This is the fifth of six 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 suppose I had wanted a garden for some time. But gardening wasn’t a childhood obsession like my yearning for a house. I mean, there is an old black and white photograph of me, age six, planting pansies in our garden with my mother. I love the look and especially the smells of gardens. But it wasn’t until I put in my first garden, in the Peace Corps, in Tanzania in the late 1960s, that I developed any real for passion for gardening itself.
There are plants I love of course from childhood… daffodils, waves of them a la Wordsworth. Peonies like the ones my mother grew along the driveway… in June she had big bowls of them around the house. Hollyhocks, almost any kind of hollyhock.
Years ago I was making a documentary about peoples’ obsession with horses. I went to see someone named Frolic “I kid you not” Weymouth to see if he would be in the film and maybe invest in it — he was. He didn’t. Weymouth was a painter and a conservationist. He owned a splendid eighteenth-century stone manor house on the Brandywine River, surrounded by various gardens — my favorite a field filled with nothing but hollyhocks, hundreds of them.
My favorite plant, though, was, and is, boxwood. I remember as a kid wandering in the wintered-over gardens of Hamilton Farm, an enormous nineteenth-century property near where I grew up where the original owner had built a kind of sportplatz consisting of an indoor tennis court, a squash court and huge pool. By then it was a little club where I and a lot kids had tennis lessons. Whoever picked me up after was often late and, if there was no snow on the ground, I would wander the old gardens.
My favorite spot was a walled garden off the end of the house where boxwood, no doubt planted as dwarf box around the beds, was by then at least six feet high — the beds long disappeared under them and the paths covered by layers of fallen boxwood leaves soft as moss underfoot. In the fall and early spring, even on a sunny day in February, the smell in that confined space was intense. Some people say it smells of dog pee. I never understand that and I always say to Christian we can never have too much.
As a child our neighbor’s house, an old farmhouse that had been added onto again and again on top of a hill, had box planted all the way round up against the house, and about twenty feet out a whole stand of box that ran all the way around again. It was true box, English box, and so old that it was probably at least ten feet tall and had to have a frame covered with burlap all around it, top and sides, to protect it from our American winters. My mother would take me there for tea, and I would love to shake the bushes with the palm of my hand, to make them wiggle like a fat dog.
Boxwood was instant architecture. Instant structure in the garden. An over thirty years we have probably planted three hundred bushes as punctuation, borders, screens, perspectives and walls that make rooms. We purchased a big stone eighteenth-century Japanese lantern about a decade ago at Treillage, Bunny Williams’ and John Rosselli’s former garden store in New York. We placed it out beyond the barn and surrounded it with a sea of different-sized box bushes, twenty or thirty of them.
When you prune box correctly (which we really don’t; very few people do) you are supposed to reach all the way down in them and cut out whole stems so that the bushes grow back in clumps instead of tight balls, a bit like puffy clouds and, happily, the different sized bushes we planted are growing together that way.
I am sure that Christian and I planted too much of everything. The rule of thumb, I was told by Everett Fahy, an ex-partner and a pretty serious gardener, was to have a garden you could actually take care of properly, i.e. not too big. My rule of thumb appears to have been that I wanted a garden I could basically see from every window and from early on ours rambled all over the place. What I didn’t want was a go-to garden — a garden like our friend Peter Wooster, a brilliant gardener and plants man — a garden that sat “over there.
In his case the garden was an amazing, dazzling world entered through a little gate but, that when you left, was sort of gone. You really couldn’t even see back in. I wanted all of his plants, of course, and wanted my garden to thrive the way his did — his plants were gigantic, magnificent, and the beds perfectly weeded and cared for. But I also wanted to see my garden (or some of it anyway) from my studio when I paused at work, from the kitchen window when I washed dishes, from the end of the porch where we had drinks every evening from May until the end of September.
This is the fifth of six 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.