This Westport garden is flourishing again thanks to a design dream team that gave new life to an old estate.
One would think it would be intimidating to design the two-and-a-half acres that surround the English-style stone cottage, designed in 1925 by local architect Walter Bradnee Kirby, that sits atop a gentle rise on Westport’s Old Hill. Add to that the fact that the Tudor Revival, with its elegant chimneys, sturdy stone walls, and rolling landscape constitute the heart of what was once the eighty-acre redoubt of an Englishman determined to establish his manor in the new world. He called it Broadview. And then Route 33 ran through it and broke it into smaller parcels.
The occupants of the house, who lucked out and acquired one of those parcels twelve years ago, that being twelve of the twenty years they’ve lived in the area, were relatively unfazed, however. After all, they had spent two years renovating the house with meticulous attention to detail—reclaimed red-and-black ceramic roof tiles, cautious expansions and additions to period windows to admit more light into the interior—under the guidance of Mount Kisco architect Ira Grandberg and Salt Lake City-based interior designer Anne-Marie Barton. It was during this period that they took leave of the premises.
So, following the renovation of the house, and the finalization of the hardscape—including the perfecting of a long and curving gravel drive that seduces driver and passenger alike with generous views of the house from all its most flattering angles—they were ready to address the soft stuff. Principal among those line items was to address the loss of several tall, old trees which had perished due to lightning strikes. After a few false starts, they hired their dream team. It starred themselves, and key players Grandberg and landscape designers Jim Gerrity and Matt Almy of Oliver Landscape Design in Fairfield.
Among the objectives says the owner, were to provide screens from the neighbors, to close off a driveway shared with a neighbor on the garage end of the house, and to install deer-resistant plants. In other words, they wanted to achieve the effect of being alone in the world. “We wanted the landscape to appear endless, without borders,” says Gerrity.
Endless is an appropriate description for the number of outdoor venues in which residents and guests alike can observe or recreate in a variety of ways. In the circular gravel drive out front, in a ring of boxwoods there sits an urn filled with flowers and greens according to the season. It is given center stage before a façade that is both understated and authentically representative of an earlier era. English ivy crawls the walls; low boxwood hedges skirt the front wall; and myrtle provides verdant ground cover.
To the right of the building, under the shade of old trees, is a manicured oval lawn that brings to mind competitive games of croquet or a contest of lawn bowlers or amateur bocce players. The lawn is flanked by beds of tulips, allium, peonies, and geraniums, among others, in white, pink, blue, and purple only—according to the owner who eschews “hot colors.” A former fountain braced by girthy 100-year-old cedars makes a dramatic focal point.
“That whole area had to be cleaned out,” says Gerrity. His client agreed.
From a gentle terrace, the lawn leads to a rectangular pool measuring twenty-by-fifty feet and that features a pebble finish on its interior. Large pavers, fringed by tufts of grass, styled in that way to continue the earthy softness of the oval lawn, accommodate a set of chaises from which loungers can assess the skill of the divers at the other end of the pool. Should they require a warm-up, there’s a sizable fire pit for their use. (All of the pool equipment has been concealed behind trees and shrubbery down the hill.)
“You can’t even hear it,” says Gerrity.
Moving around the rear of the house, a dining terrace at which one imagines organic salads, whole grain medleys, and steaks and fish from the grill being served to chatty guests in flickering candlelight, looks out on a sunken, “secret” garden that is carpeted in pea gravel, studded with birdhouses, and embellished with the phlox, anemone, and Russian sage the owner cuts for use inside. It is enclosed by iron gates with a red patina. This is the place where the sun rises. Breakfast on the terrace, anyone?
Flourishes of foliage abound. Wisteria climbs a pergola; clematis and hydrangeas adorn the stone walls; a stand of birch trees glints in the sunshine; a Japanese maple promises flaming color in season; and forsythia constitutes a bright yellow bramble. From an old beech that could likely tell a few stories, a lonely swing sways in the wind, and down below it there’s a trampoline sunken into the ground for safety. There is a stewartia tree with its trademark camouflage bark that sprouts from a planter rimmed in boxwood. With its delicate flowering and colorful bark it’s a softening point of interest year-round. Nearby there is also a rustic potting shed that bears signs of use.
Gerrity and Almy say that since work began in 2009, they have visited the property a few times a year, but that because the fierce storms that have struck the area in recent years have destroyed a significant number 100-year-old trees, they have been present on the property more often. Rounding out the team are Melanie Fox, who participated in the original design process at the outset, and Chandler Vinton who maintains the perennial and secret gardens, and plants bulbs in the fall and annuals in the spring, respectively.
“I think what surprised me the most was how well the client and architect were able to orchestrate a project of this size so effortlessly,” says Almy. “It’s pretty awesome to be a part of a project like this, work with so many professionals, and have it all come together the way it did.”
Like the long, seductive drive through the property, its revitalization required a seemingly endless labor of love. But as Almy says, with the dream team in place, the victory has been sweet.