A Beautiful Waterfront Property Turns Drop-Dead Gorgeous
That expression about being able to see the forest for the trees assumes real meaning for the owners of a stunning cove-front property near Lyme. When a husband and wife bought this 18-acre parcel of land, it was heavily wooded, yet they were already able to “see” some of the gardens and lawns they hoped to create. “We had a strong vision for the property,” the husband explains. “We saw through those trees, and we even planted perimeter trees and foundations for the garden before we started building the house. We had a lot of ideas, but it took Peter Cummin, the landscape architect, and Josh Novak, who planted every bulb and tree, to realize them for us.”
In addition to working with clients who had an inspired vision, the other asset in abundance was the land itself. “This is simply one of the best sites on the whole East Coast,” says Cummin, whose designs included an organically shaped pool; a meditative rock garden that appears, at once, natural and geometric; and a rectilinear water garden that appears to flow, metaphorically and actually, from the expansive house itself. “It’s the best piece of property seen anywhere in Connecticut,” he adds.
The wife wanted a rock garden that, as Cummin describes it, would be a “contemplative” destination. “What we made looks natural—a difficult effect to achieve,” he says. Sizeable expanses of local stone were assembled in such a way that the outcroppings appear endemic to the land while also configured in a deliberate pattern. Cummin designed a water system that flows subtly among the rocks, and he chose a variety of plantings, the most conspicuous being ferns. “Ferns are key to this garden,” he notes. “They grow like crazy and deer don’t feed on them.”
Novak concurs that the numerous ferns he installed—ostrich ferns and Christmas ferns, among others—along with other shapely plants such as Solomon’s seal, noted for the delicate white flowers that bloom beneath leaves, make a real statement. “The way ferns blow in the wind is awesome,” he notes. In addition, carefully articulated mosses fill the cracks, along with sturdy succulents, fragrant thyme and expanses of colorful lavender.
“The prevailing idea with the rock garden was to create a reason to be there and to enjoy the view to the water once you do get there,” explains the homeowner, who admits to not being a hands-on gardener but, rather, someone interested more in the mood created by plantings. “I’ll be honest, I don’t really care what a particular plant is—I’m totally happy to have the landscape architect and my wife pick them out. I’m a photographer. I’m more about the aesthetics.”
The water garden is an especially architectural aspect of the property, set with cleft-finish bluestone walkways that form a rectangle about a pool stocked with koi and a family of wading bronze herons. “We built a stairway leading down into the water garden,” says Cummin, “with the intention of making it feel directly connected to the house. The stairs lead your eye into the garden and off into the landscape.”
Among the more dramatically sited plantings are two round Dappled Willow bush trees, chosen by the wife. “She called us one day and said she’d bought them at a local nursery,” recalls Novak. “She often adds things, and it’s so wonderful to work with someone like the homeowners who trust us and the architect to make decisions on our own about where to place elements. Some people underestimate what really makes a great garden and how much involvement it requires. After everything is in, there’s the electrical and the plumbing to consider, the soil to introduce. Then there’s the whole management issue—when to fertilize and with what, when to prune.”
Plants and animals took quickly to their home. The first night after the water garden was complete, “the frogs moved right in,” says the homeowner. Indeed, as Novak, in his official role as manager of the property, says, “At night, the property sings with frogs. It comes to life at dusk.”
A version of this article appeared in the May 2017 issue of CTC&G (Connecticut Cottages & Gardens) with the headline: Dream Big.