Serenity By the Sea
Brilliant color combinations, sweeping views and a touch of sentimentality combine to create a breathtaking seaside oasis
Easterly’s drive, shaded by an allée of twelve towering pin oaks, looks like crushed ice. On this red-hot summer day, its petite pearly pebbles glisten, promising refreshment.
The first respite comes at the porte cochere, where a prim and proper English-style knot garden, dainty as a lace handkerchief, greets guests. But within its clipped boxwood border, it shows its true colors: The New Guinea impatiens, set off by dusty miller, are a riot of hot pink and orange.
The real welcome comes when Susan Bevan opens the front door. She’s the garden’s guiding force and a breath of fresh air. She steps outside into the sun, then ducks back into the house to don a chic straw hat and sunglasses.
Susan and her husband, Tony Daddino, bought the 1902 neoclassical manor in Greenwich a dozen years ago, when their three children—Colin, Adam and Claire—were teenagers.
The three-story home, designed by Charles Alonzo Rich and recognized by the Greenwich Historical Society, was aching for a great garden. But Susan understood that great doesn’t have to mean grand. Working with landscape designer Bruce Zellers of Stamford, she created a garden that feels like home and that reminds her of her childhood in Washington state.
The two-acre property overlooking Long Island Sound has good bones and tall trunks, to which Susan added special plants of her own. The dogwoods, rhododendrons, crocosmia, digitalis, ferns and lilacs are rooted in her Pacific Northwest past, and she planted the huge blue spruces in honor of her father, a forester by education.
“I read somewhere that it’s good to have roots especially if they’re easily transplanted,” she says. Some of the white and lavender lilacs are from her parents’ house, which is where she was married a quarter century ago.
“I chose May 2 as the wedding date,” she says, “because I knew the lilacs would be in bloom.”
By design, Easterly’s garden has no central color scheme or theme. “This is a pretty open property that needs big, massive plantings,” Susan says. “It would be hard to divide it into garden rooms. So we did areas and tried to create a garden that works with the architecture of the house. The house doesn’t have the perfect symmetry of a Georgian colonial so we didn’t need identical plantings on each side, but we aimed for some balance.”
The balance begins at the front, where pink and white dogwoods mirror the Kwanzan cherries opposite them along the sides of the property.
Susan admires the delicate grace of the weeping split-leaf Japanese maple, which has been at the corner of Easterly’s colossal columned-front-façade for decades. “It’s one of the prettiest I’ve ever seen,” she says. “Its twisted branches give it the look of a sculpture. When I graduated from law school, I gave my parents one, but it was only a baby.”
Nearby, there’s a magnificent star magnolia whose white blooms herald each spring. “I had always wanted one, so it was nice that it was here,” she says. A grassy path leads to the side of the house, where some of Susan’s favorites, the hybrid daylilies, form a border around the Fountain Garden, which is in a casual English style. “I love bright colors,” Susan says, “and orange is my favorite.”
She pairs purples and oranges with wildly restrained abandon, but she saves her most brilliant color combinations for the annuals in her pots. They’re filled with calibrachoa, dahlias, “Picasso petunias, supertunia and verbena. She begins deadheading the lilies. She revels in this simple task; it takes her mind off things and puts her in sync with the plants.
“Look at this lemon one,” she says, pointing to a lily that’s the size of a saucer. An apricot one also catches her attention. “Is that not so perfect?”
Did she mention that these are edible? “They are in the same family as endive,” she says. “I’ve tried them; they taste like vegetables.”
She brought several varieties of hybrid daylilies and colors from her previous house. They took to Easterly’s soil, but when she moved them again, the ordinary “Connecticut Yankees” were the only ones that came up. “It was as if someone had stolen them in the middle of the night,” she says, adding that it took her a long time to find replacements.
The Fountain Garden, which has two antique cast-iron benches, is one of Susan’s favorite spots. Its boxwood border ties it to the front knot garden, and its plantings are like leaves of her family tree. The diminutive flowers of the forget-me-nots and lilies of the valley are the blooms of her sorority, Alpha Phi. The rooster-red corcosmia was prominent in her mother’s garden when she was growing up. The drowsy-headed digitalis grows wild in Washington state. The gold and purple spring tulips were chosen in homage to the colors of her alma mater, the University of Washington. And the charming miniature limestone Cotswold church was a gift to her husband on a “significant” birthday.
As she heads to the backyard, a pair of snow-white butterflies dance in front of her. On the back porch, the most serene spot on the estate, the wisteria creates a cozy canopy. Susan often comes here to watch the sailboats on the Sound.
“You can sit here in the pouring rain or the gentle mist,” she says. “The view when there’s a storm is special.” The family’s little powerboat, the Blue Moon, bobs in the waves. From the distance, it looks like a toy.
“It’s just the right size to have cocktails on,” she says, especially if you’re drinking its signature drink—the Blue Moon, which is made with Blue Curacao and champagne, topped with two blueberries.
The lower terrace is dominated by the rectangular pool, whose sapphire color resembles the waves of the Sound. The pool house, framed by a pergola covered with a beach blanket of wisteria and clematis, is a series of rooms—a bathroom, a kitchenette and two changing rooms. Each is painted a different vibrant color. The outdoor shower is all but hidden by mounds of lacecap hydrangeas.
“It’s a real gift to live here,” Susan says, stopping to smell the blooms of the Joseph’s Coat rose bush. Down the grassy hill, which rolls like a wave, there’s an old swing in an even older oak tree. “It’s the best swing in the world,” she says, “because when you’re in it, the land falls away, and you feel you are swinging out over the water. The secret is the long rope.”
At the water’s edge, the sumac trees shade banks of hydrangeas, which are a proud purple worthy of a monarch, and lilies as orange as a summer sunset. “The hydrangeas like the salt air,” she says. They are grounded by fragments of terra-cotta warriors half buried in the earth. Susan brought the figures back from a trip to China. They are one of the pieces that make the grounds so personal. Recently, she added a pair of fig trees to the garden because her husband had them at his childhood home in Brooklyn.
Susan is enamored of the water. That’s one of the reasons she bought Easterly. Whenever possible, she spends her mornings in her kayak, exploring the coves while the water is at its calmest.
A small fenced-in space contains the family’s organic vegetable garden, which includes tomatoes, arugula, sugar snap peas and beets. Tonight, they’ll make gazpacho. She sees her garden as a work in progress, where “plants are moved around like furniture.”
So it is that Easterly’s landscape is designed to change with Susan’s wishes, the season and the time of day. “You should see the garden at dusk,” she says. “A rosy glow spreads over the land and water.”