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Modern Belle

In Greenwich’s Belle Haven, geometric gardens and sleek water features give this landscape a contemporary feel without ignoring the past.

In Greenwich’s Belle Haven, geometric gardens and sleek water features give this landscape a contemporary feel without ignoring the past.  After restoring their historic Colonial and converting the carriage house into charming guest quarters, a Belle Haven couple wanted beautiful, updated grounds to match. On their wish list:  a garden design with modern elements that would also reflect the home’s architecture. At the time, however, the one-acre property was overgrown and lacking even a single garden. So the homeowners turned to James Doyle Design Associates, a Greenwich landscaping firm, to create an innovative twist on tradition. 

Kathryn Herman and Rosalia Sanni, landscape designers with James Doyle, planned a series of connecting garden rooms that stylistically link to the residence. “When you break the garden into smaller spaces, it makes it look larger,” says Herman. “Each has a different feel and offers different experiences.”

The garden’s design and theme were inspired by the architecture of the three-story home. Evergreens were favored over flowers for year-round continuity, and bold geometric layouts combined with contrasting shapes and materials set the tone. “Brick pathways were used not only because they complemented the house but also because there were already some on the property,” Herman notes.

“We used burgundy-hued perennials, notably red barberry hedges, throughout the space.”

The striking combination of boxwood and red barberry is an unusual touch. “Part of the reason we chose the barberry is that it was reminiscent of the brick color,” Herman says. “And that’s what drove the burgundy-hued perennials.”

Herman and Sanni’s design includes an entry court, parking court, shade garden, herb garden, secret garden (adjacent to the guesthouse), tapestry border, stilt hedge, lap pool and sunken garden.

“It reflects the sensibility of a younger couple,” Herman says, “by pairing a traditional garden with a modern aesthetic. The division of the garden into rooms provides variety and interest yet still allows for the recreational activities that are important to the family. We took the views from the home’s windows and from the large back deck, where the homeowners frequently entertain, into consideration when we planned each garden room.”

The front landscape was transformed by a formal parking courtyard and circular driveway, which is paved with oil and stone and framed by a tightly sheared upright yew at each corner. A pair of spirited sentinels—bold, sculptural plantings of tiered layers of clipped yew and red barberry surrounding sheared native Cornelian cherries—points guests toward the parking area, which is aesthetically concealed by a blue holly hedge.

The nod to formality continues in the sunken garden, which was re-created on the spot where an old garden once grew. The existing stone wall was rebuilt, brick pathways were installed and, to create a more private space, a trellis was added. Two bronze water features draw the eye and ear to the lovely space.

“The water features are lit from within, so they provide added interest at night as they dramatically illuminate the arching branches of the mature maple trees,” Sanni says. “The water ripples down, and the pleasant gurgles enhance the serenity of the garden and drown out noise from busy nearby roads. They make the garden look completely different at night.”

As the landscape grows back through the sunken garden, the entrance to a simple lap pool, with a dark interior color reflecting the brilliant blue of its water, is revealed. Surrounded by a purple beech hedge, linden trees and low clipped boxwood, the pool, which includes two low wall seats, becomes a sacred space. “In the evening, the fiber-optic lighting under the pool’s coping and the seat wall’s bluestone cap make a bold statement,” Herman says.

The trill of a water fountain’s trickle draws you to the circle garden, where an avant-garde triangular pillar of gleaming steel surrounded by clipped arcs of yew, barberry and boxwood is the center of attention. This Stonehenge stone of the 21st century is a beacon to modernity. “The water feature in particular attracts a lot of attention because it’s so unexpected in that background,” the homeowner says. “People always comment on it.”

A meandering tapestry border punctuated by large upright yews that act as exclamation points ties together the back and sides of the circular garden. On the other side of the house, an intimate, green-encircled garden was created to screen the view of a neighboring property. Here, large-leaved hostas and mop-head flowers of big-leaf hydrangeas play hide-and-seek among the clean edges of boxwoods clipped into tight geometric shapes.

The once awkward and ambiguous space between the house and the service drive has become a favorite spot of the owners. “It’s a great place to have a cup of coffee in the morning or watch the sunset,” the homeowner comments, adding that the shaded space provides a sense of tranquillity.

Indeed, the owners have found that all the garden rooms suit their needs, whether they’re hosting a formal party, giving guests an outdoor tour or simply spending free time as a family among the greenery.

“Every garden we do is custom,” Herman says. “We never repeat ourselves. The pool, the water features and the lighting are unique.”

This Belle Haven garden, Sanni adds, “is now a vibrant series of destinations that combine the old and new.”

James Doyle Design Associates, Greenwich, 203-869-2900; jdda.com
Roberto Fernandez Landscaping, 203-869-3171; robertofernandez.com