Into the Woods

It’s a long, undulating drive to the front door of Les Arbes, and it’s not until the car rounds the last gentle curve that the Greenwich mansion starts coming into view through the tall trees that give it its leafy name. A glimpse of red brick flirts with the eye, gradually growing into a slate-roofed French Country chateau fronted by a courtyard that’s flanked by a stately pair of specimen linden trees.

The slow reveal sets the stage for a progression of grand yet down-to-earth garden rooms on the Round Hill Road estate that seduce and surprise no matter the season. When the owners, a couple with three young children who love outdoor activities, moved into the newly built house, the forested property, which is more than two acres and abuts protected land, had not yet been landscaped.

They commissioned Dianna Cutler, the owner of Southport-based Sasco Farms Landscape Design, to create an easy-to-care- for environment where the children could play to their hearts’ content and where the adults could relax and entertain. Dianna and landscape designers John Lloyd and Selim Yolac devised a family-friendly planting plan that respects the greatness and gravitas of the property.

“Every garden we design reflects not only the style of the house, but also the tastes and sensibilities of the owners,” Dianna says. “At Les Arbes, we chose to create massings instead of a lot of little plantings. This is in keeping with the simplicity and grandeur of the house.”

The green rooms at Les Arbes get less formal as they move away from the house. The calm color palette—wispy, soft pinks, whites, blues and purples—sets the scene for the brighter annuals that are switched out season by season. Overall, the scene is serene and symmetrical, set with serendipitous surprises.

The first room that is visible from the graveled drive is the apple orchard, where the fruit trees stand sentinel in a large grassy area. At their feet lie soft-fruit gardens with a meandering maze of vines. “The children like to pick the blueberries and raspberries,” Dianna says, adding that, in homage to the architecture of the house, the beds mirror each other.

The front courtyard, which centers matching parking garages, is planted with staid boxwoods and features bluestone cutouts. At the formal front door, a pair of specimen beech trees try to touch the sky.

The tennis court, which is as much used by the parents as the children, has a green screen hedge of European hornbeams that hides its chain-link fence. The underplanting, English laurel, remains green through summer sun as well as snow. Beyond the tennis court, the backyard stretches its green arms in a gloriously wide hug.

The approach to the pool area takes you through the rose garden, a profuse array of pinks that’s walled with a low hedge of boxwood. “We massed them,” Dianna says. “They are Knock Outs, so they bloom all summer long.” Beyond the roses lies the bluestone-paved patio, what Dianna calls the main living space.

“Creating it was our biggest task,” she says. “Originally, it was a small space that the family never used. They were so excited when it was finished that the husband threw the wife a surprise party there for her fortieth birthday.”

Square cutout beds of hydrangea paniculata, underplanted with a variety of colorful annuals, step down from the patio to the pool. Along the red-brick transition wall, espaliered pear trees spread their armlike branches and beg a passerby to pluck their ripe fruit. “We thought this would be fun for the children,” Dianna says.

A second, larger patio by the pool is announced by an allée of six twenty-foot-tall flowering pear trees. “They are the first plants to bloom in the spring,” she says. “You can see them when you look out the windows of the master bedroom and bathroom. They lead you down the path to the rest of the backyard, visually.”

The patio, too, is abloom: Nikko Blue hydrangeas form a natural boundary around the space, where globe-type boxwoods anchor each corner. “This is dramatic because of the massing,” Dianna explains. “And it frames the entire area, which includes a seating area of oversize planters with succulents.” At the end of the allée, the path is punctuated by a plinth holding an urn that offers a bouquet of seasonal plantings.

The parterre, which Dianna calls the “real fun of the whole garden,” is designed to appeal to all the senses. A central fountain sets the tone for four standard lilacs and two beds framed with boxwood: one contains lady’s mantle, the other is filled with lavender. “You can smell the fragrant lavender, you can hear the water splashing, and you can feel your feet crunch on the gravel,” she says.

Another of Dianna’s favorite features of Les Arbes is the set of grass and bluestone steps that lead down a steep slope into the woods. “They are quite architectural and centered on the patio,” she says. “When the kids saw them, they wanted to go sledding down them.” They pass by the pond, which was repaired and underplanted with dogwood and willow trees and a variety of woodland plants, including hosta, viburnum and Solomon’s seal, to create a subdued, shady spot.

“The plants look like they were always there,” Dianna says. “And they shelter the water feature at the same time they draw the eye to it.” A delicate waterfall feeds the pond, which is filled with lilies. Close by, there’s a fire pit, reached by oversized stepping stones, where the family roasts marshmallows in the fall while sitting on a low wall.

“This area is a nod to nature,” she says. “There are no chairs, and it’s made to seem private, yet you don’t feel disconnected because of the site lines.” No tour of Les Arbes would be complete without taking a swing in the yurt. It’s in an obscure corner of the property, hanging from the branches of a 100-year-old tree. You have to be in-the-know to know of its existence. “It’s the wow! factor on the property,” she says. “You can easily fit six adults and four children in it.”

The gardens of Les Arbes are of a timeless design, and no matter the time of year or day, there’s always something interesting to see. Dianna mentions the sculptural qualities of the boxwood hedges. She speaks eloquently of the fiery-red bark of the dogwood trees when they’re wearing a winter coat of snow. She talks about the pretty shapes of the lilac standards and the dazzling colors of the estate’s 100,000 bulbs—irises and crocuses and daffodils and narcissus and the black and white tulips under the pear trees—that proudly pop their heads out of the ground.

“I’ve been to visit the property many times through the years,” she says. “It’s one of my favorite gardens. Each time I see it, it takes my breath away because it never fails to surprise me.”

 

 

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