Behind the Private Gates, Design, In the Garden


Sonnenhof: The Evolution of a Garden

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In my 2016 blog on Sonnenhof “Designing with Stone,” I closed with…”The owners’ decisions and their implementations have resulted in a landscape that provides a valuable lesson in the evolution of gardens that are both inspiring and relevant. I’m awaiting the next stage…” And for those of you who love before and after images, here is what I photographed at that time. This often dry brook had taken on a sense of importance, with its large rocks that are so well chosen and placed that the results can only be referred to as handsome (no Disney-esque references here).

And how it looked last week when I ventured over to record this next stage in the evolution of the gardens at Sonnenhof.

A dramatic landscape feature that adds another dimension to this enchanting setting with its cozy shingled house, and winsome gardens, that had appeared in my 2004 book, Private Newport, at Home and in the Garden.

Overlooking the Sakonnet River, Sonnenhof (Sunny House) is blessed with a spectacular view of key landmarks on our island–Sachuest Point Wildlife Preserve, the Sakonnet Lighthouse, and the sweeping crescent of Third Beach. In its latest iteration, Chicago landscape architect, Doug Hoerr, was tasked with connecting all the gardens into a cohesive design. This is most pronounced in the large conifer garden that now borders both sides of the creek (feature image at top) and in the views across the property’s newly planted open space to the Sakonnet River.

This new garden is wide enough for paths that invite strolls which then lead you beyond to the wonders of the developed meadows. All overlooked by a boundless sky, often accentuated by billowing white clouds.

Hoerr’s 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.

Organic shapes planted with evergreen ground covers or low, swirling grasses bring a sense of interest as well as intimacy to these meadow motifs on what had been vast, flat lawns.

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

This long phase of Sonnenhof’s story began many years ago with a decision to introduce a greenhouse and potting shed to the property; the stone foundation was to be produced by a new resource, George Brown. So pleased was the owner with the results of this first endeavor, that Mr. Brown was called upon to contribute his mason talents for decades…from the stone paths and walls around all areas of the property to selectively placed stone accents in the underplanted garden beds to the ever evolving creek bed and its borders.

One of the pleasures for me of watching this Sonnenhof story unfold is that the happy owner truly personifies the wisdom that “gardening simply does not allow one to be mentally old because too many hopes and dreams are yet to be realized.”

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Bettie Bearden Pardee

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".

10 thoughts on “Sonnenhof: The Evolution of a Garden

  1. my day was set with the quote from Sonnenhof’s owner: gardening simply does not allow one to be mentally old……………………………… Thank you, Suellen

    1. Isn’t that great wisdom…and BTW, it’s from a Georgian, Alan Armitage, horticulturalist at UGA. xB

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