Beauty by the Sea

Once totally destroyed by a nor'easter. Christopher Thurlow's rejuvenated garden represents friendship and hope

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There is a tale behind the lamb’s ears, the border that runs across each room in her garden. Back in 1976, when Chris was married with two small children, everything she planted died. “I had a black garden,” she admits. Since she didn’t have a lot to spend on her failed effort, her mother, a classic gardener from Alexandria, Virginia, gave her $200 with instructions: “Buy twenty varieties of plants, two of each, and place them in different areas of your yard. The plants will be your teachers.” Then her mother gave her a pot of lamb’s ears. “Plant this,” she said. “It will grow anywhere.”

The next summer, thirteen of the plants had made it, and the lamb’s ears became the unifying border and a constant reminder of her mother’s wisdom. “The plants will tell you where they want to live,” says Chris. “You decide which pattern you want them to live in.”
Under a large black oak tree sits the shade garden, an area of lush green plants. To add interest, Chris hung two dozen birdhouses. The wrens, thrushes and finches that live there bring another layer of natural interest and texture to her garden. In early spring, before the tree’s leaves fill in, tulips and daffodils have enough sun to bloom. “Let one thing replace another,” she says. “There is a great anticipation when there’s always something new that’s coming.”

Last to bloom in her garden is the seaside area, which is most bountiful in late July. A row of pink Fairy Rose bushes and wispy Speedwell alternate to create a pattern along the curved retaining wall. These plants are strategically placed here, as they are tolerant of sun, wind and saltwater spray. Unlike the other rooms in her garden, which run deep, the seaside garden is shallow, with just one layer of plantings, and of course the trademark lamb’s ears border. “I don’t want too much garden in front of the ocean,” she says. “I don’t want to compete with nature.”

The best view of the Sound is from the front porch, where a pair of white rose standards mark the steps that lead up to the house. On the porch, a table is set for an outdoor dinner, with colorful ceramic plates resting on placemats made of small polished stones. This tranquil spot is the couple’s favorite place to unwind. “Sitting on the porch on a soft evening and listening to the waves lap the shore is our idea of heaven on earth.”

After the sun sets, they watch the moon rise over the water while gazing down at the Moon Garden, which lies on the gentle hill that slopes down to the grass. Only white and silver plants, such as dusty miller, white petunias and verbena, bloom here. The setting, inspired by Vita Sackville-West’s famous Sissinghurst garden in England, is simple and serene.

“My garden gives me an internal sense of peace, contentment and satisfaction,” says Chris, as she surveys the space she designed entirely herself. “I don’t mind if my plants overgrow or fight each other for space. I always love them like my own children.”

Most important to Chris is to carry on her mother’s love for gardening and pass it down to the next generation. To that end, Chris, a board member of the Greenwich Garden Education Center, teaches classes at her home nearly every spring. She also volunteers her expertise at the Senior Center in Greenwich and teaches a botanical course at the Nathaniel Witherell Nursing Home, where she is designing and installing a therapeutic environment  garden. For this gardener, there is no greater happiness than sharing the secrets of the trade she knows so well.



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