors. When my children were young, we were together in the yard all the time. It was lovely,” she said.
Bakshi developed her own gardening theories, preferences and tastes during those years. For Bakshi, a beautiful garden is created from the intellect, the heart and the spirit. She knew that she wanted to learn as much as she could about gardens.
“The day my daughter got her driver’s license I began the Rutgers Master Gardener’s Cooperative Extension Course,” she said.
She is also a certified landscape gardener and horticulturist who earned her certification at the New York Botanical Garden.
“When I set out to study garden design, I knew that you could not be a good landscape designer without a strong understanding of plants. I’m suspicious of anyone who wants to modify a plant to make it grow — one must modify the environment so that it fits the plant, not the other way around,” she said. “If you know their origins, their original habitat, you know where the plant belongs and where it will be happiest.”
Today, she also teaches Botanical Latin and Botanical History at the New York Botanical Garden.
“When I teach, I concentrate on the areas of the world from which our local plant palate derives. We have lovely natives, but I don’t mind mixing them with non-native naturalized plants. I’m not a purist.”
The garden design company she started, Urban Oasis, focuses on harmony, beauty, and the ecosystem. She specializes in garden designs that reflect the dreams, desires and requirements of her clients.
When she designs gardens she is attuned to her clients’ ideas and vision. She values collaboration and loves working in tandem to create the garden of her clients’ dreams.
“The design must resonate with the owners and the residence,” she said.
Bakshi created two of the gardens featured in the June 2018 Roses to Rock Gardens tour in Montclair. The first, on Gates Avenue, features a stone water fountain and a formal parterre garden. There is greenhouse for year-round gardening and herb and vegetable gardens. A granite hot tub surrounded by Ipe decking is used all year.
It’s a verdant and tranquil oasis for the active family who lives in the home.
Another Bakshi-designed garden, on Glenwood Road in Upper Montclair, displays roses and lilacs and a row of hornbeam trees. Bakshi made some architectural changes that harmonized with the home to create more privacy for the owners.
“I love to mix architectural elements with an artistic combination of plants and shapes,” she explained. “Garden design isn’t just about the plants. You need trees, hardscape and architectural structures.”