This Breathtaking Vermont Farmhouse, Complete with Stunning Stonework, Is a Garden-Lover's Dream
"There's nothing more rudimentary than rock," says Vermont-based assemblage artist Dan Snow, who is known the world over for turning the rudimentary into the extraordinary. An award-winning master craftsman, Snow has spent the past four decades building breathtaking stone sculptures in public and private venues from Bend, Oregon, to Helsinki, Finland. Twenty years ago, when the owners of Woodland Farms, a private property in southern Vermont, wanted to make their new home seem like it had been there for centuries, they knew just whom to call. The couple had fallen in love with his designs after seeing them in a magazine, and were so determined to work with him that they waited a full year before he was even available to meet.
It was worth it, for both parties. The first time Snow crested the dramatically uphill road to the 316-acre site, he was blown away. "The panorama of distant hills was exhilarating," he recalls. "It was like looking at a roller coaster." The house, set between two knolls, was in the process of being built and had an unremarkable cemented-stone wall nearby. But Snow immediately saw vast potential. There was a pond to the north; an orchard planted with uncommon apples like "Ashmead's Kernel," "Blue Pearmain," and "Yellow Transparent" to the west (the owners later added pears, cherries, plums, and peaches); and in the east, a steep meadow.
"It was full of promising three-dimensional opportunities," he says. In other words, it was simply begging for Snow's chosen medium: ancient-looking boulders and jagged and geometric rocks. To compose one arresting scene after another, he keyed into the nuances of the land's horizon line, various elevations, and even wind currents.
His first project was a rectangular dry-stone wall around the couple's vegetable garden. Snow collected hundreds of the building blocks, found in piles around the property that were vestiges from old field walls. Then he dug a four-foot-deep trench around the 60-by-90-foot area, filled it with crushed rock, and carefully placed each stone, crafting an intricate, artful puzzle. Since he works solo, this endeavor took about two months. The couple were thrilled, and soon Snow was building more walls, along with terraces, pathways, and steps.
Another facet of this spectacular setting owes to Woodland Farms' sensitive and savvy owners, one of whom knows her way around the conifers, trees, and alpine plants that can withstand a mountaintop's heavily drained, exposed conditions—and has planted accordingly. Evergreens provide blocks of solid color, while succulents spring up between rock crevices, rooting the giant slabs in place.
Over the numerous seasons Snow has spent on the property, he has fallen deeply under its spell. "If you work with the same plot of land for eight hours a day, you appreciate its subtleties," he says. "There's a magical quality here. When the sunlight reflects off the autumn leaves, it colors the misty air. It is unlike anywhere else."
A Vivid Vista
Behind the house, a stone path guides visitors to a terrace with a sweeping southeastern view. In the foreground, plants selected for their autumn colors and diverse shapes—including conifer Larix "Steuben;" flowering Hydrangea paniculata "Tardiva;" low-growing, variegated Hakonechloa grass; and a fiery Stewartia tree—pave the way.
When the owners wanted planting pockets in the terraces around their home, Snow created a rectangular area that they dubbed "the sarcophagus," and they filled it with dwarf conifers of different textures. Around it, Euphorbia myrsinites self-seeds in the crevices between slabs.
Wall of Stone
Beauty meets practicality in Snow's vegetable-garden wall.
Snow's poetic five-foot-high wall protects a garden filled with delectable edibles, including artichokes, asparagus, Brussels sprouts, and kale—as well as blueberry, raspberry, and blackberry bushes—from the hungry mouths of deer and other critters. It also lends a sense of history to its surroundings. "When you bring stone and land together, you are honoring your connection to the land and showing that someone cared for that space," says the artist.
For year-round focal points, the owners incorporated hardy evergreens, like low-growing Abies koreana "Green Carpet," around the stone terrace; they echo the tall, multitrunked Chamaecyparis pisifera, which stands out against the golden foliage beyond. A carved granite sculpture by the late New Hampshire artist Gary Haven Smith was designed so that moss would gradually cover its top and grow in its fissures.
To complement the grays and browns of the stonework, the owners picked hardy plants in soft pinks, purples, and silver. These choices can thrive in the cold, wind, and drought of their New England habitat. The silver Russian sage has lavender flowers that blend well with the bright pops of self-seeding, purple Verbena bonariensis.
Callicarpa Dichotoma 'Early Amethyst'
In late August, bright-purple berries appear and hold through the fall, even after the stems go leafless.
A reliable ground cover, this tiny-leaved blue-green succulent produces hot-pink flowers in the fall.
Hydrangea Paniculata 'Quick Fire'
Slowly evolving from white to blushing pink to flaxen, the flowers weather handsomely over the winter.
This shade-loving toad lily blooms just as summer flowers are slowing down. It prefers medium to wet soil and can reach three feet in height.
Symphytum "Axminster Gold"
To keep this comfrey relative looking fresh, cut its stems to the ground when they become floppy.
Picea Glauca "Cecilia"
Maxing out at two feet, this mini spruce forms a tight bun of silvery-blue needles and remains tidy and compact without any pruning.