Woody House - East Hampton, New York

 


This project has allowed me to integrate my work and my vision with the capabilities of an enormous number of talented craftspeople. Without their abilities, my garden making would not be possible. This collaboration is at the heart of my design philosophy, and it is a philosophy shared by my clients. Otherwise, why would they call me?

Here we have a garden by the sea, inspired by a love of gardens, informed by an understanding of garden history, and filled with a superb collection of plant material. The site by the Atlantic Ocean offers the challenges of terrain, wind, and salt air. The property is shaped by nature, but skillfully manipulated by man.

The main house sits on a twenty or thirty foot bluff overlooking the sea. The pond house is at the lowest part of the property and adjoins Georgica Pond. In between is a series of garden rooms outstanding in their diversity. Each is discrete yet an integral part of the entire garden picture.

There is a White Garden, enclosed by clipped yews and filled with boxwood patterns. Those familiar with great gardens will be reminded of the white garden at Sissinghurst. Much as Vita Sackville-West's tower overlooked that garden, here at Woody House, a tower, housing an artist's studio, looks down in the White Garden.

The piers and lanterns at its entrance were inspired by those in an old Atlanta garden, the memory of which I tucked away, knowing one day I would find the perfect place to recreate that pleasing scene.

Leaving the White Garden, one uses the Mediterranean Walk, which serves as the vertebra of the garden. On one side is a slightly wild planting suitable to the rugged natural oceanside terrain. On the other side, clipped shrubs and herbaceous plants form a border between the walk and the Mediterranean garden. Walk under the pergola supported by a series of stacked stone columns.

The Mediterranean Garden is called that because it has a bold color scheme reflecting colors typical of gardens in that region. The focal point is a fountain, a found object, a pebble and cement piece done in 1901 in Maine and, in my opinion, the perfect thing. You could have thought forever and designed forever, but what serendipity to find something that fits into the design vernacular you're carrying out. I didn't want the fountain to sit in a basin of water, so I designed a stone base where the water drains before recirculating. It adds mystery to the garden. One doesn't know where the water comes from and where it's going.

The totally enclosed Mughal Garden is influenced by garden design of Persia and northern India. The garden is divided into four quadrants by a central canal, a classic garden concept. There is arbor under which one can sit away from the sun, listen to the water, and absorb the fragrance of the garden.

A typical feature of a Mughal garden would have been a beautifully patterned rug mosaic. Here, the rug has been reimagined by an artist and created using over 5000 pieces of intricately cut brick. It is typical of ancient gardens - Renaissance, Roman, Persian - to use materials other than plants in the art of pattern making. The mosaic path at the cross axis is a combination of pebble and brick, and leads to more pattern in the brick walls.

The canal is an essential element, and here my client raises lotus. The geyser, which serves as the focal point of the water garden, is a stylized interpretation of a lotus blossom. There is a balcony, providing that essential feature, a place to view the garden. We cantilevered it over the canal so that one could view the garden from above. Beneath it is a fountain, the head of an elephant carved by Simon Verity, which spits water into the canal.

A gate leads you down the steps of intricate stonework into the first level of the Italian garden, inspired by the gardens of the Italian Renaissance. The steps are sheltered with tall walls in which nestles a surprise, shell-shaped benches, in turn encrusted with shells, commissioned of English sculptor Simon Verity. Actually we only commissioned the benches. The design was his own, and in their own playful way they evoke the birth of Venus as rendered by Alessandro Botticelli.

The grotto is a new addition to the garden, another example of how the garden is never finished. Again, it was a commission to Simon Verity. It is on axis with the pool and it serves both as a grotto and as a folly, as is typical of classic garden design. The pool itself is both a functional pool for swimming and a garden feature.

The Italian garden continues down to a lower level, where quadrants edged with box form flower beds and specimen trees of citrus and clipped box are grown in pots. Two of the quadrants are filled with large olive jars turned into water geysers, providing again reference to the gardens of the Italian Renaissance with the playful use of water. This particular design was inspired by the gardens at the Villa d'Este.

A rustic gate brings you to the feature of the garden which has been implemented the longest, a series of iron hoops, very reminiscent of Monet's garden at Giverny. The hoops form the framework for a voluptuous garden scene all about roses. Clematis and herbaceous plant material are integrated into the scene and keep the garden in wonderful color all summer, but it is the roses that are the show. The color palette moves from riotous to calm, all skillfully and thoughtfully planned out, with the permanent plant material and bedded in plant material weaving together to create the picture.

Past the hoops one reaches the Cottage Garden created around the pond house, once a boat house servicing adjacent Georgica Pond. The Cottage Garden is full of self-sowing annuals, peonies, iris, and other plant material which seems at home in a cottage setting.

To the left are the Monet beds backed by wild rugged vegetation. These beds are planned to fulfill a superb color scheme with the purpose of wonderful fall color. Espaliered apple trees enclose the garden. Another feature here, inspired by Rosemary Verey's knot garden at Barnsley House, is the knot garden, this one made of boxwood and euonymous.

Here as everywhere, we have places to sit. The settee was inspired by a set of furniture from an old garden in Crawford, Georgia. I commissioned the settee and its companions to provide seating which would have more charm than pieces like the Adirondack chairs so commonly used. The gentle curves give these seats a cottage charm befitting their setting.

The way out of all these gardens is back to the driveway, the arrival point, and here we put in a pear tunnel, a manipulated effect. My client had always wanted a tunnel, and this was the perfect spot. It was purchased from a superb nursery which specializes in such effects, and we added to its sumptuousness by planting it with Clematis 'Etoile d'Violette', choosing a small-flowering clematis so the blossoms wouldn't overpower those of the pears.

Each of these garden spaces is nestled into its own pocket and bears the imprint of its own influences. As one garden space leads to another and another, they provide a visually rich experience. Each room stands alone as an individual expression of good garden making, and as a whole, they create a complete garden picture.