This is the fourth of several in a series of writings by Tim Lovejoy on his arrival, house, and garden in Hadlyme, CT. You can find the first part here.
I had always wanted a house of my own. The grandchild of an architect — dead long before I was born — I had always thought I wanted to be an architect as well. All the time I drew houses. Houses down the road. Houses my parents’ friends lived in. Houses I saw in books or traveling. Houses I made up. Many were houses I thought I wanted to own. They became, for a time anyway, my house, the house I would live in… until I saw something I liked better.
I imagined everything, the size and arrangement of different rooms, the colors I painted them and the furniture, even the views from the windows and the landscaping outside. I imagined my life there… what I did… how I lived… who I lived with. I put myself to sleep nights imagining the house and garden, and the dream life that went with it.
Years later, I had a therapist who was — unsurprisingly I suppose — very curious about these houses. She referred to them collectively as “Tim’s House” and asked about them: What I did there, who I lived with, even who visited me there.
“Did your parents visit you there? Your mother?”
“Did you ever have a wife living with you, children?”
“Only very early on, when I was young.”
For her, “Tim’s House” was, I suppose, a sort of guide to what I wanted in life, who I wanted to be. But by the time I started going to her, in my forties, I had actually long given it up – daydreams that had become almost an alternative life.
I remained fascinated, though, by houses. And in my early thirties, turned my love for them and for drawing them into a kind of profession I invented for myself of doing these drawings and watercolors of the interiors and exteriors of peoples’ houses on commission. It started a gig that in time became a career as a travel painter, but I still hardly ever stepped into a house, or onto a piece of land, without thinking about what I would do to it if it were mine.
I still fiddled with the spaces and places I saw in my head, and definitely fiddled with the spaces I lived in; it came naturally and automatic for me. All you had to do, I thought, was look at a space and imagine yourself in it. And as much work as there was to do on this house, I thought it would be the same, and it basically was.
I am not talking about designing anything according to any abstract idea or theory. I doubt that I would have been a fit at the Bauhaus. But I have always known how to work with what I was given. In this case, right away, I knew there was no way I was ever going to want to sit by that fireplace in that corner in the living room by the dining room door. So, it seemed only logical to put another fireplace at the other end of the room. This would give us a fireplace at either end of the room, which I liked, and a new chimney running up all three floors of the west end of the house.
It was easy to come up with the idea of throwing the two rather crummy bedrooms (on the top floor of the newer wing) into a master bedroom with a fireplace. And of making a guest room with a fireplace on the ground floor with what — given the high wall between the house and the barn — easily be turned into a walled garden. With everything we did then, it was almost as if the house told us what to do, and it has pretty much the been the same since.
The land itself needed a bit more thought and, unfortunately, a bit more knowledge, which we of course didn’t have. So, we had more problems and made more mistakes outdoors. It was an odd property, pretty much all hill, with so many walls and terraces, and for such a small property — only nine-tenths of an acre — an amazing number of trees.
Early on, I jokingly referred to it as “Gremlin Grove”, the fake name my parents had given the house they moved into in Fort Smith, Arkansas, where I was born, and where my father was posted before being sent overseas during World War II. My mother, ever the New Englander, imagined Arkansas as the Deep South, and fancied us living in a plantation house ringed with white porches and live oaks, only to find herself roached up in a damp and dreary house covered with splotchy mold buried in dark pines and cedars.
In our case we didn’t know much. Christian was raised in a city apartment and knew next to nothing. I had grown up on a farm in the country, but didn’t know a lot more. Still we didn’t hesitate. In the first six or eight years we must have cut down eighty trees or more — most of them large weedy trees that had self-sewn up the hill and behind the house over the course of the almost two-hundred-and-fifty years it had stood there.
In fairness, forty or fifty of the trees formed a row of hemlocks clearly planted as a hedge along the back of the property to hide a neighboring house and an old road to the graveyard that no longer existed. They blocked not only the view of the graveyard, but also the sky, and they required spraying at vast expense every year. Like most of the hemlocks in Connecticut, they were dying from a wooly adelgid.
We also planted like crazy… lots of dogwoods — one of our favorite plants — mostly white but some pink, a couple of crab apples, and apples, a sycamore, and quite a few pines to fill gaps left by the hemlocks. In our often-misplaced enthusiasm, we planted trees and bushes too close together which quite soon we had to cut down, a not uncommon beginner’s mistake, a couple of dreamy birches – a nod to Christian’s Russian heritage, a pear, and a much-loved star magnolia.
We got rid of weigelas and clumps of lilac that the deer kept eating to the ground. We eventually cut down another whole row of hemlocks which we rather stupidly planted ourselves. Hemlocks we not only had to spray every year and cover with netting against the deer, but which had gotten so big they appeared ready to bring down the retaining wall where they were planted along the road. And they did, right after we cut them down.
This is the fourth of several in a series of writings by Tim Lovejoy on his arrival, house, and garden in Hadlyme, CT. Lead illustration from Into the Garden by Christian Peltenburg-Brechneff copyright © 2019
Into the Garden, a new volume of 185 illustrations by Christian Peltenburg-Brechneff, with a foreword by Bunny Williams, and essay by Donald Kuspit, will be released in June by G Arts. You can preorder copies of the book here
There will be a lecture, book signing and reception, on June 30th at 3 p.m. at the Florence Griswold Museum in Old Lyme, followed by a sneak preview of the exhibition at 5 p.m. at the Cooley Gallery, 25 Lyme St. There will be an opening for the exhibition at the Cooley Gallery on July 6th, 5-7 p.m.