In this breathtaking garden at the foot of the Berkshires, birdsong fills the perfumed air and the landscape is so lush you could almost swear you hear the plants growing. No fantasy of the imagination, the green idyll belies the steady work that transpires behind the scenes. Mother Nature does her part, too, and happy plants grow rapidly, often surprising even the people who tend them. So opulent was the original installation in this Eden, for instance, that about a third of the plantings had to be removed to allow sufficient room for the others. Tucked carefully in unobtrusive holding areas for now, these plants will be relocated elsewhere in the garden, as time or storms dictate, by landscape architect and design/build sales manager Brian Cossari and landscape designer Matthew Biron, both of Hoffman Landscapes, in Wilton, Connecticut.
Their firm religiously sees to the property, which stretches well over an acre, several days a week. Periodic revisions and reorganizations are necessary to keep the garden’s character in tact and its plantings healthy. “The challenge,” says Cossari, “is maintaining an element of formality in a woodland setting like this one.”
The original garden was designed in the late 1990s to accompany the owners’ stunning new house, designed by Southport architect Mark Finlay. Finlay designed the property’s landscaping plan as well, teaming up with Edmund Hollander and Mary Anne Connolly of Edmund Hollander Landscape Architects in New York City to execute the plan.
The site’s steep grade changes lent themselves to a plan that includes a number of “rooms”—the open main lawn adjacent to the house, the sunny pool area below and, beyond that, the serene koi pond garden with its rose-draped arbor entrance. A graceful willow, waves of climbing hydrangea and pretty iris soften the pond’s edges and promote its secluded ambience. And not by accident, a classic bench invites visitors to nab a moment for quiet contemplation.
As in many of the world’s most beautiful gardens, layers of shrubs and trees are deftly interwoven throughout the ever-evolving flower beds. “Perennial gardens are continually moving as the landscape matures. Things are added or subtracted every season, and that’s how it should be to maintain interest,” says David Schrang, Hoffman’s director of property maintenance. Russian sage, roses, astilbe, peonies, lilies and nepeta may be on the must-have list, but there’s always the anticipation of new arrivals.
Perhaps more familiar with the property than anyone else except the owners—the wife is an avid gardener herself—Schrang has been helping fine-tune the place for years. Moving the garden successfully into the future requires constant corrective soil work. Each of the distinct areas has its own microclimate and individual needs, including yearly pruning and shaping. Classic boxwood holds its prim form well, but recruits like the ruddy-flowered shrub roses must be sternly cut back or they’ll overwhelm the bluestone paths. Grass growing between a grid of bluestone on the upper terrace requires constant coddling to prevent browning during the unavoidable dog-day periods.
Remarkably, for all its subtle glamour, the expansive garden is also personal. Mementos such as a large sculpture unearthed on the owners’ travels underscore their involvement. So do the many bird feeders and artful planters, which display a changing roster of colors from one year to the next according to the wife’s scheme—one summer jewel tones, say, hot tropical hues the next.
“This is not just a lovely garden, it’s also someone’s home and it’s well used,” Schrang explains. The pool and pool house, of course, draw the most summer activity. White dogwood and stands of fluffy white hydrangea parading behind the lounges are as cooling to the eye as the blue water. But if they crave shade, the owners and their friends need only slip onto the terrace and beneath the pool house pergola. Framed by flowering beds and festooned with hanging baskets, the terrace is a welcoming oasis. Comfortable furnishings only enhance the heavenly plein-air experience. In the evening candles are lit and fireflies appear—so many tiny stars amid the dark flowers and tree branches.
If it’s not heaven, it’s close. Should the owners or their team of helpers begin to rhapsodize about the color of a leaf or the scent of a rose, no one faults them. It’s their passion, after all, that ensures this paradise a sweet future.
Landscape design: Mark Finlay, Mark P. Finlay Architects, Southport, Conn.
Landscape installation: Edmund D. Hollander and Mary Anne Connolly, Edmund Hollander Landscape Architects, New York City
Landscape architect, design/build sales manager: Brian Cossari, Hoffman Landscapes, Wilton, Conn.
Landscape designer: Matthew Biron, Hoffman Landscapes
Director of property maintenance: David Schrang, Hoffman Landscapes
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