A Connecticut Garden Odyssey, Part 1

On the morning of the last weekend of August, my two sons headed West to explore the Grand Canyon on a raft. Not to be outdone, I headed East (well, north, from my perspective) to explore some gardens.

By now many of you know my propensity to head for new gardens, camera in hand, when I have time. On this occasion, feeling somewhat burned out on the design side and weary of heat-stroke-high temperatures in the Washington area, I decided to spend the weekend in central Connecticut, visiting some of the private gardens open on the Garden Conservancy’s Open Days tours.

On Sunday, August 29th, I managed to make it to all but one of the gardens on the tour. For the most part, they were quite different in size, design aesthetic, and age. Two of them were long-established, owner-designed gardens that made me feel quite at home, despite being much larger than my own. First was the Copeland garden, where the owner greeted me at the entrance and told me about the twenty-plus years he has been working on the house and garden. Although the main “room” where I began my tour was full of boxwoods, roses, and dahlias, my favorite scene came in the woodland garden just beyond the already-beating sun. Although sometimes I find classical statuary in the garden badly placed, here it was perfectly situated.

Garden Conservancy, Open Days, Copeland Garden, Connecticut

The garden of Martine and Richard Copeland has "rooms" of both sun and shade.

Bookending the day was a garden in Washington, CT, just down the road from Hollister House (which I’ll get to in another post). Georgia Middlebrook has lived at Sprain Brook Farm, which dates back to 1750, for 45 years. The 36-acre landscape, which includes a pond and other water ways, bridges, a very shady garden, herbaceous borders near the house, and a lovely shaded terrace. Late-season bloomers up near the greenhouse and terrace included phlox, lab-lab, rudbeckia, and annuals.

Sprain Brook Farm, Garden Conservancy, Open Days

One of the herbaceous borders, complete with sundial, near the terrace at Georgia Middlebrook's garden in Connecticut

In between, I visited three more gardens (whew). Number two on the itinerary was the estate of Mrs. Michael Weiner, also in Roxbury. This property, which consists of 300 acres (sixty of which are planted), has been developed over a period of twenty years under the guidance of Tommy Verderosa, who ferried some of us back and forth between the parking area and the front door. I stole a few minutes of his time on the ride to the house; he explained that almost all of the mature trees on site have come from other parts of New England, planted as sizeable specimens to begin with. The gardens in front of the house included a large man-made lake and waterfall and many areas where large sculptures drew the visitor’s eye.

Garden Conservancy, Open Days, Wiener Garden

This sculpture reminded me of Brancusi although I could find no artist's signature.

In the rear garden, on a grassy lawn below a terrace overlooking a stunning mountain view, was another large sculpture, this one by Alan Shayne, whose garden I was to visit later.

Garden Conservancy, Open Days 2010, Weiner garden, Alan Shayne

An enormous apple sculpture by Alan Shayne on the back lawn at the Wiener garden.

As this photo suggests, carefully pruned conifers and other evergreens in contrasting colors are the building blocks of many parts of the Wiener garden. I left with my head spinning from the chartreuse, blue and green tones and the scale of it all (Mr. Verderosa said that in addition to himself, a staff of five or six gardeners works full time five days a week during the growing season to keep the garden looking its best).

My next stop was the garden of Norman Sunshine and Alan Shayne, in Washington Depot. The Open Days Directory describes the garden as “a large, meticulously maintained country garden in a pastoral setting of fields and ponds with rolling hills in the distance.” As my British friend Jill would say, “spot on.” By now it was noon-ish and I was cursing the blazing sun (not to mention the unusually high temperatures for the region), but these images should give you an idea of the place, which I loved. The owners designed it themselves, and they have struck the right balance in providing interest around the house without competing with the simple but spectacular views beyond it.

Garden Conservancy, Open Days, Shayne and Sunshine garden

I appreciated the swan posing so patiently on the pond.

Garden Conservancy, Open Days, Sunshine Shayne garden

A wisteria-shaded arbor provides the perfect view out past a perennial border and the pool to the low stone walls and pastureland beyond.

Garden Conservancy, Open Days, Sunshine Shayne garden

An old-fashioned cottage garden is the first thing to greet arriving visitors at the Sunshine-Shayne garden.

Alan Shayne sculpture, Garden Conservancy, Open Days

A small sculpture garden displaying some of Alan Shayne's work is tucked away behind the main wing of the house.

Next stop was “Muddy Rugs,” another Washington Depot garden “welcoming new gardeners.” The owner, who works in interior design in New York City, has designed this relatively new garden himself and divides his time between this, his country house, and life in the city. Like the Sunshine/Shayne garden, this property is surrounded by a large stretch of open lawn, but the view is closed in by a line of large mature trees which provide screening from neighbors’ properties on one side and places to explore on the other.

Garden Conservancy, Open Days, Connecticut, Muddy Rugs

The view from the back terrace at Muddy Rugs, down to a pool with two weeping cherries and the woods beyond.

In the woods behind the house, just short of a low stone wall, I discovered a small bistro table with two metal chairs. Suspended above it was an extraordinary-looking “chandelier,” which in the evening can hold candles and flowers for outdoor drinks or dinner.

Garden Conservancy, Open Days, Muddy Rugs

The woodland chandelier

Muddy Rugs also has a “sculpture garden” in front of the house, with boxwood, groundcovers and perennials. Kudos to the owner for giving us so much to look at and starting such a promising garden! Plans are being made to develop a walking path on the hill above the house as well as a woodland garden near the “chandelier” area.

* * *

Coda: At the end of a long, lunch-less day (unlike some of the other resourceful visitors I saw, I hadn’t thought to pack a sandwich), I opted for a very early dinner at a new restaurant in Washington (? the mailing address is apparently New Preston – whatever) called Community Table.

Community Table restaurant, Washington CT

The Community Table restaurant on Litchfield Turnpike doesn't take reservations, but it makes a mean gazpacho.

All its food is locally sourced, the ambience is lovely, and the most unusual feature of the place is a 300-year old “communal table” carved from a walnut tree (I think).

Community Table Restaurant, Connecticut

Come early for your choice of tables at the Community Table restaurant.

I had a gazpacho so delicious I had to restrain myself from licking the bowl. CT plans to remain open through the fall and most of the winter – they are canning and preserving fresh fruits and vegetables from local farms. Rumor has it that they plan to close only for the month of February. Don’t miss this if you’re in the neighborhood!

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4 Comments on “A Connecticut Garden Odyssey, Part 1”

  1. Edith Hope Says:

    Dear Melissa, What some very splendid gardens and, for me, so much more interesting than rafting down/through the Grand Canyon! It is, of course, through visiting the gardens of others that one gathers so many ideas, not all of course suitable for one’s own garden, but each contributing to one’s horticultural experience. On this trip you really do appear to have discovered some gems!

    • Melissa Says:

      Edith, so right as usual (although I wouldn’t have minded the Grand Canyon trip either). My particular favorite was Hollister House (soon to be posted), closely followed by the Sunshine/Shayne garden.

  2. Melissa, great gardens and great shots (as usual), loving the sculptures in the gardens. I need to win a lottery!

    • Melissa Says:

      I think you have some quite interesting sculptural elements of your own at KG already! Unless you are lusting after something large made out of stone, like the one I saw at the Copeland garden, or perhaps the apple sculpture by Shayne?

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