photographs by stacy bass
Filled with specimen trees, this five-acre Southport property—a mini-Bartlett Arboretum—serves as a private oasis for Susan Fawcett Sosin, her 16-year-old daughter, Clarissa, and their red mini-poodle, Sparky. “I lived in the neighborhood previously, and before I bought the house two years ago, I didn’t even know there was a house here, much less a garden,” Susan says. “I was simply stunned when I saw the backyard.” And while all gardens have personalities, Susan’s is soothing and calming. “It isn’t an amusement park of floral fantasy,” she adds. “It doesn’t have stonework and terraces and parterres. It’s not about stonework, it’s about the shapes of plants—topiaries and hedgerows— and trees that have been trimmed over the years to have a particular shape. It gets its power from being understated.”
The garden itself—which was included on the 2006 Discovery in the Garden Tour—starts inside the house, where virtually every room offers a postcard view. “I wake up every morning and stare at the garden,” Susan says. “I even built a terrace off the bedroom just so I can look at it. I sit there in a glider chair with a cup of coffee. Over the treetops, I can see Stratford and the sailboats on Long Island Sound. I like to watch the Bridgeport Ferry go back and forth. And, of course, the prospect of the garden itself is breathtaking.”
The prospect begins with the formal European-style sculptured perennial garden, where a circular quadrant is punctuated by a dramatic pinwheel arrangement of English boxwood that forms a backdrop for a variety of blooms, including peonies, platycodon, lupin, PeeGee hydrangeas, dahlias, echinacea, gaura, azaleas, astilbes and meadow rue, all in soft lavenders, blues and pinks. Gumball-shaped boxwood, along with dwarf lilac topiaries, leads the eye to the next level, where four matched pairs of Sargentina crab apple trees, trimmed like ballerina tutus, steal the show. Two 20-foot-high serpentine hedges are comprised of a total of 150 emerald green arborvitae, inspired by one at Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello, and form a stage curtain of sorts that makes the perennial garden a private spot.
Below, a seven-foot-high hedge of Hatfield yews forms a precisely clipped evergreen frame around the swimming pool. A pair of pergolas, decorated with lavender wisteria and climbing pink roses, adorn each side. “The manicured hedges, which are yew, boxwood and hemlock, make this property unique,” says gardener Russ Janisch, who has cared for the garden for seven years.
Beyond the pool is a meadow-like space, its perimeter planted with weeping white pines and a variety of native plants, including spirea, red twig dogwood and forsythia.
Specimen trees, such as the tricolor beech, whose purple leaves have irregular green and pink markings, and the flowering golden rain tree, whose two-inch-long golden seed pods resemble illuminated Chinese lanterns, enliven the landscape.
The garden, which was designed by Oliver Nurseries in Fairfield, has been nearly two decades in the growing. When Jane and Lew Davis bought the 1960s house in 1985, there was no garden. Outstanding for its size—most of the houses in the neighborhood are on one or two acres—the L-shaped plot was so thick with briars, brambles and brush, the Davises couldn’t even walk the property before purchasing it. Piece by piece, they set about making it over, removing the overgrown forest of trees and placing a formal garden close to the house, saving the more casual landscaping for the back of the yard. “Jane created the garden,” Susan says. “When I want something special, I go to Chanel; when Jane wanted something special, she went to Oliver’s. I consider myself merely the caretaker.
I’m always walking the garden, even in winter, just to make sure that everything in it is okay.”
When Susan took over the garden shears from the Davises in 2005, she added a third floor to the house and kept the garden intact. “I changed the house to get better garden views,” she says. “But I like the bones of the garden, so I adhered to Jane’s layout.” Once all the construction dust settled, she invited the public in during the 2006 Discovery in the Garden tour, and in spring 2007 held a benefit for the Bridgeport institution on the grounds. Like Susan, the visitors were surprised at the garden’s size, scope and style. “We had more than 150 people here under three white tents for the fundraising cocktail party with the martini table at the pool,” she says.
It truly is a garden for all seasons: Even in the snowiest winter, when white rules, the carefully chosen and situated evergreens make their presence known by living up to their names. “Once the leaves have fallen,” Susan explains, “I can even see as far as Fairfield Beach, and the sunrises are a great way to start the day, especially in the fall.”
Now that the house renovation is finished, Susan is looking forward to spending more time outdoors. “I’m standing here right now looking at the Sound, and it’s gorgeous,” she says. “Every time I leave it, I can’t wait to get back to it. Gardens change every day—sometimes plants die and have to be replaced, and sometimes things happen by accident. When the hedges around the pool broke during a storm, it was decided to leave them that way, and that really opened up the view. It’s all part of life.”
Discovery in the Garden tour, June 6, Fairfield, 203-372-3521; discoverymuseum.org
Oliver Nurseries, Fairfield, 203-259-5609
R. Janisch Services, Newtown, 203-426-8315