The Stroup’s “hot beds” designed by North Hill.
An Inside Look at Some Exquisite Gardens Nurtured by Local Homeowners and Landscapes
By Erica Ludlow Bowman
Photography By Hubert Schriebl
Turkey Hill Farm
A bronze statue named Traveler by Curt Brill is one of many to grace the grounds at Manchester’s Turkey Hill Farm. Arms outstretched in a gesture of gratitude, it faces the apple orchard, welcoming its harvest. Landowner Sylvia Stroup accepts this interpretation, but the story behind its placement is far simpler. Resting on axis with the back porch of the house, it counterbalances the more abstract sculpture, Gabriel by Hans Van de Bovenkamp. The rest is up to the beholder.
Traveler’s orchard is part of a larger landscape 168 years in the making. Beginning with the careful siting and construction of the main house around 1849, the estate has managed a slow evolution of change under the care of only four families, most recently Sylvia and Stanley Stroup. An earlier resident named Hortense Childs laid out the formal planting beds in the 1930s. The Stroups themselves have brought the garden into the 21st century, adding a guesthouse, pond, pergola, extensive gardens, and an esteemed sculpture collection including works from artists George Sherwood, Richard Erdman, Peter Woytuck, and the like.
The Stroups have worked with several designers, including the late Wayne Winterrowd and Joe Eck of North Hill fame. They enhanced the ornamental, dry streams and developed three colorful “hot beds” filled with magenta beebalms (Monarda sp.), multicolored daylilies (Hemerocallis sp.), Shasta daisies (Leucanthemum x supurbum), and other vivid species. More recently, the Stroups commissioned local architect Ray Smith to create a Japanese-style garden at the entrance to their woodland walk. Michael Anderson of Sugar Rock Landscaping has been instrumental in the installation of newer beds and “fantastic” gardeners Janette Morrison and Ernie Dibble are credited with their maintenance.
The “beholders” come from far and wide. In addition to biennial tours through the Garden Conservancy, the Stroups open their garden for fundraising events. So popular a destination, some frequent tour patrons have even secreted mini-reunions at their estate on open days.
The Gregorys “black pool” before a distant view of Green Peak and Owl’s Head.
The melancholic forget-me-not is an aptly named flower, its dainty florets a clear indication yesteryear’s garden. They reminisce the bygone gardener who, with dirty nails and work-worn hands, once had the delicacy to sprinkle those tiny seeds. Its biennial blossom serves to remind us never to forget.
Peg and Judd Gregory did not even know what had been forgotten. When they moved into their Spring Hill home in 2009, it was undoubtedly winter. While the landscape outside had flourished nearly 60 years without them, it remained but a secret, buried beneath the snow. The first spring brought a profusion of herbaceous surprises: daffodils and lilacs, creeping phlox and English peonies, and emblematically, the cerulean blue of forget-me-not’s bloom.
Since that spring, the Gregorys have become determined garden hobbyists. They’ve enlisted late-summer and fall flowers for greater seasonal color and have planted tall, ornamental grasses to enhance the privacy around the pool. The “bones of the garden,” according to Ms. Gregory, “were really terrific,” and thus have remained the same. The process of maintenance has been, nonetheless, invigorating. According to Mr. Gregory, it’s not unlike “having a gym membership.”
Of course, it is not all work and no play. Blessed with mountain views of Green Peak and Owl’s Head, the north-facing vista is well suited to languorous surveillance of verdant hilltops, autumnal displays, and soaring, skyward families of returning red-tailed hawks. A hillside garden slopes down and away from the house and is best enjoyed from the vantage point of the pool below, perhaps whilst “floating on floaties.”
The 1950s-era Gunnite pool is one of the property’s highlights. With its unusual shape, stone diving board, and mortared stone coping that edges onto the lawn, it maintains an almost pond-like character. Known as a “black pool,” its walls are darkly painted to absorb solar energy and passively warm the water. The Gregorys, both cold-hardy northerners, say it is swimmable by June.
The ebullient, multilayered gardens of the Brockway estate with pink phlox, yellow yarrow, and coreopsis, and the blues of veronica and delphiniums.
Dorset West Road
Marilyn and David Brockway also welcome their garden’s admirers, from drive-by photographers to awestruck passersby. According to Ms. Brockway, she too was once an out-of-town visitor whose curiosity the garden had duly ensnared. It was by a great stroke of luck that during one of their winter visits, the property became available for sale. Nearly 20 years have passed but Ms. Brockway has not forgotten this fortunate serendipity. Fate led them to this “garden’s gate” and she’ll always be grateful.
It is not surprising the garden gathers notice. Oriented toward Dorset West Road with no visual impediments, the collection is ostensibly sited for the road-side observer. Seemingly extroverted with its unabashed beauty and uninhibited magnificence, this garden could not be accused of hiding its light beneath a bushel. On a midsummer’s day the colors are ebullient with candy-pink phlox (Phlox paniculata) bouncing off the multihued blues of speedwell (Veronica spicata) and delphinium (Delphinum sp.). The varied yellows of yarrow (Achillea ‘Coronation Gold’), threadleaf coreopsis (Coreopsis verticillata), perennial sunflower (Heliopsis helianthoides), and daylily (Hemerocallis spp.) all vie for attention. Mr. Brockway, a fan of bold color, insists on a yearly planting of dahlias so that bulleted points of crimson will intermittently explode into view.
While the planting does not follow strict guidelines of structure or style, it is fair to say that it has a strong English garden sentimentality with cottage-garden tendencies. Many of the Brockways’ favorite plants contribute to this character: delphiniums, hollyhocks (Alcea rosea), goats beard (Aruncus dioicus), peonies (Paeonia sp.), irises (Iris sp.), and purple coneflower (Echinacea purpurea) to name a few. According to the garden’s original owner and designer, Ellie Banks, there was no paper plan or strict style. Modestly, she explained, “It just grew.”
Mrs. Banks was also responsible for the garden’s installation, which was no casual endeavor. At some point in the property’s history the top soils were removed and sold, leaving a few measly inches of sod to cover a wasteland of infertile gravel. Mrs. Banks amended that soil bucket by bucket, using cow manure from a neighbor’s herd. Similarly, this describes the laborious way in which she watered. Once a kindly neighborhood plumber was so impressed with her efforts (and perhaps sympathetic to her presumably aching back) that he donated a water pump to her garden’s good use. Suffice it to say, Ellie Banks has not been known to rest on her laurels. According to her husband Jo, Banks was “best known from the rear,” so often bent at the waist in a position of weeding.
Luckily the Brockways have help filling the industrious shoes of Mrs. Banks. They employ the assistance of “mastermind” gardener, Donna Anderson of Mettowee Mill Nursery. She helps to arrange the garden for seasonal interest, maintains an alluring palette of colors, and perpetually adds and subtracts plants as nature deems it necessary. Between Anderson and the Brockways’ continued stewardship, the garden’s legacy will likely continue.
Dickensons’ bulb lilies and Johnny jump-ups are “very giving.”
Before moving to Spring Meadow in 2012, Katharine and David Dickenson occupied Dorset’s Marble House for 30 years. There they found themselves guardians of its formal gardens designed by Charles Downing Lay. Mrs. Dickenson, a practiced gardener in her home state of Florida, turned to the Manchester Garden Club for guidance. They were a fantastic resource, she said, a repository of knowledge on this new bioregion.
By the time they arrived at their new 10-acre property, they were well equipped to design and tend their own gardens. While the place came with a lovely English-style border by Lena Pless of Manchester, the Dickensons craved more formality. Mr. Dickenson built four “French-style” raised beds, one of which is completely filled with prolific Johnny jump-ups (Viola tricolor) and bulb lilies (Lillium sp.) that according to Mrs. Dickenson are “very giving” and perpetually multiplying. In other gardens, Mrs. Dickenson applied, among other perennials, cuttings of peonies and hostas from the Marble House. Additionally, they created a curious alleé of crab apples alternated with standing, marble slabs found about the property. This had been the suggestion of garden designer Gordon Hayward who had earlier laid out a series of crabapple trees to fill the entire month of May in a “fairyland” of bloom.
Interestingly, the Dickensons are also the current stewards of an important historical artifact, a famous artesian spring. Seemingly modest in nature, the feature is denoted only by a stone seat and a simply inscribed plaque. This marks the spot that Ethan Allen and the Green Mountain Boys watered their horses on the way to capture Fort Ticonderoga.
The Cooper garden includes a fountain, large formal lawn, and great swaths of Shasta daisies.
For those prone to anthropomor-phication, Rogerland might seem like a garden of beasts. Green beings loom large and small, bringing a sense of personality and protection to the place. According to Mr. Roger Cooper, the garden’s eponymous owner, the creature quality is intentional and meaningful. The plants are characters in vast series of tales that represent his personal story; they are its guards and its narrators. As a collection, the garden reads like a botanical diary, a living memorial to his life’s experiences.
Born out of nostalgia for a traditional sunken English garden and a love of golf and lawn bowls, the garden’s roots like those of Cooper, are a bit British. Indeed it maintains a generally balanced symmetrical rhythm, features fountains, mixed borders, and an eclectic assortment of garden rooms–from Alice and Wonderland to the Vineyards, or the Putting Green to the Dry River Bed. The devils, so they say, are in the details, driven by Cooper’s diversity of travel and the eccentricities of his life’s work: chemistry research, investment banking, anthropology, and theatre directing. They emerge in peculiar ways.
Take, for example, his representation of Quetzalcoatl. As a scholar of Mesoamerican anthropology and a former resident of Mexico, Cooper became very familiar with the omnipresent, Mayan deity. It was, according to Cooper, “part of the fiber” of Mexican mythology, symbolically featured everywhere on architecture, textiles, and in art. By fashioning a pair of “plumed serpents” out of topiaried yellow cedars and sinuous bodies of ornamental grass, Cooper superimposed the abstracted concept upon the greener backdrop of Arlington, Vermont. In addition to creating this tribute to Quetzalcoatl, Cooper commemorated his work in Mexico and established two needed “guards” for his otherwise lonely gazebo
In honor of another Mesoamerican myth, Cooper assembled the three hearthstones of Maya. Understood ritualistically as the foundation of creation, the triad of “planted” stones is symbolically surrounded by fire and arranged to hold a figurative griddle of frying corn. In Cooper’s version, the stones are bounded by red annual flowers to simulate flames. An auspicious planting of Wolf ’s Eye dogwood (Cornus kousa ‘Wolf ’s Eyes’) keeps a close watch over the precious installation.
While the greater garden writhes with complicated allegories like these, some of its bestial features are more straightforward. The Saguaro cactus topiary serves to remind Cooper of his grandchildren’s Arizona birthplace. A pruned forsythia, in the shape of a kiwi bird stands before a curtain of hardy kiwifruit vines (Actinidia arguta). Cooper has selected Princess spireas (Spirea japonica ‘Little Princess’) to offer a dignified regality to every entrance and has chosen massive, hunch-backed weeping larches (Larix decidua ‘Pendula’) to serve as intimidating sentries over the main gate. The gate itself, a decidedly inorganic feature of the garden, has certain relevance to the concept. The winding strands of its archway illustrate DNA’s double helix, and the radiating stones within the lawn are depictive of the sun. The overarching theme of the garden, Cooper will tell you, is “life” itself.
The Garden Conservancy is a member supported, nonprofit dedicated to the continued conservation of outstanding American gardens. It strives to make them more accessible to the public, assist with needed rehabilitation, and facilitate conservation. Since 1995, the Conservancy has been hosting an Open Days program that organizes private garden tours across the country, including Southern Vermont. This is a volunteer-run, admission-based program ($7) that is open to the public. For more information on the Conservancy or the Open Days directory, go to www.gardenconservancy.org.
Garden Club of Manchester
Gathering since 1920, the Garden Club of Manchester is the first official garden club in the state of Vermont. With a mission to “stimulate interest in gardens and flowers; preservation; civic beautification and education through programs,” its members design and care for public container gardens, maintain town greens, create and gift holiday wreaths, and even clean up roadside rubbish. The club also hosts garden tours and lectures and offers scholarships to local seniors pursuing study in horticulture or related fields. Members meet monthly. For more information or to contact co-presidents Carol Munson or Becky Burke, go to www.gardenclubofmanchester.com.