photographs by stacy bass
No less than 100 English shrub roses from David Austin reside in the rose garden behind the high privet hedge at Beanacre Farm in Fairfield’s Greenfield Hill. Divided into quadrants, one for each of homeowner Gerard Pampalone’s carefully selected color schemes, the garden is centered in a circular bed defined by tailored foot-high boxwood. A stone orb fountain in the middle is the focal point for plantings of foxglove, lamb’s ear and lady’s mantle. Along with an archway covered in pink roses, Gerard added a series of tuteurs, or tall trainers, to tame the climbing roses, which include New Dawn, whose large blush-pink blooms have graced the garden since the 1930s.
In the yellow/amber section, Pat Austin, Jude the Obscure and Graham Thomas roses are paired with A Shropshire Lad, Golden Celebration and English Garden. The peony-size posies of a climbing Constance Spry like the ones on the archway lead the pink section, which includes Othello and Gertrude Jekyll, while the white section is filled with Fair Bianca, Glamis Castle, Winchester Cathedral and climbing Iceberg. And not to be outdone, the crimson/purple section is in full flower with the poetic blooms of Tess of the D’Ubervilles and William Shakespeare 2000. “What separates great gardens from good gardens is a single-mindedness, a plan—evidence of the guiding hand of the gardener,” Gerard says. “Some call it soul.”
Since Gerard and his wife, Arlene Carpenter, bought the 3.5-acre property with house, caretaker’s cottage and barn, and set up their market research firm there a dozen years ago, the rose garden has been his personal priority. The old one was neglected and overgrown, so he reshaped and replanted it only to discover that at least in Connecticut, a rose isn’t a rose isn’t a rose. “Many people here have roses, but not many have rose gardens, and now I know why,” he says. “I originally planted hybrid teas, but they didn’t survive our harsh winters, so I selected David Austins because they look old-fashioned, are hardy and disease-resistant.”
Once Gerard figured out how to win the war of the roses, his creative ideas really took root. “The rose garden needed structure,” he says. “The privet, which protects the roses from the wind, was there, so I added other vertical elements.” The tuteurs’ and supporting structures’ gray/green color (which was also on the exterior columns of the house and cottage) was developed by a team of architectural color consultants. “It makes all the garden structures recede, highlighting the flowers and foliage.”
The rose garden, one of three gardens on the estate, complements the 1890s Colonial Greek Revival farmhouse and red barn. “It looks like it has been here all along,” Pampalone says. “It takes a lot to make it work, but I decided to keep it as a rose garden because it was so beautiful and so nicely done that it was meant to be here. And the roses are gorgeous, they’re fragrant and they’re the most beautiful flowers we have.” Although Pampalone resigned himself to sensible shrub roses, his garden does include the hybrid tea rose Eden, which was introduced in France as Pierre de Ronsard in 1987, and the Grandiflora Queen Elizabeth. “These are my favorites,” he says. “I saw Eden at Villa Gamberaia when I visited Tuscany in 1994, and I waited impatiently for it to appear in this country. It’s a little bit fussy, and I have to baby it. I’m crazy about the Queen Elizabeth, too, but I can’t have too many because they are delicate, and I would be heartbroken if they died.”
To get ideas, Pampalone has made seven grand tours to Europe to visit hundreds of gardens. The manicured parterres in the chateaux country outside Paris, in part, helped persuade him to create the formal boxwood border. And the color borders at Scotland’s Crathes Castle and the Dublin garden of Helen Dillon influenced his four-hue design scheme. And it was the roserie at Bagatelle and at Monet’s garden in Giverny that inspired the tuteurs.
For those who want to sit and smell the roses (the fragrance of the Constance Spry, which is a cross between the soft pink Gallica Rose Belle Isis and the Floribunda Dainty Maid, has been likened to the heady scent of myrrh), Pampalone created a living bench with boxwood arms and a Wichita blue juniper back. “I got the idea after a garden tour of Holland and Belgium, where I saw the dramatic shaped hedges of garden designers Jacques Wirtz and Piet Oudolf,” he says. “Garden seating is very common in the low countries. They sculpt hedges everywhere. It makes for striking winter structure after a light snowfall.” However, the bench is just for visitors: The roses are so demanding that they give Pampalone no time to rest. “I’m in the garden—working—every day,” he says. “It’s a labor of love.”
Although his wife doesn’t have a green thumb (“she supports my hobby and enjoys my work in the garden but will not break a nail”), their trio of black-and-white cats, Zoe, Ali and Gateway, find it convenient to tiptoe through the roses. They love to bird-watch at the orb’s fountain and take a nip or two at the cat mint that grows nearby.
Now that everything’s coming up roses, Pampalone is putting in other plantings. He recently added white diamond sedum, thyme, alpine mouse-ear and the small white flowering cerastium to the crevices in the stone path leading to the rose garden and is considering a combination of annuals, perennials, bulbs, shrubs and vines to round it out. “I want everything to look beautiful all year long,” Pampalone says. “It’s like decorating. It’s part of my house, and I do everything I can to make it welcoming and inviting. Years from now, I hope people will come here and say, ‘He knew what he was doing.’”