Behind the Private Gates, In the Garden, The Newport Diary

In the Garden: Designing with Stone

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In 2002 I photographed this garden for my first book, Private Newport: At Home and in the Garden. I remember making a mental note to check in on it over the years, this enchanting setting with its cozy shingled house overlooking the crescent sweep of Third Beach. Outstanding specimen trees (European little leaf lindens, many varieties of beech, deep shades of evergreens — Hinoki cypress, Austrian pine and rhododendron) lent maturity to the impression of a woodland scene that in many ways recalls the northwest United States. The property struck a nerve with me; the decisions made by the owners, from choice of garden designers to horticultural selections, were so right on.

It is through this idyllic woodland setting that the brook runs, north to south, letting into the ocean at the foot of the property.

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And now years later, responding to the dictates of Mother Nature, well-conceived and well-received “tweaks” have been made to the landscape’s topography. This brook (whose spring flooding necessitated regrading and redirecting, an ongoing project overseen by her late husband) has been given a face lift with the talents of George Brown, a landscaper with a passion for rocks and boulders. Over the course of three years, this often dry brook has taken on a sense of importance, lined now with large rocks that are so well chosen and placed that the results can only be called handsome (no Disney-esque references here).


Pathways allow you to stroll alongside the brook; large, flat stones serve as “walk overs,” others for sitting in repose.


As both the owner and George Brown are bird lovers, water pockets created within the smaller stones were added specifically to attract feathered friends.


For the statement rock, carefully positioned so that it is silhouetted against the water, sculptor Roger DiTarando created a bronze and copper Osprey, wings outspread, which appears to have just alighted upon the triangular-shaped rock.


Gary Koller, the former horticulturalist at the esteemed Arnold Arboretum in Cambridge, Massachusetts, was the third contributor to the beautification of the creek — his plantings add a welcome verdant note and the sophisticated use of green with relevant spots of color create a fascinating collection of plant material, marrying with the rocks, one gaining advantage from the other.


No detail has been overlooked — even the transition from grass to brook pathway is designated by a stone threshold.


This phase of the property’s story began years ago with a decision to introduce a greenhouse and potting shed to the property; the stone foundation to be produced by a new resource, George Brown. So pleased was the owner with the results of this first endeavor, she suggested moving on to another area of the property that merited attention…the gently sloping south side of the property off the bedroom sitting area now has a low wall and long stone steps.


And finally it became apparent that the resourceful George Brown was the man-in-waiting to tackle the brook.

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This long collaboration between the owner and Mr. Brown promises more subtle enhancements to her series of gardens…a few very select rocks have already found their way to the small pocket gardens around the house…in a process to which many gardeners can relate.


The ultimate compliment is that the enhancements to different parts of this property  looks as though they have always been here. You may never have missed it before but now the additions bring the garden to another level…a study in good design!The owners’ decisions and their implementation have resulted in a landscape that provides a valuable lesson in the evolution of a garden that is both inspiring and relevant. I’m awaiting the next stage…


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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".

3 thoughts on “In the Garden: Designing with Stone

  1. Loved this refreshing respite to my day…! I too am a lover of stones and this is an amazingly crafted garden….very inventive of George Brown and very visionary of the owner, especially the hollowed out drinking pools for the birds. Thank you Bettie !

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