October 7, 2009

A Pair of Autumn Gardens

It’s relatively easy to make a garden look good from mid-May to late June in New England. A succession of woody plants and perennials come out of their winter slumber and burst forth with color and form. It’s a lot harder to create an appealing, visit-worthy property at the end of September when most gardens look tired.
This year, Ellen Lahti, the Garden Conservancy’s coordinator for the greater Boston area, set out to find gardens that met the description of ‘still looks great at the start of autumn.’ She succeeded spectacularly with two properties that were open on September 27.

‘The Garden on Bennington Road’ in Lexington occupies a steeply sloped site backing up to conservation land. At two acres with nothing behind the property but hardwood forest, the location has the feel of something much farther away from a city. Still being fine-tuned, it is also a garden into which considerable money is being spent intelligently. Three terraces step down the hillside to a lawn below, creating a series of outdoor rooms ranging from intimate to grand. The stonework is meticulous and different materials – granite, bluestone and brick – further help differentiate spaces. Unusual specimens - including a Seven Sons tree (Heptacodium miconioides) in full, fragrant bloom – fill these rooms.

We spotted a familiar face at the garden – Tess McDonough of Sequencia Gardens – who maintains the property. She gave us the guided tour with emphasis on the displays of tropicals and annuals in containers of every color and material. The intelligence extends to the perennials, which are a mix of summer- and fall-blooming ones with an emphasis on natives. There are walks down to a small man-made pond that, Tess says, is used for ice skating in the winter.

All in all, it’s a beautiful garden that, rather than being just a showcase, looks as though it is regularly used.

The Gardens at Clock Barn is on the main road from Concord into Carlisle, which is to say it’s a two-lane road thick with venerable homes on large chunks of land. The house and drying barn date back to 1790, the garden has been a work in progress for thirty years. It, too, is a product of a great deal of money being intelligently spent though, in this case, the driving force behind the design is one of the homeowners.

But it is also a garden with its own staff – a property manager, a gardener and an assistant – and the care and long-term plan show. The vegetable and cutting gardens are ripe with raspberries and dahlias, late-blooming tall rudbeckia surrounds a tennis court. A formal, parterred mosaic garden plays in subtle colors and textures.

It is an extensive garden filled with woodland walks, a small orchard and a pond. On this late September day, color was everywhere, provided by the aforementioned dahlias, hakonechloa and unusual asters. Garden manager Guy Doran met us at the entrance with a map of the property (reproduced at left). Rather than being an affectation, it proved to be a useful guide to finding our way around a deceptively large property.

The two gardens were a great bookend to a summer of viewing gardens. Yes, a hard frost will reduce the dahlias to limp greens, but these are gardens that refuse to declare the season over and done with when the calendar turns to fall

1 comment:

  1. Neal, thank you for the post on these two late season gardens. We're hearing other glowing reports about these properties as well and they had quite a few visitors on the Open Day. We're working on the schedule for 2010 now and hope to expand the program in the Boston area.