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Botanical Embrace

In a way, Adria de Haume’s landscape  is gardening’s version of comfort food. The moment you glide into the courtyard a short jog past the iron entrance gates and the meadows on either side of the driveway, you feel embraced in a warm, welcoming hug. While some properties are meant to be admired from a distance, this garden needs close attention to be truly appreciated.

The comfort food analogy doesn’t stray far from the mark. The reason Adria’s garden succeeds so thoroughly in nourishing your spirit has a lot to do with the way it reaches out. Spread out on four acres overlooking Bolling Pond, the garden’s idiom is inner quiet — no snarling whippets here to keep you at bay. Instead, Adria stationed a pair of  metal canine retrievers crouching before the entry arch, greeting all those who venture through. And don’t imagine for a split second blink of the eye that the garden is restful because it’s uneventful. Just the opposite.

When Adria de Haume began laying out her garden eleven years ago, she strove toward a journey that would take many steps. Although the overall botanical result is more Old World than Asian, Zen-like serenity is apparent everywhere. Nothing is jarring or cacophonous. Walk the circuit of the landscape and you realize that one garden diorama effortlessly leads into another.

Like a juicy novel, this classic captures your imagination from the introduction. The stone wall was Adria’s husband George’s vision. His concept — and it’s a brilliant opening move — was to repeat the far garden wall, creating a courtyard and establishing a repetition that keeps the entire scene on the same page. But then, the courtyard needed an exclamation point. Adria’s solution was a typical out-of-the-box answer to a challenge: in this instance, boxwood shaped in signs of the zodiac in the central parterre. It’s the first hint that you’ve arrived at someplace quite different from any other garden. Your sensibilities are elevated and you’re piqued, ready to be lured.

From the initial crunch in the gravel while you’re nosing into the courtyard, it’s apparent to you that whoever is behind this scene has an instinctive understanding of all the components that make for splendor in the natural sphere: structure, focus, an upper story of trees and shrubs, and an understory of perennials courted at times by annuals. Evergreen arches and stone paths lead you from one composition of flowers, shrubs and hardscape to singular statements: an espaliered dogwood, an allée of blowsy pink double peonies, a doghouse in a corner elbow of the house and a swing that frames the back patio. And sure enough, although she is purely self-taught in the gardening arena, Adria is a designer.  She began as a sculptor and painter, and then six years ago, she started a company devoted to her incredibly intricate, heirloom-quality jewelry designs. And now she has extended that sense of design to the landscape. 

As you stroll through the front garden, slip below the many bowers, traverse the lawn defined by undulating borders, follow the stepping stones to the pool area, and finally slip behind the picket fence into the rose garden, you discover that there’s always something that causes you to stop and ponder.

It comes as no surprise to learn that Adria de Haume has been gardening since she was a child, eavesdropping at her mother’s elbow. “Both my mother and grandmother could make anything grow,” Adria interjects. She was one of those kids who tossed a seed packet into the shopping cart on a supermarket spree and attempted all gardening feats. No one ever told her that there were missions impossible. Her childhood windowsills in Michigan were a menagerie of planted avocado pits and other botanical hopefuls. “Gardening was always in my soul,” she recalls.

In her first artist’s studio, an old “bump” shop (a body shop in Michigan lingo), she nurtured orchids, clivias and other floral fare that developed her horticultural expertise. The fact that her first commission as an artist was for Majestic Orchids — creating a six-foot sign for the company starring a magenta cattleya, to be specific — was prophetic, to be sure. To this day, Adria’s home is never without an orchid in bloom, and there are bouquets of flowers in every room  all year long.

Fast-forward past several homes and gardens to Adria and George’s move from New York City to the circa 1909 house in Greenwich’s backcountry. The grounds had some interesting elements but lacked vistas and excitement. Adria knew she needed a plan.

Fortuitously, she attended a lecture by Sir Roy Strong on his garden, the Laskett, in Herefordshire, England. Director of the National Portrait Gallery and, later, of the Victoria and Albert Museum, Strong explained that the most impressive gardens in his experience were not connected with the typical grand estates in Britain. What he far preferred were gardens that portrayed the owner’s spirit and soul. His inclinations matched Adria’s precisely. “A garden is a tremendous personal labor and truly an expression of love” is the way Adria phrases it.

With that as her guiding principle, she began the installation of a landscape with fluid lines. Along the way, she had the help of very special mentors. The late Claire Vanderbilt “adopted” Adria soon after she moved to town. “She encouraged me to express myself as a gardener and prodded me to be true to my vision. Claire  shared with me her incredible gardener, Bill Spitzer,” Adria explains. Spitzer had created an almost ethereal sweep of perennials for the Vanderbilts, and Adria invited him to do the same for her. Another ongoing collaborator is Mark Mariani, who does magic on the architectural landscape level. “Working together with these talented professionals has been a great experience,” she says.

The early years were spent tidying things up and then laying the framework. The first step was to relocate the rhododendrons, hemlocks and many of the other mature shrubs that were growing close to the house and move them to the outer reaches of the property. Thus the view of Bolling Pond, beyond the pool, was opened up. The decision was also made to groom a shade garden to reveal phenomenal rock formations (“they’re so solid and centering”), a ploy that not only makes for many meditative moments but also takes advantage of the nearby country club’s open land for a “borrowed landscape” view. In went the boxwood (Mariani found the immense articulated boxwood for the the parterre on the edge of the grounds).

Mariani and Spitzer punctuated the original sunken garden, the first of many highlights on the property, with metal arbors, placing a finial in the center and letting roses, wisteria and clematis run rambunctiously up and around. The horticultural elements are now reaching maturity and the architectural elements have an attractive patina.

Meanwhile, there’s a discrete seasoning of appointments throughout the grounds. As you meander from the front courtyard and circle the house, you come upon a lead cistern found in Britain that just happens to be etched with Adria’s parents’ initials; you encounter weathervanes, urns and orbs. Everything you see has a story.

Take the equestrian weathervane that straddles the tip of the gazebo. Adria bought it as a gift for George on their anniversary. But in the process of mounting the filigree, they discovered that the gazebo was living on borrowed time. “It wouldn’t even support the weathervane,” Adria remembers.

The entire structure required rebuilding. At the same time, Adria thought the original asphalt roofing might look far better in copper. It was a domino effect of repairs that finally provoked George to respond with, “I love you. But, please! No more anniversary presents.”

The gazebo’s copper roof echoes the front entry arch and the copper accents for bumped out windows and vestibules, and it also reiterates the blue motif running throughout (“blue because it pulls the sky down and incorporates the farther water feature; blue because it’s fresh,” says Adria). Outdoor seat cushions and the patio umbrella harmonize with this blue refrain. Add the blue-tinged evergreen needles, the nepeta edging in the perennial beds, and the electric-blue lobelia that forms a frothy ruff around the base of the highly sculptural potted plants (rarely are more than two plants put together in a container, making for a more succinct statement) and you have a strong echo factor.

The circuit takes in many moods. Formal niches are balanced against informal vignettes. It’s smart designing: The sight lines are all framed from points within the house (Adria admits that she started indoors and looked outward to make this happen). Every area is linked with transitional interludes that draw you forward, like the oversize orbs that pull visitors down to the pool area. The blue theme isn’t overdone: There’s a white border of roses, peonies and early hydrangeas edged by a path of flagstones to balance out the more intense colors. Beyond this border and steps from the gazebo is the wood glen, a cooling oasis with an enchanting touch: A birdhouse that resembles an antebellum mansion is tucked into a nook at the base of a stalwart maple.

If you think of the garden as a setting, then the gem is certainly the rose garden that finishes the circuit — a grand finale, to be sure. Originally, the space was devoted to a vegetable garden. But high- quality vegetables can be had today at local farmstands and recently opened organic markets. So Adria opted to install a tribute to her favorite flower: the rose. Not that the scene lacked roses prior to that installation, since roses recur everywhere in the landscape. Like a recurring theme, they climb, spread and spill at every turn. However, they reign supreme in the rose garden, growing lush around a wonderful old sundial. Confined by a white picket fence and within a low boxwood hedge, the carefully pruned and tended roses must occasionally surrender their star billing to spectacular white and purple clematis cavorting on the fence posts.

There are other highlights as well. At the suggestion of Adria’s friend Andrew Silverman, dragon’s eye pine, a rare conifer nearly extinct in this area due to deer damage, are planted to the left of the front courtyard on the border of the property. “Andrew taught me to experiment and never to do what’s expected but rather to follow your heart,” Adria pays tribute. Then her pal Muffy Miller called one day to report that she found a pair of espaliered Cornus kousa ‘Rubra’, and the two friends each adopted one. The two now have sister trees. “Those trees have blossomed just as our friendship has,” Adria says. Adria’s is espaliered against a back wall of the house, in a space that is almost contemplative, its own secret garden.

Friendship is the refrain repeated in all the varied elements of Adria de Haume’s garden. Perhaps that’s another reason why this place feels so comfortable. You feel embraced on these grounds.