One of Newport’s most pristine estates, the 9 acre Ker Arvor (French Breton for “seaside”), is what I affectionately refer to as a design trifecta — an exceptional example of French eighteenth-century neoclassical architecture with interiors that elegantly reflect this style and grounds that continue the French theme. The owner’s impeccable eye for design, proportion, and color has created many fresh occasions for delight for her admiring guests.
Additionally, the ever important “axis” in French landscape design has been well honored at Ker Arvor, starting at the front door right out to the tented terrace, down the bluestone path to the pool, and continuing through the gate to the fountain at the far end of the boxwood garden. This carefully designed pair of formally arranged boxwood borders is planted in classical triangles, centered by hibiscus standards. The sweep of green lawn ends at a magnificent antique fountain, banked on either side with blue hydrangeas.
7 ideas you may wish to borrow for a formal interpretation of a classic French garden:
Carry a vision throughout the landscape. Different forms of topiaries have been a signature at Ker Arvor since it was first built in the early thirties. At that time, conical yews were planted on the lawn fronting the 2 wings of the U-shaped house.
Shaped hollies are also planted alongside the yew hedges in the formal boxwood garden, while whimsical carousel topiaries, on their poles, greet you as you enter this formal area.
Consider additional opportunities that will heighten the drama of the strong axis. The long bluestone walkway to the pool is lined either side with tall pots of white daisies, reinforcing this design element and acting as one more location for well-considered plant material.
Be exuberant in your use of a color scheme. For example, the favored pink and blue colors of Ker Arvor are seen in the bonica roses and cosmos that decorate the boxwood garden entrance, as well as seasonal pots around the property. This color scheme is even carried out in the pool changing rooms, one sporting a pink interior and the other a blue.
If entertaining is a priority, reference a tent resource early in the planning. When it is time for a party at Ker Arvor, a huge tent covers the area from house to pool, pots along the central walk are rearranged and dancing takes place on the bluestone paths. “Menus are simple but delicious, the band is good and no one wants to go home,” as the now retired head gardener recounts. And the pool is designed with an “evening water feature” to further entertain guests.
Be creative in the design and siting of the pool. Ker Arvor’s resembles more of a formal reflecting pool, borrowing a design detail that recalls one in the front courtyard’s perimeter.
Play up this pool design with strategically placed clusters of containers, all the more intriguing if one carries out the topiary theme.
Like the chatelaine of Ker Arvor, stay flexible and philosophical regarding “maintenance headaches.” After the boxwood garden was added succeeding seasons brought problems: deer became a hungry presence in the perimeter’s rose borders and newly arrived blights were seen on the boxwood.
Necessary changes made for a more stylized and dramatic impression– stones replaced the pink begonia and blue salvia plantings within the boxwood triangles and the rose borders gave way to lawn, dressed with huge pots of hydrangeas and formally trimmed holly. But all still presents an aesthetic delight when viewed from the owner’s upstairs window.
Hope you’re staying warm — Newport is having its cold challenges at the moment…
All photos courtesy of Lila Delman.