One of the joys of having guests is sharing places and experiences you love about Newport…like friends’ gardens. An all-time favorite of mine is The Whim, owned by Oatsie Charles (and if you left your hat at home, she always has one to share). I’ve been taking as many pages from this southerner’s book as I can for she’ll be the first one to tell you that love of her garden, people (and vodka) have kept her going to 99!
A commitment and focus sustained over three decades has seen a windswept piece of ledge become a glorious riot of color that seems to run as far as the eye can see before meeting the blue of the ocean. Because it has evolved slowly, with loving attention daily, the relationship between house, grounds and sea is a visually enchanting balance.
The Whim’s garden charms with its intimate spaces, both figuratively and literally. From the moment you enter, every element is uniformly groomed and maintained. It is an orderly, tamed landscape, which is an unusual case for New England seaside gardens.
Within the overall grand scheme, there are smaller gardens – like the formal perennial borders (on either side of what had originally been the greenhouse for Land’s End) and the sunken quadrangle. These multiple parts give the garden diversity, but it is the placement of statues and garden accessories, put in on a ‘whim’, that make the garden feel animated. Chosen by the owner, she takes a personal interest in each. For example, her beloved pair of rabbits, copies of those long-admired at Chateau-sur-Mer; after being pruned of ivy around their ears one day, she lamented, “Oh, they look so cold.”
When asked what inspired this great interest in gardens, our hostess thoughtfully answers, “ My mother was a passionate gardener and I often wondered why. Now I totally understand. It’s maturity. And sense. And sensibility.”
Many female gardeners have been an important part of The Whim’s garden evolution, one for fifteen years. To her, “ these grounds are comforting like an old shoe. But at the same time, we need a break, to be able to look at the garden with fresh eyes, and dream.” It is these dreams, and the ability to make these dreams come true, that is the legacy of the gardens at ‘The Whim’. And there is whimsy everywhere…
Everyone who interacts with our hostess is touched by her attitude of positive living, entertained by her spunk and trenchant humor. Her personality is as colorful as her garden, from which the finest flowers are selected and arrangements created in the potting shed to be brought indoors each Friday.
As in the making of a garden, timing, delivery and a sense of theatrics is a formula for success – here in Oatsie Charles’ own private “theater by the sea.”
Featured Image Credit, Nicholas Mele Photography