This Elegant Family Garden in Connecticut Proves That an All-Green Space Can Be Beautiful
"Disciplined" is not a word often used to describe living things without a conscience, yet that's exactly the term celebrated landscape architect Janice Parker attributed to the nearly six-acre grounds of a 1920s Greenwich, Connecticut, home she recently conceived for an aesthetically minimalist family. "What we did here was very bespoke—very edited and deliberate," says the Connecticut-based green thumb. "Discipline is a very hard thing. Sometimes what you don't say is almost as important as what you do say."
In this case, that meant cutting out the hallmarks of a traditional garden, including colorful flowers, complicated grading, and mass plantings. Instead, the pro set out to create a landscape design for the tightly structured estate with a monochromatic palette that balances mature trees—many of which were already existing to the property—and delicate greenery in nuanced shades. "You're creating a composition the way an artist creates a landscape, setting up a foreground, middle ground, and background," says Parker, who also relied on her sense of light, depth, and dimension when planning the streamlined all-green garden.
The result? The finished look is best described as a visual feast whose manicured hedges and discreet masonry feel as though they're at once part of the historical fabric of the home while still being inextricably linked to its present function as a serene family refuge. Here, Parker recalls the simple principles behind the approach she took while transforming the space and explains why this kind of sculptural garden will never go out of style.
Before any work began on the grounds, the historic 1920s home, which occupies a rare 5.95-acre estate in Greenwich, Connecticut, underwent a massive renovation to bring it up to date. The homeowners, who lived here before selling the property and then buying it back—"They couldn't bear to part with it," says Parker—added additions to either side of the main house, making it more conducive to their growing family and giving it a greater presence on the land.
Taking her cues from her clients' streamlined aesthetic, Parker set to work doing the same to the grounds while remaining true to the property's history, expanding the pool area with a grass terrace.
Neat rows of trimmed boxwood hedges outline the bluestone patio and walkways outside the entrance to the house's mudroom, a continuation of the orderly approach the homeowners took in their interiors. "That stylized boxwood clouding is Belgian in inspiration," says Parker. "Boxwoods are a great plant for hedges. They're slow growing and don't have to constantly be fertilized and watered, and they lend this sculptural element that is becoming more popular as people increase their understanding of design."
Driveway and Gate
"I'm a strong adherent of Ellen Biddle Shipman, who said that the way you define a garden is by an enclosure," says Parker. "By that respect we have four separate gardens," including the driveway area, which is lined with pleached linden trees, pachysandra, and climbing hydrangea.
"The owner was very clear about leaving the masonry in tact," says Parker, noting the English ivy that climbs up the stone steps. "We restored what we could and sourced old bluestone and gravel for the walkways, and antique granite block in the driveway to accommodate things like snow plows. It's a soft, relaxed look."
Though the garden features a monochromatic green palette, "there is so much textural difference and so many shades of green," says Parker. "For example, you have redbud trees with these heart-shaped reddish-bronze leaves, which contrast nicely with the big glossy leaves of the magnolia trees and the smaller leaf of the boxwood. And big, puffy hydrangeas contrast nicely with the finely manicured look of the boxwood hedges."
"You always want to design with different functions in mind," says Parker of the pool terrace, which is embellished with boxwood, Little Lime hydrangea, and climbing New Dawn roses. "There's a side garden that's shady with a place to sit, so the owner can sit with a cup of coffee in the morning, but then in another area we have this gravel walkway where you can take a glass of wine and just walk around."
A mini husky peers out from the dog run off the mudroom entrance. The gate matches the new pool enclosure fencing.
Parker used oakleaf hydrangea to, in her words, "soften the formal boxwood hedges with its exuberant blooms and long graceful stems. The color gradually changes from a white to burgundy, adding a surprising depth to the plant beds without overpowering them."
Parker renovated the old pool area—she sandblasted and plastered the interior and added a new tile band at the waterline—then delineated it with an isolated bed of Little Lime hydrangeas. "It starts out chartreuse and then some white comes in—it's a subtle kind of color," she says. "They are planted in front of a formal boxwood hedge that tops a stone retaining wall, softening the view and adding pops of color and movement in the summer months."