In March of 2019 a good friend of mine reached out to me to see if I would be interested in helping her design a" little garden" around a greenhouse that she was building on her property. She had been to my garden several times and knew I would be interested in building and creating this garden. I love garden design and the impact a good design can have on the overall experience is critical.
Without much hesitation I said yes. (Without knowing exactly what I was getting myself into!) I suggested she send me a few pictures of what she had in mind so I could get some thoughts together before I did a site visit.
She sent me photos of very formal boxwood gardens with crushed stone pathways, beautiful plantings casading out of antique urns, Putti running madly about and splashing fountains and cascades fit for a Sun King. This was not a "little garden" around a greenhouse, but I knew that creating the Orangerie at Versailles was not going to be on budget! I love a good challenge and my mind was already fast at work.
The day of the site visit was freezing cold, and the last snow of the year was blanketing the ground. The area where the greenhouse was to be sited was on a sloping piece of land adjacent to a walled vegetable garden. Even under the cover of Spring snow I knew we would have to do some serious digging to get an area where the greenhouse could sit properly.
The next morning I woke at 6am, made coffee, sat down at the kitchen island and started roughing out a few ideas.
Since this was going to be a more formal space than the rest of the surrounding landscape, I decided that I would have to define the space and create a framework for the garden and greenhouse to sit in.
Placing the back of the greenhouse along the walled vegetable garden allowed us to use the existing stone garden wall as a backdrop. Once the greenhouse was sited we then drew out a square around it that measured 40 feet by 40 feet.
The use of low stone retaining walls 3 feet high would create the frame and help establish a flat area on the slope.
Inside the frame around the greenhouse would be long planted beds lined with boxwood, small river rock stones would be used for the pathways, a small fountain would give the garden movement and sound, and two small well trimmed apple trees would anchor the corners of the entrance to the garden.
As soon as the earth was soft enough the excavation of the site began.
one side of the slope was dug away and the area was made level.
There was no turning back now!
The old white picket fence that ran along the top of the vegetable garden wall was replaced with solid panels and painted a very dark green.
The next decisions to be made were on the planting materials. There were a few requirements. The garden needed to be in flower all summer and easy to maintain. The glass of the greenhouse went to the ground therefore we needed some type of planting to hide the mess on the greenhouse floor.
We chose white vinca for the planting beds as these bloom until frost and are drought resistant. For the beds in front of the greenhouse we chose peonies, the dark green foliage would screen the greenhouse floor. Along the back wall we selected climbing hydrangeas that would eventually become a soft green backdrop.
On either side of the greenhouse we needed an accent piece to give the area some structure and height. We were lucky enough to find two very tall and large antique urns that worked perfectly in the space. These would be filled with grey, white and blue flowering plants. At the same time we came across four very beautiful antique iron chairs that were the perfect scale for the garden. We placed them in pairs on either side of the entrance with blue and white garden stools as side tables.
The fountain needed to be simple as not to overwhelm space but big enough to have a presence. A low square fountain with a 5 foot oblek was chosen and was softened with 4 small boxwoods planted on the corners.
After two months of planning, digging, stone work, electrical work, fencing, and painting, we were ready for the tons of river stones for the pathways and hundreds of boxwoods to form the beds. Two perfectly matched apple trees were selected for the entrance and the beds were finally planted. By mid June the "little garden" around the greenhouse was finished.
I will always be very grateful to my friend for entrusting me with this project. While we did not recreate Versailles, I think we came up with a solution that was simple, beautiful, timeless and appropriate for the landscape.