Enchanted Gardens

From the heirloom apple orchard to the yoga garden and putting green, this elegant Greenfield Hill landscape is designed for the Raveis family’s enjoyment



One would expect William Raveis, a man whose name is synonymous with real estate, to choose a very special property to call home. Having grown his business from a single office above a grocery store to its current status as a residential-property powerhouse, Bill Raveis and his wife, Candy, have access to some of the choicest parcels in Fairfield County. But rather than picking a historic home before it hits the market or building new, the couple decided a dozen years ago to become second generation owners of a house and land in Greenfield Hill that had belonged to Candy’s parents.

“After my mother died, I was ready to sell the place,” Candy recalls. “Back in the ‘60s, my dad bought the Baldrige estate, which had 17 acres and a very large house. He sold the original mansion and some of the acreage, but kept a six-acre parcel to build for himself and my mother. He intended it to be a retirement house, so it wasn’t very large, and it was built on one level. There was no real landscaping, just the remains of an old orchard from the original estate. But it was a beautiful piece of land, with sweeping views of Long Island Sound. Bill had always loved its location.”

 

Seeing its possibilities—a vision that is key to success in real estate—Bill lobbied to keep the property and remake it to the couple’s own tastes.

“Bill told me, ‘As long as we can change it our way, let’s go ahead,’” she remembers, “and so we did.”

Doubling the size of the original house, Candy and Bill gave it their own personal stamp. They enlarged the public rooms and added, among other amenities, a graciously proportioned, light-filled conservatory. While the inside was being expanded and remade for the family, Candy directed her attention to the landscape.

Anyone visiting for the first time sees a house and grounds that look as if they’ve been in place for generations. In reality, the lush landscaping, garden rooms, and the apple orchard’s dramatic layout have sprung from the hands and inspiration of Candy Raveis—and her capable professional team—in just a decade.

For starters, the main driveway flanked with mature trees is a recent creation.

“There was nothing here when we began working on the landscape,” says Candy. “To get the large trees in, we used quite a few big pieces of equipment—cranes and boom trucks—to install them.” In the courtyard at the home’s front entrance, the perimeter beds are presided over by a long procession of espaliered apple trees that Candy and her team laboriously trained against the white brick garden walls, to dramatic effect. The sculptural quality of the apples’ limbs and the trees and shrubs of varying heights, colors and textures create a beautiful backdrop in all four seasons—bloom, fruit, foliage, and winter-bare branches.

“The gardens really speak about Candy and her amazing energy and imagination,” says Mary McLaughlin, a landscape designer who worked with her client to bring to life a series of garden rooms that are imbued with fun, as well as elegance.

One by one, Candy and Mary, ably assisted by landscape and garden contractors Arnaldo Fiore and his son Nick, shaped the elements of the landscape for each one’s purpose, paying careful attention to siting, shade and sunlight, and available views.

The initial garden “room” was constructed for Lily, the first of Candy’s beloved Yorkshire terriers. Although Lily died several years ago, Candy’s current trio of Yorkies—LuLu, Luci and Lexie—follow her devotedly as she points out features of the gardens.

“We needed a fenced area near the house so that Lily didn’t wander away,” says Candy. “So we brought in truckloads of soil to create it, building a retaining wall and extending the row of espaliered apple trees along that wall.”

The space, with its diamond-patterned surface and parterres, is as elegant and as extravagantly “furnished” as any of the couple’s interior rooms. Beautiful perennials, including tree peonies with lush but delicate blooms that Candy protects with Chinese umbrellas to extend their brief tenure, adorn the terrace with color and fragrance.

In addition to grown-ups’ furniture, Candy considers the grandchildren, who have a place of their own in all the gardens. Lily’s terrace has what Candy calls an Alice in Wonderland arrangement, with child-sized seating and stone furnishings in the shape of mushrooms.
Bill, a devoted golfer, was also the beneficiary of an early landscape installation. Candy had a putting green custom made for him during the second year they lived in Greenfield Hill—a companion piece to the “swing room” on the lower level of the house where he can work on his long game.

“It’s a passion of his,” admits Candy, who notes that Bill also uses a golf cart to transport his grandchildren around the property to their various special places.

Among the features that delight the children—as well as the couple’s many friends and guests—is an eclectic assortment of boxwood topiaries, pruned and coaxed into animal shapes. Topiary chickens flank the main doorway; a pair of enormous topiary bunnies chase each other around a crabapple tree.

“Bill particularly enjoys taking the granddaughters down to our teddy bear topiaries, where there are special seats just for the kids, and they can enjoy a teddy bear tea party,” says Candy. “It takes some work to maintain the topiaries, but we love them. In the winter, I go around shaking the snow out of the boxwood so that the different characters can keep their shapes.”

Other “rooms” on the Raveis landscape include a yoga garden, bordered with two varieties of lavender and paved with flagstones.
“The garden is oriented so that sun heats it up in the morning,” notes Candy. “Then, once the sun has passed over the house, Bill and I can practice yoga on the warm stones in the afternoon.”

A formal green and white garden, which Candy likes to call the ballet garden because of the bronze ballerina sculpture at its center, offers strategically placed antique iron benches, where a stroller can sit with a view of the garden’s symmetry and the gazebo, covered with white roses, that is centered along one side.

Because the family loves to eat, and Candy loves to cook, she has ensured a supply of fresh herbs and produce by making room on the landscape. Again, with her signature style, she combines beauty and fun.

For vegetables, Mr. McGregor’s garden—named for Peter Rabbit’s nemesis—was designed for production but also for visual appeal.
“Mary composed the plot like a patchwork quilt, using an edge of angled brick to give definition to the beds. At the center, we put another bronze. This time, we chose a man-sized rabbit, whom we call Chauncey. He’s just perfect for this spot. With his hands on his hips, he seems to be saying, ‘Get to work weeding this place!’” Candy smiles; it is obvious that she takes great pleasure in her garden creations.

It would be impossible to complete a description of the Raveis estate—known as Applewood—without mention of its most dramatic feature: the orchard, with its 62 trees, some of which date to the original estate and are over a hundred years old. A collection of many varieties—from heirloom to newly developed apples such as the Honeycrisp—the trees spread out in rows across a green meadow. In any season, the vista is spectacular.

Candy explains the production cycle, which varies according to the type of apple.

“We’ll have blossoms over several weeks, as each type of apple will flower at a different time and also mature at a different time. It creates a long season for the apple blossoms, and a gradual ripening for the fruit,” she notes.

To celebrate the harvest, Candy and Bill host an apple-picking party for Raveis employees and associates and their families in late September or early October, a tradition that includes a clown, face painting, and rides in the Raveis golf cart.

While the landscape is a delight to all who visit, the Raveis garden delights its owners most of all.

“We love the garden so much and walk out every evening when Bill comes home from work. We have a glass of wine and he talks about his day. I get some weeding done while we chat.”

Asked about future plans for new outdoor rooms, she hints that more are in the works.

“Some people like to travel, and so do we, but our gardens give us tremendous satisfaction. Just walking the paths and watching the landscape change with the seasons is a pleasurable journey for us.”

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