Last week a few friends and I made a much-anticipated return to one of my most admired gardens in the northeast, right across the Sakonnet River in Little Compton, Rhode Island. What made this outing even more special is that it was preceded by 2 days of full rain and a morning that dawned fog swept, to put it mildly. But as we walked into Sakonnet Gardens we began to appreciate the serendipity of these conditions, for there before us was every imaginable color of rhododendron in full bloom. The mist and fog only made the colors pop more as well as adding to the moody magic of the damp woodland floor of moss and ferns (to include the wonderful, large-leafed shiny petasites).
But, of course, we’ve all come to expect this fulsome experience at this special piece of paradise. On not quite one acre of land, two supra creative visionaries–Mikel Folcarelli and John Gwynne–keep stretching the imagination and pushing the envelope of plant selection, placement, and usage. You know there’s creativity afoot when the understated access to the garden is bordered by a curving wall of log rings that undulates through parts of the garden itself.
While the “formal” entrance provides a striking contrast with its cathedral-like allee of cryptomeria.
Given this point in late spring/early summer, rhodies from soft pink
to buttercream yellow, that here introduces the visitor to the yellow garden room.
To a deep red rhododendron placed “just so” to draw your eye to the Balinese pagoda behind the stand of specimen bamboos.
All are taking advantage of conditions at Sakonnet that are perfect for this popular shrub — just the right mix of shade and sun (something I have not mastered in Parterre’s woodland).
Of course, a sharp eye for color juxtaposition adds immeasurably to the visitor’s pleasure. In the apricot garden, the rusty shade of handsome acer griseums (paper bark maples) are a foil to the rhodies placed around this garden.
Along with many specimen cultivars that will seldom be found in any other garden setting, like rhododendron ‘Chionoides.’
and rhododendron ‘sappho.’
Spent blooms adding their beauty to the woodland floor.
One leaves Sakonnet Garden empowered and making promises to oneself to be fearless, take chances, and turn your imagination on its head! Few gardens I have visited (and I’ve visited many) inspire me in this vein. It’s a rare experience, therefore all the more reason to be treasured. And another reason to love living in Newport, which is only a 45 minute drive to Little Compton.
John and Mikel are now taking reservations (a first!) to tour their garden this summer, so be sure not to miss this rare opportunity. Their website has all the details. Enjoy!