The Ultimate Country Garden

April 17, 2018

A lush and lively Washington garden that blends classic and rustic elements is a source of sustenance for both body and soul.

Text by Megan Fulweiler     Photography by Robert Benson 


It’s easy to imagine losing yourself amid a profusion of heady roses or while strolling a linden allée. But finding such reverie in a garden where flowers and vegetables vie for attention? Not so often. Here in Washington, however, is an exception. Architects Charles Haver and Stewart Skolnick have designed a beautiful 6,000-square-foot hybrid: a country garden embellished with classic elements that have been reinterpreted in rustic materials. Reminiscent of a glorious French potager, it’s a place for contemplation as well as a source for the table.

Recruited for a massive project that also included devising a stone farmhouse along with a handful of outbuildings, the architects tackled the garden first. Their goal was to have what they conceived as an exterior room well on its way with mature plantings when the owners moved in. A colorful introduction, the garden sits adjacent to the entry courtyard on the site of an old orchard. Such an attention-getting location demanded a fresh approach for keeping marauding animals at bay. And, like the other buildings, says Haver, “the garden had to look like it had been there forever.”

To safeguard plants and complement the farmhouse, Haver and Skolnick encircled the rectangular garden—which is organized in a simple cross-axial layout—with a seven-foot wall that marries fieldstone on the bottom with a mahogany rail fence on top. Several varieties of espaliered pear trees parade along the outside, ensuring fruit all summer. Hydrangeas and clematis scramble about the stones. And each of the plot’s four entries sports a handsome gate with a cannon ball closure, native granite piers, an engraved threshold signifying its compass direction, and a custom bracketed iron lantern. The iron brackets conceal the wires. At night, Haver says, “the lights appear to float.”

What’s going on inside the fence is equally remarkable. The architects define the garden paths with raised beds lined with twelve-inch-high bluestone curbing set an equal twelve inches deep. The beds farthest from the house contain vegetables, while those closest to the home brim with flowers. Horticulturist Ronald LeBlanc installed an abundance of perennials and annuals, “so there would be something of interest throughout the growing season,” he explains. Peonies, salvia, baptisia, coreopsis, phlox, nicotiana, anemones, delphiniums, geraniums, iris: a feast for hummingbirds and butterflies as well as more than enough for bouquets.

Adding bonus charm, a pair of tepees, or tuteurs, are under-planted with allium and festooned with flowering vines including confederate jasmine, hyacinth bean, and moonflower. The fragile blooms are a perfect counterpoint to the bark-clad cedar twigs that give the traditional wooden forms a natural look befitting the rural seventy-acre property. In this same vein, the ingenious architects also designed a fanciful twig gazebo as the centerpiece. “The gazebo’s twig frieze recalls Chagall’s stained-glass windows,” says Skolnick. And—not that extra amenities are needed—should the owners desire background music, there’s a keypad audio control tucked into the gazebo and a host of tiny speakers hide in the beds.

The vegetable beds overseen by expert gardener Lynn Dzinski are also sumptuous and no less distinguished for their utilitarian nature. Kohlrabi, broccoli, collards, purple potatoes, heirloom tomatoes, beets, autumnal pumpkins—“we’re always changing the offerings,” says Dzinski. Enthusiastic recruits like peas and squash wind their way up generous twig arbors flanking the path.

Just beyond the wall, even high-bush blueberries are treated royally. Protected by a giant metal dome playfully labeled “the berry bowl,” varieties Berkeley, Darrow, Earliblue, Jersey, and Patriot thrive along with a multitude of strawberries. Hardy kiwi vines wrap around the structure’s outside.

Of course, every spring the garden will grow lusher. French lilacs in each corner will gain another foot, shade-providing wisteria will race over the gazebo and beneath the pear trees, luminous grape hyacinths will spread. Happily, though, balancing the plants’ exuberance will be Haver and Skolnick’s disciplined but thoroughly enchanting design.


This article originally appeared in the Spring 2018 issue of New England Home Connecticut with the headline “Beauty and the Feast.”

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