Lazy Hazy Days of Summer

Not exactly lazy, but don’t lose spirit because the best of Connecticut is before you. Take a moment to enjoy alfresco dinners with friends and family, or steal a quiet moment alone in the garden to contemplate and renew your energy.

In the garden it’s a time to reap the rewards of your efforts. The excessive heat can bring your Hydrangeas to their knees at midday but they will cleverly revive themselves in the cooler evening air, so all is well.

However, the issue at hand is the huge amount of rain Connecticut has experienced combined with excessive heat. This has caused mites, white flies, rust, black spot and all sorts of fungus. I cannot think of a better example than the Dahlia for lasting summer color, but this morning the usually carefree plant needed additional attention to assure its kept beauty! If you brush up against any of your plants and see tiny flies taking to the air, or if you notice discoloration of the green on its leaves - reach for a good organic spray. It can be a matter of life or death (for a plant). Spray early in the morning, on a day with no rain and little breeze.

When it is hot and humid, I favor the effectiveness of hedges, or precisely trimmed evergreens which bring a little order to the garden landscape with their lax flowers in the heat. Sitting outside under my large umbrella, I am reminded it is a perfect time to ‘roll out those lazy, hazy (crazy) days of summer'!

     Lets just talk Gardens for the Moment

Japanese Peony - 'Duchess of Kent'

Japanese Peony - 'Duchess of Kent'

Connecticut is at its finest hour in the summer, and there can be no better month than June. You can count on the fail proof Peony to grace your gardens and flaunt themselves on your table - it's also a teaser though for what’s ahead.

 A good way to enjoy it all is to investigate the many garden tours available. Some are open to their members only, while others are open for charity and for the masses to enjoy. You will meet stalwart gardeners, some professionals and some just out to enjoy the beauty around them.

A garden design I have been involved with for a long period is going to be on view this June for the Washington Garden Club (Connecticut) members and guests. It will also be open between September 11th-14th for The Garden Conservancy, where tickets can be obtained online or at the door. A bucolic drive into Litchfield County to view the property followed by a book lunch at the Mayflower Inn (Relais and Chateaux) will not disappoint.

Urn planted with shade loving Wood Sorrel and clematis 'Betty'. 

Urn planted with shade loving Wood Sorrel and clematis 'Betty'. 


The ‘Sumacs’, like many neighboring homes in the area were gifted names and given to historical interest by its creator and architect Erich Rossiter. The natural topography of the property and a couple of magnificent ancient trees set the stage, bringing elegance and stature. The garden, early in its development has no “preciousness’ but it does have an abundance of atmosphere driven by its sweeping lawns, encouraging meandering and it’s crisscrossing of the gardens.

Embracing the landscape the well thought out perennial beds are sheltered from the North winds coming across the ‘Green’ by a serpentine wall built for its pool enclosure. Woodland acreage, once over-looked, is elevated to another level - some immediate in appearance others somewhat primal in surprise. 

The tradition of opening your garden is long; one I have traveled throughout our country and abroad to enjoy. The Garden Education Center of Greenwich hosts an annual tour, the ’Grandiflora’. A variety of house styles and gardens were assembled as usual - some grand, and some exceptional for their locale or particular passion.

I joined the annual tour on Sunday, June 4th- the property hidden behind a thick screen of evergreens on 2 ½ acres was an early 20th century arts and craft shingle style home. It reminded me what I have always expected but had almost forgotten. The present owners have created a garden that “preserves what exists, follows the flow of the land, and appeals to and serves all ages”.

The front door was wide-open, and freshly baked croissants were offered straight through in the dining room. You were encouraged to leisurely enjoy your morning breakfast treat through to the living rooms terrace to view the garden below with its owners. Our gracious hosts, like most gardeners are the most generous and optimistic of people.

“Lest we should forget” - this is what should be the expected.

"It's What You Take Away" - Rosemary Verey

It's What You Take Away - Garden of the legendary Rosemary Verey at Barnsley House

Rosemary Verey, considered one of the 20th century’s most famous garden designers; was the creator of, and the reason most came to know, Barnsley House. Built in 1667 of local honey-colored Cotswold stone, set deep in the countryside of Gloucestershire,  the house had come to the Verey’s through her husband David’s family.  An architectural historian, they both relished in its development - but she was also its author.

 Conventional, she was not; decorating with flair, grassing over an enviable garden for the children - but mostly, a woman who did, spoke and wrote of her accomplishments. It wasn’t until the children out-grew the need for grass that the garden known today became her passion.

I had known the late author and garden designer, Rosemary Verey, as a friend. If she thought you frivolous, you were relegated at the end of a very long rope, which she let me dangle from on more than one occasion. I think for many years it was my husband who she enjoyed for his gentlemanly presence (along with a good pour of red wine that saved the day).

Capricious, as well as known for her quick backhanded compliments, it took some time - but finally, while visiting our home in Charleston South Carolina, I did hear, “Sandra, you really are the real thing”…

Enviably, her first book in 1980, ‘The Englishwoman’s Garden’ was published when she was 62 years of age with 18 more to follow.

When I met Rosemary, she was involved with 2 local gardens - one for James Collier at Bibury Court Hotel and another, Highgrove: Prince Charles and the late Princess Diana’s country estate in Tetbury. Among a vast list to follow were King Hussein and Queen Noor’s, Elton John’s and numerous clients of little or vast wealth - but all seeking her out.

Times were different then. This was the Cotswolds, you could actually get the owner on the phone – or, even more incredulously, you could knock on a door and ask to see their garden.

Barnsley 2.jpg

Barnsley House garden was perfection in its design. For even though a modest property of approximately 4 acres, it felt grand in scale while still it humbled you with its charm. Color and diversity of interest was paramount - not only from the view from within, but equally drawing your interest to move in and about the garden. Maintenance, often over looked, did not happen in this garden.

It was she who suggested we stay at Bibury Court Hotel, a few miles up the road in Bibury. We spent some extremely good times here alone, with our children and with friends. It was from here that we regularly visited with her at ‘Barnsley House’, taking tea on a blustery day, an occasional drink or dining together. Later when her eldest son Charles and his family moved into the large house, and she moved into the adjoining smaller building, we dined in the “Grotto”, aka the Conservatory, which served as her office and her dining room as well.

Remembering a “big mistake”; while accepting an invitation to dine with Rosemary at a certain time, it was also suggested that we come early to walk around the garden. Later, when there was a decision made to stop to see another garden on the way, my husband called to tell her our intentions, assuredly we would be there for dinner at the required time. Not a word was said, but at the appropriate time on entering the drive Prince Charles waved to us from his Rover as he moved to leave.

Another friend of mine in those early years was Martha Stewart. She was caring in the same way as Rosemary Verey. If I dropped over with a friend she welcomed them, if one of our boys were visiting a friend in Europe, she gifted a signed book for them to deliver.

Martha knew we were friends with Rosemary, and asked that when dining with her we might see if she would write the forward to her new book on gardening of her home in Westport, Connecticut. I gladly asked Rosemary and laughingly listened to her knowledge on Martha. She quoted the dollar amount of a contract Martha had just signed with K-Mart, which clueless I hadn’t even heard of. She would need to see the garden before writing the forward; her “only” request would be a round-trip ticket on the Concorde.

The message was delivered; admittedly of differing ages and backgrounds, these two grand dames knew their powers of the moment.

Rosemary, very fond of my husband, Kuldar, had accepted our invitation for his retirement party when we read of her death. Appropriately her passing was a feature on the covers of the London Times, the New York Times and so many other news outlets.

Still, I believe Rosemary would bristle with indignation when hearing that some have said she was the last of the legendary garden designers. She basked in the knowledge of who she was, thought her way the best way, for sure - but she also appreciated new thoughts and new talent when presented sparingly.

After Rosemary’s passing, Charles the elder son, felt it was time to sell Barnsley House, leaving its direction to another. It would be a herculean task to carry on the passion given to Barnsley House gardens.

 It was sold, opening as a B&B for a few years. However, I was disappointed, as I’m sure most would be who had known the garden. It was not looking anywhere close to its beauty once achieved.

This April brings another story though. Unknowingly, it sold again, this time, sign posted as a member of the Pride of Britain Hotels: ‘Barnsley House Hotel and Spa’.

 Fortuitously, we found ourselves taking Sunday lunch in what was once Rosemary’s drawing room, now a casual but accommodating dining hall for its hotel guests and the public.

On approach the manicured care, and tasteful thought of money spent wisely, is immediately noticeable and appreciated by all who find their way to Barnsley House today.

One look at the reception rooms and lounge (bar), all beautifully upscale modern - and absolutely inundated with warmth and charm, the mood is set.

Even though Rosemary might be shocked seeing people buzzing around in her interiors, critical and detailed to distraction - she was progressive to the end.

Intrigued by the transformation, still, my focus shifts to the windows reining over the garden. This had once been the front of the house; which then, as like today, had gotten the attention and expense of windows overlooking the street for importance. Happily, the view from within, now!

The Knot gardens had been perfection. There had been a simple crisscross pattern filled with herbs outside the kitchen door, now almost non-existent. The carefully planned knot of years past laid to the right of the Rosemary’s drawing room was somewhat woe-be-gone but still poised with considerable elegance.

What I did see, was a garden now getting all the attention to detail it needs to carry the legacy of its past while assuring continuity for on-going interest. Heavy pruning has taken place in various locations throughout the garden, and one can see the toppling of the Yews of Rosemary’s day looking short, fat and gorgeous! Mixed borders in and around the property now infused with the grace of stunning tulips (under-planted with mainstay perennials to come and annuals waiting for their moment to shine) are exploding.

 A rare warm afternoon in the Cotswolds, it took patience - but finally, the moment arrived when our coffee and dessert were to be enjoyed in the garden. Best loved!... sharing the garden with us outside on the terrace, up close to the earthy smells, the lushness of plantings, and blooms at arms length were those about to dominate the future,  Millennials!

Barnsley House enjoys a glorious history but its brilliance is in its future. It’s what you take away from it that inspires. Re-purposing its usability, giving history a revamp for contemporary lifestyles, while embracing the design that made it known: the garden.

 I hear the young do not appreciate beauty and quality. We need to step up and listen, as it appears they are spot on!

 My vote is with Rosemary Verey, I think she would be infatuated by this new young audience, outside, enjoying an aperitif in her garden.

The transition seems to be complete.




April Tulips Poised to Impress

Abbey House Gardens

Abbey House Gardens

For most, April is the month when the will and labor given to demanding tulips can be realized; March they show and May they go!

The competition is fierce with so many varieties of Spring bulbs vying for their place in the sun, but the tulip is poised to steal the show. They come in all sizes and colors. They can be smooth or ruffled. Some will bloom early and others late. They are able to stand alone, or dazzle you in their abundance, and never will they bore.

April Travels; first to the Wiltshire countryside in England. And then directly onto Amsterdam, to crisscross the bulb fields of southern Holland.

Since my time is limited, and I am visiting the country, I have chosen a refined country house classic - the charmed Lucknam Park Hotel and Spa. It will be hard to venture out from such luxury, but I can only imagine how wonderful it will be to return from visiting gardens to a strong cup of tea or cold glass of champagne in the library. 

My favorite place to visit includes: Hidcote Manor, a jewel in the National Trust properties, and once owned by the American Lawrence Johnston. The other is Abbey House Garden, which is privately owned.

Hidcote Manor - Image Credit: Stephen Robson 

Hidcote Manor - Image Credit: Stephen Robson 

Hidcote Manor was one of the first gardens, which took a large property and divided its garden, as if it were rooms in a house. Each section opens a door to another enchanted garden.

However, the level playing ground closest to the house at Abbey House Garden prevails my affection. The exquisite use of its topiary and the parterres of Boxwood filled with the willowing grace of the tulips in all their brilliance of color are deliciously scandalous. The over planting of bulbs in and amongst the fabulous rose beds is unique. They will be glorious in bloom, and then allowed to fade under cover from emerging roses.

Ariel View: Abbey House Gardens

Ariel View: Abbey House Gardens

From England to Amsterdam, as if jettisoned onto another planet. Flying over Amsterdam and seeing fields of flowering bulbs, is truly magical. The tulip is originally from Turkey but it is the Netherlands (Holland) that claimed it and now it is internationally celebrated. I plan to buy bundles of tulips from the flower stalls of Amsterdam and fill up my room at the Amstel Hotel. A classic building, oozing with history sitting proudly on the Amstel River.

The Keukenhof Garden is a must, but I am equally keen to visit Hortus Bulborum, north of Amsterdam in Limmen and steeped in history. Run entirely by volunteers - the 2,600 plus varieties of tulip include rare older varieties, heirloom bulbs, or bulbs no longer being grown by commercial growers and are in danger of becoming extinct.

During my travels I will be working with the Dutch photographer Thijs Wolzah. I also want to share the beauty of the tulips at ‘Filoli’ San Francisco and some I planted in New Canaan, Connecticut. But that will have to wait until next time..

      If These Trees Could Talk


March frolicked “In like a lamb” and if the weather predictions are correct it is going to rage “Out like a lion” with a ‘nor’easter’ forecast next week. It is a month to tease, although it is not the heat or a beach I yearn for, it is Spring which has sent me packing. 

A prelude to my Dutch tulip pilgrimage is a luxurious weekend at Lucknam Park Hotel in Wiltshire, England. This beautiful property is surrounded by 500 acres of countryside, and it’s the subtle push of bulbs, the greening of the trees and roll out of blooms that will reinvigorate me.

The Palladian mansion, dating back from 1720, has kept the refinement of its past, while procuring the latest must haves as a luxury hotel and spa. 

This fabulous double avenue of Beech and Lime trees will captivate you, as if a spell had been cast. Leading you to the breathtaking, panoramic sweep of the historic house and grounds. From the day the first seedling was planted in 1827 - to the 400 trees that stand firm today, the mile long driveway has quite a history. During the second World War, Spitfires and Hawker Hurricanes were wheeled over from the RAF Air Command Field across the road. Fortuitously, during the air raids you could not find a better cover than the wide birth or ‘wing span’ of the Lime and Beech natural canopy.

I planned our visit during the last weekend of March, to coincide with the magnificence of bulbs in bloom running the entire length of the drive.

Daffodils leave as quickly as they bloom; so pick them in bud, place them in a brown grocery bag (securing the end with a rubber band) and leave them in the back of the refrigerator for approx. 8 weeks. When ready to use, snip off the ends, place them in water and enjoy.

Whether it’s a stay at an elegant hotel or dining, whilst taking in verdant surroundings, it reminds me of another idiom….

Once smitten, forever its slave