According to a garden club publication, the Gettysburg Garden Club, through its Garden of the Month Committee, presented the June Garden of the Month award to Chuck and Donna Criswell of 55 Millhimes Road, Gettysburg.
A few miles north of Gettysburg and just east of Hunterstown is a stunning estate that encompasses approximately 11 acres, a colonial style home and extensive gardens. The Criswells are reached after passing through some verdant woodland and an impressive horse farm raising Standardbred trotters. If you then turn onto Millhimes Road, it’s easy to see why Nancy Spalding, Donna’s mother, nominated the property. “Just beautiful,” she says proudly.
Chuck Criswell grew up in the Hanover area. However, in 1965 his father bought the land near Hunterstown where Chuck and Donna’s property is now located. Back then it was just a field with trees and stone outcrops. Chuck found out through researching his ancestors that he had 18th century roots in the area. He also has building and landscaping skills in his hands and in his head, starting with working alongside his father and happily growing up in a garden center as a child.
A passionate lover of American history, Chuck is a garden and home designer and builder. “Everything is in my head,” he says of his general and specific real estate vision. Donna has been supporting her husband’s creations for about 14 years. Last January, she retired as the canteen manager for the district’s elementary schools. Chuck retired from full-time employment at Kinsley Construction, Inc. seven years ago. Both are dedicated to maintaining and developing their property.
At the front of the property are several sections of riding rail fence built to 18th century standards. A thrush cherry grows in a garden bed near the fence. Down the gentle slope towards the house are more garden islands, all well mulched and surrounded by carefully manicured lawns. Trees and plants such as birch, ornamental plum, crape myrtle, baptisia, bluegrass, cat pajamas and daylily grow here, just to name a few. Part of the front entrance of the home features deep magenta sand cherries set off by yellow gold hillside spirals. The front and side landscapes feature several prairie firewood apples, dogwoods, chase trees, five-toned redbuds, sweetgum, and white oak, to name a few. To the side, the Criswells have planted a neat, rectangular vegetable and herb garden with raised beds within an unstained, recycled picket fence.
Nice features of the “Hardscape” are the gently curving brick driveway and sidewalks, all laid out by Chuck. After visiting Williamsburg and studying colonial architecture and gardens, he built the Criswell house and its two back porches with a little framing help from Amish builders. Able to use some of Kinsley’s construction equipment at “off” times, Chuck moved large rocks around the landscape, making an “aha” element on the front slope and placing garden islands as directed by his designer’s eye let. Also to be enjoyed in the “hardscape” are sometimes whimsical touches such as stone or metal sculptures, colonial style towers or “tutors” and many birdhouses, some made of wood, some of the gourds and some types of “clay bottles”. Chuck has made many replicas of things that appeal to him and Donna, while also finding “perfect” items on sale.
There are about two dozen garden “islands” or beds filled with well-chosen plants, well-mulched, principally by Nolt’s Mulch, and bordered by Donna. Each island is self-contained, whether in full sun or shade, and flows as an integral part of the Sea of Criswell.’ Here is an abundance of plants, many sourced from ‘plant auctions’ and nurseries in Lancaster County (East Earl). Colour, shape and texture are beautifully intertwined.
Other plants in the gardens, in no particular order, include birch, green cedar, Stella d’Oro lily, oak leaf and fire hydrangea. There are also hostas, blue sea holly, globe thistle, beauty bush, sweetcorn spiral, coppertina diablo, liatris, hyssop, coneflower, Japanese firegrass, German iris and red crocodile. Chuck advises gardeners to plant one section at a time and plant (or imagine) in threes.
In 2015, a garden club member wrote that a few photos and words were not enough to describe the Criswell home and gardens. She was right, and in 2022 this author encourages you to come, look, admire and learn. Chuck and Donna are usually at home greeting visitors.
To nominate your property or that of someone else for the Garden of the Month award, call or text Deb Steckler at 717-357-3623 or visit the garden club’s website at www.gettysburggardenclub.com.