A garden symphony

In a Mozart symphony no matter how exuberant the music there is always a strong underlying structure that gives the piece coherence. Similarly, when creating a garden thought should always be given to the overall design that will hold the various plantings together. Larry Wente and Jack Hyland’s garden is an excellent example of this principle.189

Twelve years ago as the two men were driving along a back road between Sharon and Millerton they passed a for sale sign at the edge of a cornfield. Because the corn was too high to see any of the surrounding country, they returned with a step ladder to discover rolling fields that seemed to stretch to the foothills of the Berkshires. In the other direction Indian Mountain rose majestically above Indian Lake. They decided it was the perfect place to build a house and garden.

Because the views in every direction were so immense, they realized that their garden would have to match the scale of its surroundings. To define the spaces and create height they planted over a hundred arborvitaes that provided structure for the grasses and perennials that would fill the garden. The trees, along with evergreen shrubs including box as well as many varieties of grasses ensured there would be something to see during the winter months. Other structural elements include walls, fences and a hedge of clipped beech also provide structure. 190

Wente (he is an architect - more about him in a future issue) designed the house and garden so that that they would flow seamlessly into one another. Each of the eight doors on the ground floor frames a vista that makes that particular section of the garden an integral part of the house. 

Two strong axes divided by crosswalks run from the house to the end of the gardens. The principle axis leads to the elegantly shaped pool surrounded by lush plantings of  rudbekia and grasses. Beyond the pool billowing beds of nepeta frame a “sculpture garden” of solar panels that supply most of the electricity for the house. At the end of this main axis a water rill bordered with hostas and grasses and punctuated with gnarly apple trees is set against a backdrop of bamboo and drifts of tall grasses. 

Having established the bones of the garden, Wente and Hyland created a number of smaller gardens within the structure, each defined by a color or a texture but unified by the many varieties of grasses, which move in the breeze and relieve the formality of the design. These grasses are not only a common theme among the smaller gardens but make a transition from the more cultivated plantings to the open fields and meadows that surround the house. 

Throughout the garden one is struck by the use of color, texture and shape in the choice of plants as well as the immaculate attention to detail. Ornaments abound. There are handsome pots containing plants with dramatic foliage. Most spectacular is a group four structures comprised of four 10 foot metal rods arranged in a square in each of which sits a silver globe. Many plants have been chosen for their sculptural effects such as the tall and faintly sinister Angelica whose long leafless stems hold heads of round flowers.191

The use of color is one of the most striking features of the planting. Just outside the house beyond an herb garden bordered by frames of woven wicker, is a planting of reds, pinks and purples – scarlet monarda, pink fillipendula, purple allium and red grases that might clash were it created by a less skillful hand. A bed of blue flowers is next and beyond that is a long border of various yellows. Although none of these plantings are large, they show what can be achieved with imagination in a small space.