August 13, 2011
Text by Janice Randall Rohlf Photography by Michael Partenio
If you look the right way, you can see that the whole world is a garden.” The quotation comes from Frances Hodgson Burnett’s 1911 book, The Secret Garden, a tale that captivated a Connecticut homeowner when she was a child. Those words still hold so much resonance for the homeowner—now grown and with young grandchildren—that when she and her husband were seeking ideas for the two acres surrounding their house on Wilson’s Point in Norwalk, they turned to this story and other children’s literary classics for inspiration.
They also turned to landscape architect Tara Vincenta, principal and founder of Artemis Landscape Architects in Bridgeport. “She had a passion for her work and shared our vision for the possibilities of making our yard a haven and wonderland,” says the homeowner, who also yearned for the outdoor area to be an extension of the indoor space. Combining practicality with whimsy, reality with imagination, designer and client came up with a concept of outdoor “rooms” that became known collectively as The Enchanted Woodland.
Central Park’s Shakespeare Garden is the client’s favorite place to while away the hours when she’s in Manhattan. Like the oasis in the middle of New York City, her patch of woodland on the Connecticut shoreline has sinuous paths, rustic wood benches and bronze plaques bearing favorite quotations. “I won’t grow up” from Peter Pan (the husband’s favorite childhood story) is burned into the trunk of a tree.
The project entailed more than fantasy, however. Because the Shingle-style house sits close to the road, the homeowners sometimes felt, says Vincenta, “like their lives were on display.” To deal with this, she says, “We needed to strike a balance between creating privacy and maintaining and deferring to the beautiful views.”
Believe it or not, living with a view of Long Island Sound has a downside. Setback restrictions and planting, grading and drainage requirements imposed by the town presented a challenge. For example, obtaining approval for the swimming pool’s location adjacent to a tidal pond demanded wetland restoration planting, mainly native ornamental grasses such as spartina and shrubs like chokeberry and beach plum, along the border of the pond.
Necessity is the mother of invention, so the spa was tucked within the pool in order to create space for a limestone terrace. Upright hollies around the pool area ensure privacy for swimmers but are short enough to allow views of the harbor for those standing on the terrace. As a counterpoint to these clipped hedges, an all-season blooming rose softens the terrace’s edges. Outside the pool an undulating border sports rhododendron, hydrangea, lilac, ornamental grasses and perennials.
The original designers of the house, Bartels-Pagliaro Architects of Norwalk, came back to create the gazebo. The sweet stone-and-shingle structure with its Artemis-designed bronze, granite and bluestone compass rose in the floor not only affords magnificent views of the tidal pond but, Vincenta says, “serves as a pivotal connection between the home and the greater landscape.”
Fancy and practicality merge throughout the garden in the rustic pieces constructed by Rob Davis of Romancing the Woods. Davis upgraded an existing child’s tree fort and created Never Never Land–like tepees, as well as an arched cedar-twig footbridge and the gates and archways that separate the garden’s areas. By happy coincidence the previous homeowners left two stone lions behind. Now they flank the footbridge in homage to Aslan, a central character in C.S. Lewis’s The Chronicles of Narnia.
With two acres of sweeping lawn, harbor views, coastal woodland, perennial gardens, a tidal pond, a pool and a deepwater dock, asking the homeowner to choose her favorite spot to sit and reflect is a million-dollar question. There’s the round dinner table on the porch, where she and her husband watch the egrets at dusk; the Adirondack chairs for bird-watching at the edge of the pond; his-and-her hammocks in the shady Sweet Slumbers area of the woodland garden. Pose the same question to visitors, however, and the answer comes quickly: the giant rendition of the Red Queen’s chair inAlice in Wonderland. “The eight-foot-tall chair captures everyone’s fancy,” acknowledges the homeowner.
Enchanted by every inch of their fairytale garden, husband and wife seem destined to enjoy its magical outdoor rooms happily ever after.
Landscape architect: Tara Vincenta, Artemis Landscape
Gazebo architect: Bartels-Pagliaro Architects