NORTHBRIDGE, Mass. – Bob and Pauline Conlee's circa 1790 home sits close to the road on Hill Street, with a brick walkway and space beside the garage giving just a hint of what lies behind.
The Conlees are gardeners, their backyard a work of art they’ve been working on together for more than 20 years. It brings to mind the book “The Secret Garden,’’ but it has never been their intent to keep it secret.
They submitted photos of their garden to "Country Garden" magazine more than a year ago, learned in March they were chosen for having the "Best Classic Garden," and are featured in the August, 2012 issue of the magazine, which is on newsstands now.
The Conlees have always been happy to show off the seemingly endless points of interest in the one-acre garden. The landscape includes a pergola at the far end, an arching bridge over a seasonable brook, and an arbor draped with honeysuckle.
A hammock hangs between two trees at the property’s border with the former Kroll Farm, and there are benches and chairs strategically placed everywhere, inviting visitors to sit a spell and listen to the hummingbirds.
There are shade gardens and sun gardens, some delineated with rocks which the Conlees find in abundance on the property, others separated from lawn or walkway with boxwood hedging.
Even a clothesline fits into the overall design, along with bird feeders, bird baths, water fountains and garden statues. One section has special appeal to the Conlee’s 6-year-old granddaughter Ava, identified with an “Ava’s Garden’’ sign and a child-size bench.
“When we came here, in 1974, there was nothing,’’ Pauline said, “not a tree, not a shrub. We didn’t get into serious landscaping; we didn’t have the time or the money.’’
The Conlees left town for a few years because of a job transfer, and it was when they returned in 1993 that they started to transform the blank slate of a yard into what it is today.
“We were kind of eager to get to it,’’ she said.
Bob is the brawn in the gardening partnership; Pauline the brains. “He does all the mowing, the trimming, the mulching; I’ve always liked the design part of it,’’ Pauline said. She also does the planting, weeding, dead-heading, and daily maintenance.
The planning never ends, she said, pointing to an empty piece of lawn where she envisions another tree, perhaps a red maple for the shade.
Both Conlees have been retired for a couple of years, but when they worked “all it took was a visit to the garden to be rejuvenated,’’ Pauline said.