A Glorious Fall Flower Garden with an English Disposition

  • By Melissa Ozawa
  • Photos by Ngoc Minh Ngo

As summer waves goodbye, step into a romantic September garden in New York’s Catskill Mountains that bursts with late-season splendor.


It might be the heady scent of phlox that greets you, or the steady hum of insects flitting from blossom to blossom, or just the sheer volume of flowers you see past the gate. But it’s all of those things that add up to a feast for the senses -- exactly what owner Rebecca Robertson had in mind when she and her husband hired landscape designer Dean Riddle to reimagine the grounds of their Catskills weekend home into “an overgrown English garden,” in Robertson’s words.


Riddle, who is known for his abundant planting style, calls it “Rebecca’s garden” -- a lush, blousy, and endlessly romantic display of flowers that he framed with a rustic stick fence. The layout is simple: eight raised beds (each about three and a half feet wide) divided by gravel paths. While the structure is orderly, the plants are encouraged to be anything but. A floriferous grouping -- sweet peas, cleome, phlox, flowering tobacco, and columbine -- self-sows and spills out of the beds. Each spring, Riddle thins the perennials, coaxes or removes volunteer plants, and introduces annuals like morning glories, Verbena bonar- iensis, and trailing petunias. Robertson loves it when the garden is at its “lushest and most overgrown.” But to keep the area loose without its looking chaotic or messy, Riddle makes sure the paths are crisp, weeded, and free of debris. “It sets up a beautiful tension,” he says.


[LEARN MORE: Martha Shares Her English Flower Garden Dictionary]


The couple also asked Riddle to screen out the car park and the long driveway that leads to the house. To do so, he devised a beautiful, woodland-like landscape surrounding a winding path. Sticking to a soft palette of pastels, he planted native and native-associated varieties that are adapted to the region: redbuds (Cercis canadensis) and Juneberry trees (Amelanchier lemarckii), ‘Little Lime’ hydrangeas and fragrant white Clethra shrubs, and groundcovers like geraniums and ferns, which are appealing to the eye during all seasons.


For Riddle, there is a time after he’s created a landscape when he needs to “let it start telling its own story.” Now, five years later, he can begin to do just that. “It’s very much a gardener’s garden,” he says. “There needs to be a controlling hand, but one of the lovely things about watching it mature is to just let it be.” And Robertson takes pleasure in seeing the story unfold: “I love it in the morning, when the bees and hummingbirds are very busy. I love it in the late afternoon, when the light changes the depth of color of the leaves and flowers. And I always love it when our dog is there -- a goldendoodle in a sea of entangled blue, white, mauve, and green.”


[GET INSPIRED: Take a Tour of Antique Dealer George Schoellkopf's English Garden]


Into the Mystic

The base of this rustic fence is made from black-locust wood, a material known for its durability. Landscape de- signer Dean Riddle then cut a mix of saplings, which will weather beautifully over time, to four and a half feet and attached them to the base with nails.

A Fine Balance

“It’s tempting to want to maximize the bed space and minimize the path size,” says Riddle. “But when the plants are full and overflowing, they actually take up twice as much room as the beds.” Even at its wildest, the ample pathways mean there is plenty of room to walk around the garden.

You must stake your claim and be in charge, but at the same time let the garden have its own personality.
Dean Riddle

The Long View

The house was designed by architect George Reid in 1906. “The garden is right outside the kitchen,” Robertson says. “So when we open the windows in the morning, the scent fills the room.”

Underfoot Beauty

To grow creeping thyme between the paving stones, Riddle swept a mixture of seed and sand into the cracks in the early winter so it would germinate in the spring.


Learn How to Plant Between Stepping Stones

Breaking Through

The stick fence keeps the space contained but not restricted, as plants are encouraged to grow between the saplings. Riddle loves how it doubles as a trellis for vines like Heavenly Blue’ morning glories and ‘Duchess of Albany’ clematis.

Giving Trees

Riddle planted multi-stemmed Juneberry trees, which he thinned to create an open habit, along the path leading up to the house. They erupt in frothy white flowers in spring, and are followed by berries that are delicious to people as well as to cedar waxwings and other birds.


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