To complement an 1846 house that is sited on an undulating six-acre pastoral plot in Greenwich, Connecticut, James Doyle Design Associates created a fresh landscape that honors the natural environment and the history of the home while imparting a modern, ease-of-living sensibility to the grounds.
The client, an Englishwoman, wanted a quintessentially English country garden and “embraced color and the idea of a large herbaceous garden,” says James Doyle, whose eponymous firm is based in Greenwich. “As per her wishes, the plant material was selected so that it could be maintained organically, without the use of chemical fertilizer or pesticides.”
The property, which had what senior landscape designer Matthew Willinger calls “some lovely attributes,” was in great need of clarity and definition.
“Because of the way the gardens were laid out, with a lot of elevation changes in the topography and overgrown plant material, you couldn’t walk around the house easily or get from one space to another,” Willinger says. “We seized on historical elements we found in situ as a springboard to organize and delineate spaces, or garden rooms.” Doyle adds that wayfinding, a major component of the project, proved transformative.
The series of rooms—a pebbled parking courtyard, an arrival garden, a small meadow, a water-feature garden, an upper allée, an extensive perennial garden with double herbaceous borders, a large meadow filled with natural grasses, a hen run and a vegetable garden—is demarcated by existing, rebuilt, and new fieldstone walls, a key feature that Willinger says “gives a welcoming structure.”
The old and new mix seamlessly; the gardens are arranged around legacy trees. “It was an enjoyable challenge working with the history of the house and incorporating the elements of yesteryear,” Willinger says.
An antique limestone trough, set in a fieldstone-walled and pebbled area that had been a significant stretch of asphalt before the renovation, was converted into a water feature, creating a room for repose, reflection, and relaxation.
The upper allée, which runs along the back of the house, is defined by cubed linden trees and hornbeam hedges along with colorful flowering plant material, creating “a beautiful and enjoyable place to stroll and enjoy the views of the gardens below,” Willinger says.
Large fieldstone piers that match the property’s vintage walls mark the entrance to the renovated perennial garden, which provides, to the owner’s delight, a riot of jewel-tone blooms in reds and purples from spring through autumn.
The two meadows—a square-shaped one close to the house that’s planted with flowering bulbs and native perennials, including yarrow, allium, and beardtongue, and a large free-form one filled with native grasses that extends far into the landscape—speak with a vintage English accent.
“The organic shape of the larger meadow is designed to change year after year,” Willinger says. “Paths that lead to other key rooms and work with the topography and create circulation in the garden are mowed through it.”
It is the pair of oversized teak benches at the entry garden, designed by Willinger, that are most representative of the garden’s straddling of centuries. Elegantly spare, they look contemporary, but the inspiration for their profile was based on a photograph Doyle took long ago while touring one of England’s public heritage gardens.
“They have a pew-like look that works beautifully with the geometric hedging and the structure of the house,” Willinger says. They are, Doyle adds, “the bridge between the old and new—they are something fresh.”
The most beautiful aspect of the renovated landscape, Doyle and Willinger say, is that there always are new things to see.
“There’s something wonderful in how things change in this landscape every season,” Willinger says. “And now there’s a wonderful framework of structure that gives the site definition and contrast to the looser textures of the perennials and grasses, making each visit to the site a unique and distinctive experience.”
James Doyle Design Associates jdda.com
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