Behind the Private Gates, Design, In the Garden

Innisfree Garden in Nantucket

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On a small peninsula on the northern coast of Nantucket is a view so compelling that uber architect, Robert Venturi, was coaxed into doing one last residential project…for clients, Susie and Coley Burke. “Innisfree” (beautiful island) was completed about twenty years ago, respecting the all-shingle dictate of the island but still providing the Venturi signature of stout classical post-modernist columns lining the porch that runs the length of the house overlooking the water.

Another expert in his field, George Schoellkopf (of Hollister House fame), also weighed in  on the garden that slips below this porch, creating it’s own sunken garden in this New England island setting. A clever design in its own right — heavily planted first level (ie. rosa rugosa) then substantial stone wall that meets the wide stone and moss path — as it doesn’t interrupt the view to the water while at the same time offering a wealth of design details and plant varieties to admire from the long porch.

Perhaps Mr. Schoellkopf had been inspired by nature’s own linear creations on the fronting beach, which also are composed in five parallel lines.

Views over to the busy harbor of Nantucket are preceded by a king’s ransom of shrubs, perennials, blooming garden favorites (poppies, snapdragon, astilbe and sweet william) and a stone wall that pairs with its counterpart across the path.

The beguiling path between this wealth of plant flora is worth a study in itself. What appears seemingly haphazard…the “chance” cobblestones among the irregular flagstones and moss…are part of a subtle pattern themselves, and an antidote to the jubilant collection of plantings on either side.

Off to one end of the centerpiece garden, creating their own vignettes, is a vegetable garden and a table (made of an old mill stone) and iron chairs under a pergola for dining al fresco.

But last and not least, a bit of whimsy inspired by Frank Cabot’s gardens at “Quartre Vent” in Quebec…a  long stone bench that in its design recalls the path of the larger sunken garden, with its stone walls interspersed with larger stones.

The true nod, though, to Frank Cabot’s wit is the copper frog trio, whose music is tripped when the visitor passes through the hedge into this petite green space.

Thank you, Susie and Coley…see you in Newport.

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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".