The Newport Flower Show is always a much-anticipated start to the “summer season,” but it was especially so this year! Bunny Williams was a guest speaker, an esteemed designer that I’ve long followed and admired. Can you imagine my anticipation when she accepted my invitation to visit Parterre and chat “gardens”? Having visited her home in Connecticut many years ago during one of the first “Trade Secrets,” I was thrilled to have the chance. And what a delight she is to be with; those Virginia roots provide an easy-going, gracious manner that make you feel as though you’ve known her forever.
Don’t you find that to be true when you’re bonding over something as beautiful and meaningful as gardens — designing and “making” them, tending to them, struggling with the inevitable challenges, seeking solutions, the exultation over a success — or surviving a too-cold winter or too-wet spring. Bunny and I were in accord on so many points — here are just a few that were highlights for me…
- The importance of visiting gardens, actually seeing them in person, not just in a book (two favorites of ours — Innisfree, in upstate New York and Brecy, in Normandy, France). And one on my wish list…the de la Renta garden in Connecticut.
- A view will always take over, so give the creation of views a priority.
- Create the magic of walking through the garden as a “journey of discovery.” Paths are the means, inviting you to stroll — taking you from sun to shade, around a corner for a surprise, up an incline.
- The sky is so vast, it’s imperative to create a sense of intimacy — an alleé, a bower, a walkway bordered with tall hedges (see above).
- And two universal truths on which we both agree:
- Develop your eye (seek and look)!
- Trends come and go, so don’t be a slave to them.
Most of us “know” Bunny Williams. She opened her own interior design company, Bunny Williams Incorporated, in 1988 after twenty-two years with the venerable decorating firm, Parish-Hadley Associates. Schooled in the classics, restraint and appropriateness are hallmarks of Bunny’s style. Bunny is the author of An Affair with a House and Bunny William’s Point of View. But, no surprise, Bunny Williams’ passion for design extends beyond interiors into gardens. For twenty-five years, Bunny co-owned Treillage Ltd., a garden furniture and accessories shop in New York, with antiques dealer and husband, John Rosselli. She originally published On Garden Style in 1998 and just reissued it with expanded text and out of this world photography.
There is great value to readers in a designer taking her own iconic tome and updating it almost twenty years later. It’s all there in one place, recording the evolution that her garden has gone through over the years. An education in the truest sense for gardeners of all ages. Who could ask for more? Though Bunny is world-renowned, don’t be intimidated; her tone in On Garden Style is conversational and personal. She is supportive, offering design insight for the novice as well as the seasoned gardener.
On this subject, I am drawn to one of Bunny’s statements in her first chapter. She wisely notes, “I’m asking you to re-frame the popular notion, held by many Americans, of what a garden is. Too often a perennial border is equated with a garden; that’s comparable to mistaking a couch for a room. I’m asking you to think about the room first, and then decide how you will furnish it. And although I dive into the horticulture aspect of my garden with abandon, I also embrace the importance of a garden’s entire design — this includes style, hardscaping, containers, ornaments, furniture. Not just the plantings.”
Bunny begins with a story about her first garden — ordered right out of a catalog. She dropped it in and up it grew. She learned quite a bit from that experience thirty years ago — mainly what that garden was lacking — personal style. Just as Bunny tackles interior design projects, she fills garden ‘rooms’ with character, nuance and personality. The chapter on her own kitchen garden is provocative and supra inspiring!
On Garden Style helps readers imagine and design their own beautiful outdoor garden sanctuaries. I so appreciate Bunny’s point of view. Many gardening books are completely focused on horticulture; her’s incorporates so much more.
A helpful plus — the sections of the book tell you where you can expect to go — “imagine”; “good bones make good rooms”; “furnishing the garden”; “planting with style”. Another aspect of the book that I wholeheartedly applaud is the use of absolutely gorgeous, pop off the page, full color photography throughout — big full pages, big spreads, big inspiration. (I must note that we share the same talented photographer, Mick Hales, with whom I worked on Living Newport: Houses, People, Style.)
One last bon mot from Bunny, “If you don’t have a place to sit, you won’t go into the garden.” What an appropriate tie-in to this week’s debut of my Parterre Bench. Thank you, Bunny!
Featured Image Credit, Reproduced from Bunny Williams On Garden Style; Stewart, Tabori & Chang, 2015