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Secret Garden

The expansive grounds of this sweeping Greenwich estate, which encompass over five acres, and the 10-bedroom house that sits on it, a three-story timbered and stucco Tudor with gracious gables and eye-catching dormers, are so in sync that they look as though they grew up together decade by decade through the last century.

And that’s the whole point, say landscape architect Bruce Eckerson of New Canaan-based Wesley Stout Associates, and architect McKee Patterson, a partner at Southport-based Austin Patterson Disston Architects. “It’s a big house, it’s a big property and everything had to be on a big scale,” Eckerson says. “The house has broad shoulders, it’s strong and we tried to pull this out into the landscape. We wanted the image to be powerful, so we chose simple plantings such as blocks of roses, rows of linden trees and masses of tulips.”

The owners, professionals with two young and two college-age children, asked Patterson and Eckerson to bring the estate back to its former grandeur. For the 1906 house, this meant renovating the shell, doubling its size to 14,500 square feet by adding two wings, dressing it up with dormers and gables and putting it all under one slate roof. For the gardens, it meant clearing out the overgrowth — some 90 trees were felled — and redesigning a series of large, bold “rooms” that made the indoors and outdoors one vibrant landscape.

“The project was about pulling the property together and getting it to look like it had been there for at least 100 years,” Patterson notes.

The house, which dominates one of the larger parcels of property in Greenwich proper, was already perfectly positioned to take advantage of the views. “As you leave the street, which is a busy one, the driveway gently curves around to the front of the house, where there is a circular drive and cobblestone courtyard,” Eckerson says. “It’s a choreographed approach; you cannot see the house from the street.”

The landscape’s open floor plan includes a big meadow-like front yard; a walled garden complete with lion’s head fountain and an allée of linden trees; a classical-style knot garden; a perennial garden; a pool house area that includes a pergola and tennis court; and an orchard of apple and pear trees. The palette of silvers, pinks, blues and whites ties everything together.

“The homeowners wanted an open feeling,” Patterson notes. “So we opened up the space with lawns and expanses.”

For extra privacy, a buffer of mature American holly trees, hemlocks and Norway spruce was planted along the front to bolster the stonewall and six-foot-high wooden fence. “We also wanted to give full seasonal color, so in the border we included a sugar maple, for fall color, and to bring spring color, a hornbeam, whose light, limey green leaves contrast with the darker emeralds of the evergreens,” Eckerson says, adding that a magnificent saucer magnolia was among the specimen trees on the property that were incorporated into the design.

In the walled garden, an allée of linden trees, accented by a lion’s head fountain at one end, extends the architecture of the house to the landscape. Overlooking it is an enclosed sun porch with a glass-blocked ceiling. “To complement the red brick of the walls, we planted red and yellow tulips under the lindens,” Eckerson marvels.

In the rear, the formal English-style knot garden, planted with white and deep pink roses and purple salvia and nepeta and hemmed in by yews and clipped boxwood, gives way to the perennial garden, its hostas, astilbes, lady’s mantle, creeping phlox, Bergenia and Brunnera shaded by a wisteria-covered pergola that leads to the pool house. “The knot garden is in the center of the property, and everything radiates out from it,” Eckerson points out. “There is an eat-in nook in this area, and the owners love to spend a lot of time there. This garden, which fits like a glove in the L-shape of the house, visually connects the outdoors with the interior, and we lined up its entrances and exits and other sections with the doors and windows.”

Aside from being Eckerson’s favorite spot, the knot garden also is a secret garden of sorts: The view from each story of the house reveals its different layers. “The higher up you go, the more you understand the geometry of its design,” he says.

Beyond the knot garden is the perennial garden, which forms a full-bloom backdrop for the 50-foot-long pool, the French limestone patio and the pool house, which is covered in wisteria. “The wisteria is perfect for this bucolic setting,” Patterson says. “It frames everything and gives the poolhouse a luscious look perfect for a folly. It’s like a dollhouse.”

This witty touch, what Eckerson calls the pool house’s “pièce de résistance,” is the defining and most talked about feature. “It softens the architecture and gives scale and character,” he says. “Wisteria takes several years to bloom, so to create this look instantly, we used several balled and burlapped vines that were about ten years old and placed them on an arched trellis. The light purple blooms are big, and they hang down. They look like they have been there forever.”

Inside the pool house, an Asian-style spa bathroom melds with the scenery by giving guests a full view of a walled Zen garden of raked white sand. A stream of Mexican beach pebbles in this garden within a garden forms a path through the specimen plantings, which include a Japanese maple and Hinoki cypress.

The wisteria’s purple is whispered in the banks of blue-pink hydrangeas that link the pool and tennis court. The orchard room, tucked in a back corner behind the house, plays up the old-world theme of the landscape.

The owners have embraced the open space, rose petal by rose petal, boxwood bough by boxwood bough. “When they entertain,” Patterson says, “people meander from area to area. All of these garden rooms are interconnected, and they have a nice interrelationship.”

Austin Patterson Disston Architects, Southport, 255-4031; apdarchitects.com
Wesley Stout Associates, New Canaan, 966-3100; wesleystout.com