A Return to the Garden: Michael Martin Mills & Randy Dalton

It’s been five years since we left the Jersey shore for South Philadelphia,  and we have only one regret.   And,  no,  it isn’t the loss of parking or even the beach,  which is always there waiting for us.

It’s our beloved garden,  complete with luscious Kwanzan cherry and Hinoki cypress trees,  bamboo,  river rocks,  dragonflies and those cheeky,  incorrigible weeds.

Fortunately,  we know people – and our blog gives us the perfect excuse to invade their Philadelphia retreats.

16_06_19 1 Michael Martin Mills Randy Dalton DC_8650Michael Martin Mills and Randy Dalton in their summer garden,  2015.

Last fall,  we introduced you to the magical, art-filled home and garden of Philadelphia Dumpster Diver Randy Dalton and his partner Michael Martin Mills.

And we promised to return this spring to photograph their Mount Airy yard in bloom,  with its exotic flowers,  spectacular azaleas,  and over 300 varieties of rhododendrons.

Top:  This magnificent ‘Coral Bells’ azalea was likely planted in the 1950s;   Michael hoists a rhododendron destined for transplanting.   Bottom:  Handmade hardware cloth cages protect seedlings and young plants;   this vivid ‘Ambrosia’ azalea started as a 3” plant in the mid-1980s.

So,  as another Philadelphia spring rushes into summer, we thought we’d slow down time with a walk through one of the city’s most beautiful gardens.

Harbingers of spring.  Top:  Redbud tree blossoms and a white rhododendron flower.  Bottom:  Trillium erectum,  a delicate flower with an unpleasant scent,  and fragrant Phlox divaricata.

A bounty of garden art and richly colored rhododendrons.   Top:  The small pillow-shaped sculpture on the bench is appropriately titled “Small Pillow” by Andrew Harper;  a marble saint adds her blessing.   Bottom:  A ‘Dr. Joseph Rock’ rhododendron frames an old granite pillar;   the front garden could be miles from the city.

Top:  A Clematis ‘Multi-Blue’ vine climbs a chain-link fence,   while a cluster of tiny Sambucus nigra ‘Eva’ buds prepare to bloom.  Bottom:  Additional delights include Korean pine,  hosta ‘King Michael’,  and a swelling rhododendron bud.

Top:  A vivid rhododendron ‘Orange Carpet’ shares a bed with lilac ‘Josee’,  while repurposed bird cages protect young plants.   Bottom:  A bright azalea (Rhododendron kaempferi),  marks the entrance to the garden shed that Randy dubbed “Michael’s Playhouse”;   a close-up of ‘Coral Bells’ azalea blossoms in the front yard.


Top:  A cluster of white ‘Summer Snowflake’ viburnum flowers from the tall bush in the photo at right.   Bottom:  ‘Ambrosia’ azalea and ‘Sassy’ rhododendron blooms frame a hanging sculpture;   Sanguinaria canadensis ‘Multiplex’,  or double bloodroot,  bloom at ankle height.

Top:  A low bed of Phlox divaricata,  left,  complements a riot of colorful rhododendrons.   Bottom:  Vintage garden chairs sit back-to-back on a garden table while Michael mows;  a close-up of delicate lilac ‘Josee’ flowers.

No one could have predicted,  of course,  that Randy would die suddenly on February 5,  months before their lovingly imagined garden burst into bloom.   But no one could pass through this garden and not feel the joy of his presence – and Michael’s – all around them.

Do Blue for Art:   Michael’s blue-bottle garden memorial for Randy features his partner’s beloved color.  Click here to visit Randy’s magical Blue Grotto.

Thank you,  Michael and Randy,  for making our spring complete….


3 thoughts on “A Return to the Garden: Michael Martin Mills & Randy Dalton

Comments are closed.