A Shared Passion

What do professional horticulturists do in their leisure time? They plant a glorious garden, of course.

By Adam Levine

Photography by Helen Norman


Peggy Anne Montgomery and Dan Benarcik are both talented horticulturists, but this is more than the story of the beautiful garden they nurture in Wilmington, Delaware. It is a story of new love found in midlife; of a garden, created by one partner and offered to the other, now shared with friends at every opportunity.

When Dan and Peggy Anne decided to get married last May, both for the second time, they knew it had to happen in the garden. “Our home garden is us,” Dan says. “It’s where we entertain, it’s where we begin and end the day. It’s the most precious thing I had to offer her in my courtship.”

“It’s our favorite place on earth,” Peggy Anne concurs. “It’s our rest and our work and our joy, our dining room and our laboratory. It’s the place we are the happiest.”

Take a tour of Dan and Peggy Ann's garden

For the past 20 years, Dan has been a gardener at Chanticleer, in Wayne, Pennsylvania, one of the most exciting and innovative public gardens in the United States. He grew up in Wilmington, his mother a florist and his father a partner in one of the area’s first do-it-yourself home centers, an upbringing that contributed to his love of both horticulture and woodworking. Peggy Anne lived for many years in Holland, raising a family and working as a landscape designer, then moved back to her native Minnesota to work in marketing for Bailey Nurseries. She now works for American Beauties Native Plants, based in nearby Hockessin, Delaware, a brand created to help consumers identify and understand the benefits of growing natives.

Dan and Peggy Anne call the property they share “the smallest house with the biggest garden” in a 1950s suburban development. One glance from the street lets any passerby know that hard-core plant lovers live here. The first clue comes in late spring, by which time the one-story ranch house is mostly hidden behind the profusion of plants; the second clue is that few of these plants are the usual specimens. The rectangular lot is about 100 feet wide by 375 feet long, nearly an acre, but the house sits only 50 feet from the street, making this front garden just a teaser. The much larger back garden can be glimpsed through the glass front door, which provides a view out the French doors at the rear of the house, across a central lawn, through the middle of a meadow garden and all the way to the seating area around a fire pit at the far end of the property.