When Ron and Cindie Kollman of Moneta bought their lakeside property in 2004, they had a blank canvas of unplanted land waiting to be made into a garden. Seven years later, their creation is the winner of our fourth Lovely Laker Landscape Contest.    

    The Kollmans began by working with a local nursery to create an overall concept and blueprint for the design. But Cindie also had her own ideas and modified the plans, bringing her painterly eye to the choice and location of plants.  

    Digging the planting holes herself, she added trees and shrubs with varying foliage color to move the eye from one bed to another. For example, along the driveway and in the front beds, she used the deer-resistant crimson pygmy barberry and gold mop false cypress to pull the eye toward the house. The bright red crape myrtle ‘Dynamite’ along with the wine red ‘Centennial Spirit’ add to the drama and color. Variations on the same plantings in each bed provide repetition and rhythm. A blue spruce beside the driveway serves as an added color accent as well as a sculptural element.  

    An artist who teaches painting in the lake area and at the Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden in Richmond, Cindie used the artistic principles of composition in her garden design.  

    “Those principles are balance, unity, rhythm and proportion or scale,” she said. “I also like to incorporate elements of surprise, like the kaleidoscope globe in the secret garden, and whimsical moments like the sheep I tucked under plants in the herb garden. I like texture changes such as the foliage against the ceramic globe or against a metal sculpture.”

    The secret garden was one of those boons that arose from a challenging problem. At the side of the house, a 15-foot retaining wall looms over a small, enclosed space. Cindie saw an opportunity. The south-facing wall radiates the sun’s warmth, creating a microclimate where tender plants such as her fig tree and Mexican and pineapple sages flourish. Here, Cindie made a secret garden, enclosed by the wall and removed from view of the primary outdoor living spaces.   

    To diminish the scale of the looming wall, the Kollmans built dry-stone raised beds along its two sides and filled them with premium top soil. An iron frame sculpture breaks up the blank space on one wall, and an espaliered grape vine covers the other. Nasturtiums spill over the stones at the vine’s feet. In summer, the other raised bed is filled with tomatoes, peppers and bush beans that stand tall in their support cages. Lettuces fill the beds during the cooler spring and autumn weather. A fig tree marking the end of the dry-stone wall was supposed to be a dwarf. Now 16 feet tall, it has more than 100 ripening figs on it.

    A more recent addition to the garden is the much-used outdoor kitchen and dining room.  Designed by Eric Buck of Comprehensive Home Design and built by Doug Bowman of Bowman Construction, the octagonal, open-air room with its conical roof brings to mind an African rondavel. A beautiful pergola built by Ron Kollman links the kitchen to the patio and makes the journey between the two spaces special. He also built the lovely arch that leads into the secret garden and installed the pre-built arbor swing that overlooks the lake.  

    Ron’s architectural additions to the garden gave Cindie the opportunity to grow climbers. The arbor swing is clothed in ‘Zéphirine Drouhin,’ an heirloom Bourbon rose that has special associations for Cindie.  

    “When we lived in England, I studied botanical illustration at Wisley, the Royal Horticultural Society’s garden. ‘Zéphirine Drouhin’ was the first rose I ever painted in watercolor,” she explained.

    The ‘New Dawn’ rose growing over the arch leading to the secret garden also is special to Cindie.

    “I painted it in a gazebo at the Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden, and I love it,” she said.

    Working as a team – with Ron’s building skills and Cindie’s eye for design – the Kollmans have created a special garden on Smith Mountain Lake they can enjoy along with their children, grandchildren and friends. As winners of the Lovely Laker Landscape Contest, the Kollmans will receive a $1,000 credit to spend on plants, materials or anything else available at Lakescapes Nursery.


    Keeping a garden journal is a time-honored technique for tracking exactly what you planted, the pests and diseases you dealt with, the care and feeding schedule, watering, weather conditions, successes, failures and more. If kept properly, a personal garden notebook is a useful reference to learn and remember what does well in your garden and an aid in noticing weather patterns, seasons for pests and other important factors to gardening success.

    As valuable as these records can be, when you’re out in the garden, dirty as a potato, you don’t want to soil a nice book by writing in it. And often, by the time you’ve come indoors and cleaned up, you’ve forgotten what you planned to write. Cindie Kollman has solved the problem with a decorative chalkboard she mounted on a wall on her lower, covered patio. She makes garden notes while working outside then later transcribes the information into a more permanent record.