I recently returned from a visit to London and its environs, including the picturesque villages of the Cotswolds. As an architect, I was enthralled by the charming stone buildings with thatched or tile roofs enhanced by lush gardens with their bright blossoms and imaginative topiary. On the first day of my stay in Chipping Campden, I discovered a cobblestone mews between two buildings, and behind one building was a stone wall topped with a dense hedge. An arched opening in the wall beckoned, so, like Alice, I succumbed to temptation. Instead of falling down a rabbit hole, I entered an enchanting garden. The profusion and juxtaposition of color in the variety of plants, mature trees, the narrow lawn area encircled by a series of concentric low hedges, hardscapes for walking, outdoor furnishings for dining combined to create this magical place that clearly had evolved over many years.
Gardens are labors of love and require patience from their owners, for most gardens require at least three years or so for the original design concept’s shapes, colors and textures to mature into its three-dimensional form. As I lingered in the Chipping Campden garden, I remembered a garden I had visited on a tour last spring that had been a 20-year collaboration between the owners and their landscape designer, Jan Kirsh.
The owners purchased their five-acre property fronting Broad Creek in 1983 and built a craftsman-style home that was initially a weekend getaway and is now a permanent home. The house has been expanded through the years along with outdoor spaces including terraces, decks, porches, the dining area under the pergola and the grass-bordered swimming pool. A poolside bench under the shade of a colorful redbud tree overlooks the informal gardens. The pool area was sited between the house and the garage, and the link between buildings is a low brick wall with square gray lattice above to maintain views to the landscape and to the sunset over the river beyond.
The garden master plan began at the entry drive by first opening up the areas on either side of the drive by clearing out the brambles and undergrowth. Native trees and shrubs were left in place and the organically shaped garden beds along the drive were enhanced by the deep green zig-zag fencing as portals to the drive and the infill of new native plants. Three native trees at the inside corners of the zig zag fence are sweet gum, whose name “slender silhouette” aptly describes their tight canopy shape.
The design goals for the gardens and hardscape were to respect and complement the architecture through a variety of hardscape textures and carefully designed planting beds. From the beginning, there was a conscious effort to have the plantings look like an Eastern Shore garden. The owners engaged early on and enthusiastically encouraged creative thinking and emphasized that this would be a fun endeavor. This resulted in the freedom of experimenting with new flowering shrubs, native and non-native plants, ornamental grasses, perennials, and ground covers. Existing beds were refined and redefined with new sweeps of color and specimen plants. One horticultural success led to another and built upon layers and layers of color, texture, and unexpected plant juxtapositions; the garden began to materialize.
Along with the garden design, another early focus was the development of garden ‘rooms’ that stand alone in the larger landscape or are extensions of both interior and outdoor living spaces to take advantage of the fabulous views as Broad Creek wraps around the point of the property. The views from within the home are of panoramic water views framed by the colorful shoreline beds that undulate along the water’s edge. Equally important are the views of the landscape against the backdrop of the house from the boat, dock or a stroll between the various outdoor rooms.
The highlight of the owners’ love for their garden was a family wedding in early June of this year. The well-established gardens were enhanced even more by careful planning that began well before the fall planting season. The result included oversized pool-side planters, layers of colorful annuals, and groups of pots filled with tropical plants partnered with evergreens, flowering shrubs, perennials and annuals that anchored entry landings, patios and terraces in the vibrant color scheme of the wedding.
The bluestone path leading from the French doors to the lawn terminated in a point that echoed the house’s gable roof was integrated into the first part of the ceremony. The bride walked to the end of the path where she joined her father and then together, they walked to the marriage ceremony at the river’s edge. The tented evening wedding festivities were within view of the colorful river side gardens whose broad undulating beds had provided a series of visual treats all year long, but this past June they burst with the wedding color scheme of pink, purple, white and lime green. What a fitting culmination of a multi-year collaboration between the owners and their landscape designer.