Behind the Private Gates, Design, In the Garden


Inspiring Garden Design: Express Your Personality!

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January is a much anticipated month for me! I welcome some downtime after the excitement of the holidays to sit by the fire, reflect and plan for the opening of the garden in just three months. Therefore, January is also the month dedicated to my annual blog series, “Inspiring Garden Design.” Last year’s kicked off with a Parisian garden but this year I’m going to focus on Newport’s renowned horticultural legacy. My neighbor’s gardens will now provide ideas to borrow, lessons to learn, and tips to enjoy.

Appropriately, The Whim will begin this series, whose chatelaine, Oatsie Charles, just recently passed on to her garden in the sky. I’m convinced that one of the most compelling reasons she lived to ninety-nine was her love of, and passion for, her garden, a fact that has brought new meaning to my relationship with my green sanctuary.

As a brief background, The Whim enjoys an inherited provenance — the eight car garage/manager’s cottage, potting shed and greenhouse were once part of the Land’s End estate, former home of Edith Wharton. An emerald lawn took the place of the hurricane-demolished greenhouse and the garage became Mrs. Charles’ home.

Seven  thoughts on how this esteemed Newport garden owner created her calm retreat on the water, while expressing her singular personality at the same time……

1. Divide up the space to create different areas, providing for changing moods and style. The Whim is a small “theater,” with different “acts,” from simple to a bit wanton to quiet contemplation.

2. Keep it simple. On many levels, it is often what you don’t do in a garden that speaks volumes (ie. the brick sides of the former greenhouse serve as backdrops to a mixed border, the foundation of the greenhouse now a dramatic sweep of green that seemingly meets the blue of the water).

3. Have a subtle theme. Whimsical statuary selections detail garden beds, create surprises around corners and dress-up stone posts.

4. Be creative in plant selections. Consider shape, color, height  and pruning options (the large boxwood hedges anchoring the two mixed borders are cloud pruned to add a novel note of interest while the pair of wisteria trees add a commanding presence to the house end of the borders).

5. Don’t be afraid to include unusual options. The tall, skinny eremurus (foxtail lily) and pyramidal junipers punctuate the long borders and draw your eyes up to the sky.

6. Study the light at different times of the day. Until you’ve experienced your garden in the wee hours of morning, or the late light of sunset, you cannot appreciate how much plants  capture and accentuate a garden’s dreaminess.

Photo Credit: Nick Mele

7. Include an existing building in your “decorating” scheme. The original, charming potting shed now boasts a “Whim blue” door in addition to its draping of pink roses and supporting side plantings, giving it a nestled-in feeling.

Thank you, Jerica, for sharing your personal images of the Whim’s garden.

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Bettie Bearden Pardee

About Bettie Bearden Pardee

Author of Private Newport and Living Newport, garden furniture designer (The Parterre Bench), national lecturer, and entertaining expert. An honoree for the second year on "The Salonniere 100 America's Best Party Hosts", she was also the host and creative producer of "The Presidential Palate: Entertaining at the White House".

2 thoughts on “Inspiring Garden Design: Express Your Personality!

  1. In viewing The Whim during the first Newport Arboretum tour what makes it unique is its size amidst the fabric of expansive Newport properties. The use of minimal hardscaping to delineate viewing spaces dressed with free flowing plants was a masterful way to lend the appearance of greater scope. A delight to experience and a good case study in less man – more nature. It is like a sigh on the wind. We should all stop for a moment and listen.

  2. I gather – no deer in the Whim gardens. Lots of their favorite delicacies there – one night of a “deer dinner” could wreck havoc. Such good advice about adding some tall verticals. This special place reflects its owner’s good taste and love for beauty. Good gardening staff helped some, I’m sure. xox

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