As warm sun lifts life into Mimo and Keith Betten's formal English garden each spring, the couple fondly remember a serendipitous adventure years earlier that encouraged them to reimagine their backyard.
In 1988, the Bettens, who live in a historic house in Riverton, spent a few weeks in Nottingham, England, through a home exchange with the Buck family. Likewise, the Bucks became temporary residents of this quaint river town, and a long-distance friendship began between the families.
"What a time it was. Our boys absorbed so much of the culture," Mimo, 65, says of the excursion with the couple's two sons, who were 13 and 11 at the time.
The Bettens confess that the enriching experience turned them into Anglophiles, but it was the lush English countryside that truly stole their hearts. When they returned to Riverton, they resolved to transform their backyard, giving it an aura of British charm.
"The trip was good timing. Our yard needed some character," notes Keith, 65 and retired from the New Jersey State Archives in Trenton.
Known to roll up their sleeves and employ shovels, Mimo and Keith methodically cleared the area and plotted the grounds. A perennial garden was planted, where troops of tulips and dimples of daisies frolic alongside feathery ferns. Hydrangeas, irises, and planters of hibiscuses bloom brightly next to boxwood, with edges softened by periwinkle vincas and woodsy ivy.
Thanks to the demolition of rowhouses near his office, Keith collected red bricks for the prim walkways, all for the price of carting them away. Cozy sitting areas provide secret spaces for butterfly-watching to the sound of babbling water features. The result is a garden paradise as indulging as a dollop of clotted cream on a toffee pudding.
The resplendent landscaping is just part of the Bettens' pride and joy. The couple, who met at Susquehanna University, knew almost immediately that the biscuit-colored clapboard house they acquired in 1982 would be ideal for raising their family.
"We loved the layout," says Mimo.
"And we saw right away that the house had good bones," agrees Keith, who is as passionate about its architectural personality as he is about positioning potted plants.
In 1868, as Riverton progressed from summer resort to year-round community, the 2,400-square-foot dwelling was designed and built by businessman Edward Pancoast, its first owner.
Today, the two-story structure embodies much of its early spirit, including grand French windows, cast-iron radiators, and oak flooring, but it also accommodates beloved belongings the couple have accumulated.
The living room has a crystal chandelier, a zebrawood sideboard, and a lovely pink chair trash-picked 15 years ago.
Although their nest has emptied out, holiday dinners still reign here, with gatherings involving their sons and their families. The dining-room furniture is displayed amid soothing cherub borders. A working 19th-century pump organ rests nearby.
Mimo points to a collection of books lining white shelves in the family room, where this former librarian and teacher enjoys quiet moments on the tufted sofa or on verdant leather chairs.
Six years ago, the kitchen underwent a mini-makeover, gaining quartz countertops, maple cabinets, and new appliances. Moss-hued chairs slip under a marble-topped table.
A vintage ironing board is reliving life as a mantelpiece, holding a Clarke, Gilbert & Co. heirloom clock from Mimo's 1750-era childhood home. Another prized possession, a chest once used to store nails and screws, is now a medicine cabinet.
A favorite place is the wicker-furnished solarium, dramatically surrounded by potted greens. Perfect for a spot of tea.
With help from a restorer, an old grandfather clock keeps time at the top of the staircase. The upper level has the master bedroom, a repurposed office, and two rooms devoted to guests, in particular the Bettens' grandchildren - where dolls, crayons, and blocks await playtime.
For Riverton's Fourth of July celebration, 30 relatives and friends will congregate on the wide front porch to cheer the parade as it marches by.
But across the pond, to Scotland, the Bettens also will go this summer, to catch up with their dear friends, the Bucks, who retired there.
"We've shared weddings together . . . our kids and theirs have been back and forth," says Mimo. "They've been a big part of our lives."