Parterre and its gardens celebrated their 20th anniversary this summer. And yet, it seems like only yesterday that we were creating our own little “paradise” on what had long ago been the Belmont estate. A very, very special piece of property on Bellevue Avenue that we purchased in 1994, graced with majestic old trees but an otherwise blank slate.
As Newport was a somewhat new home for me, I wanted to be very sensitive to one of the precepts of good design– honoring a “sense of place.” After much thought, we came to characterize our efforts as “a series of gardens in the French tradition…with an American accent and Newport sensibilities.”
After 20 mind-bending years, certain garden truths reveal themselves. What a wonderful spot at which to arrive! Therefore, in the spirit of sharing, I’d like to pass along some of these perspectives that have guided my decisions. Along the way, you may hopefully pick up some ideas! As I’ve always said, this garden is dedicated to all those talented souls who were kind enough to share their gardens with me.
With only limited acreage of established garden to work with how do you satisfy your desire for creativity? Redesign — this spring we took a very deep breath and removed a large crescent beech hedge (it was not only too difficult to manage at 18′ high but becoming prohibitively costly to prune).
In its place went ilex ‘Steed,’ small-leafed holly bushes that were also evergreen (the beech hedge was deciduous). A new design based on my visits to Hidcote and other English gardens is happily on its way to becoming a centerpiece for the next 20 years.
What if you’re an obsessed gardener and missing a sense of “thrill” about your garden? Challenge yourself — step up the difficulty of plant selections and their use as design features.
Not often used for hedging, euonymous has become a mainstay for us…in all its myriad colorations and leaf size…from tall to short hedges.
I’m always on the lookout for unusual groundcovers and thrilled about our results with the divinely-colored silver dichocandra (it is most commonly used as a cascading container plant).
We defied the odds by using rose ‘Falstaff’ as a climber; well, actually a runner. A David Austin cultivar, his people were amazed that this proved so successful!
Where do you squeeze in ideas from ongoing travels and garden tours? Stretch your horizons!
No one gives more meaning to thinking outside the box than Prince Charles! A parade of these shaped hornbeams, backed by pruned hollies, dress up the entrance to his Highgrove gardens. Note the grass checkerboard detail between the hornbeams and hollies (do try to schedule a visit to his property in Oxfordshire; it is well worth it!)
And IF I had a vista like Buscot Park in the Cotswolds, I would hope I would be clever enough to play up its drama with a loooong allee’ of hornbeams.
Years ago I did dress up the cutting garden pear espalier with elaborate corner posts inspired by those at Villandry in the Loire Valley (a visit in 2000).
And finally, after 20 year, do celebrate the pleasure of accomplishing a long-standing garden goal or realizing a cherished dream. For me that would include…
Designing the Parterre Bench, which had been on my mental drawing board for 35 years. It’s a testimony, and reminder, to holding onto a dream.
Creating a new Woodland Garden from an approximately 1/2 acre slice on the southern side of our property. Originally an area of brambles, stinging nettle, wild rose and honeysuckle, it is now a beloved “secret garden,” a wonderful contrast to the rest of the sun-drenched areas. You immediately notice the drop in temperature when you enter this sylvan retreat.
Nursing the yew hedge (dividing the Black and White garden from the woodland) until it could finally be pruned into “architectural” accents.
Rustling up the courage to try out some seasonal tongue-in-cheek whimsy. My imagined engagement shower had a bride’s train (complete with floral headpiece) created from the wild tumble of autumn clematis growing out of a hedge at the pergola.
Designing and nurturing this garden has been a magical journey for me. Blessedly, I can look back in humbled awe at what had once been a leap of faith and is now a comfortably settled in garden and landscape that mirrors those dreams I had 22 years ago. Hope you’ll join me for the next 20 years of garden adventures at Parterre.
And to my two dear friends, Ginny Purviance and Julie Toland, who guided me so expertly in the design and installation of this creation…many mercis and a big hug.