Traditional Building Portfolio
Palladio Awards

Project:The Gardens at Gitanjali, New Canaan, CT

Landscape Designer: Wadia Associates, New Canaan, CT; Dinyar Wadia, principal; Alastair Gunn, consultant

 

 

Awards
Exterior Spaces – Gardens & Landscapes

Winner: Wadia Associates

Natural Wonder

By Annabel Hsin

A Japanese maple tree along with fiery orange and red tulips, bright green hostas, irises and amsonia all border boulders on either side of a streaming brook. A restored birdhouse marks the entrance of a newly created woodland walk adorned with fragrant azaleas, jack-in-the-pulpits, Himalayan lilies and Japanese lilacs and surrounded by grand old trees. An English border across from the dining loggia draws the eye further into an herb garden with espaliered pear trees, potted herbs and a moss-covered herringbone brick path. This combination of elements creates a tranquil oasis at the New Canaan, CT, English Cottage home of Gool and Dinyar Wadia. As the principal of New Canaan-based Wadia Associates, Wadia decided to take on the challenge of designing his own garden.

The Wadia home, named Gitanjali (after an Indian poem), sits in the middle of a 10-acre plot and every room has a unique garden view. The 5,500-sq.ft. house was built in 1760 as a barn and was converted into a guest house in 1860. The main house was torn down and the guest house and its gardens suffered years of neglect. The mature plantings of the original owners were covered in poison oak and ivy. "There was no garden and the house was falling apart," says Wadia. "What appealed to me were the large trees and also the property had a tranquil feeling to it." Indeed, the house is surrounded by beech trees, magnolias, oaks, cedars, hickories, white pines and a 200-year-old ash tree. Wadia opted to restore and add to the house rather than tear it down. "The location of the house was perfect," says Wadia, "and it had nice underpinnings." The trees dictated the extent of the addition. A 100-year-old viburnum standing near the south side of the house prevented the new kitchen and breakfast room from extending further out. The garden is composed of several smaller gardens: the brook garden, a woodland walk, an English border, the herb garden and a peony garden.

"Our aim was to create a garden that was sympathetic to the Arts and Crafts style," says Wadia. The house reminded him of those found in old English villages, such as Thaxted and Chipping Camden, where most of the homes are adorned with informal gardens. Since the house is in the English Cottage style, Wadia decided that an informal garden was suitable. "Most of it is really a loose informal garden – I would say 90 percent of it," he says. "A ‘boxwalk' connects the back of the house to the recently restored teahouse; this is the only slightly formal portion of the garden because of the defining edge of the boxwoods."

The teahouse acts as the focal point at the end of the boxwalk, drawing the eye from the living-room French doors. The boxwoods on either side of the formal path leading to the teahouse were part of the property and were carefully nurtured back to health. In between the boxwoods, Wadia experimented with different plant species, which didn't grow. "Finally, we tried an ‘Endless Summer' hydrangea," he says. "The flowers bloom on new wood instead of old wood, so even if the old wood dies we can still enjoy beautiful blossoms."

Like the house, the teahouse foundation was in great shape. A new Vermont-slate roof was installed on top of the existing roof; a 3/4-in.-thick slate was used instead of the more common 3/8-in.-thick slate. All the metal doors and windows were refurbished with the exception of the main door, which was still in good condition. The fireplace was replaced and the surrounding wall was paneled in wood; the remaining walls were covered in stucco and a new bluestone floor was laid.

Next to the teahouse, on the south side, is the entrance to the newly created woodland walk. Wadia restored the existing birdhouse at the entrance of the walk. A winding grassy path leads to a large magnolia, a paperbark maple, redbud, stewartia and a pink dogwood. Tucked between the trees are jack-in-the-pulpits, Japanese lilacs and azaleas.

"The most interesting part of our garden is actually the brook garden," says Wadia. The brook was once a drainage ditch located on the northeast side of the house that directed rainwater and subsurface water from the meadow to the nearby Five Mile River. It was part of wetlands flagged by the Environmental Commission. "It was awful looking," says Wadia. "The choices were to leave it the way it was or, with a special license, do a wetlands enhancement plan to make it look like a brook garden." After doing some research on brook gardens, Wadia decided it was the best solution. "We dug the trench wider and boulders were strategically placed," he says. "Luckily we have natural water flowing into our property for most of the year, but it dries up in July and August. During the dry season, our wetlands-loving plants rely on our backup pump, which keeps the water flowing." Plants that bloom during different seasons are tucked between the boulders to give the brook a lively look year round. In the spring, a large patch of daffodils and tulips bloom under a Japanese maple tree. Planted on either side of the brook are purple irises, maroon maiden grass, bright green hostas and amsonia.

Toward the center of the brook are two stone footbridges. "We used stones that came up during construction for the bridges," says Wadia. "It's one large piece of stone for both and they're different. There's no reason to make them the same – they're different in texture, size and color. You can actually stand on the bridge and appreciate the water cascading down, which you can't do from the side."

At the southeast corner of the house, a dining porch overlooks the English border. "This is where we spend our lives as soon as the spring arrives," says Wadia. The border is inspired by the ones found at Wisley Garden, the flagship garden of the Royal Horticultural Society in England and one of Wadia's favorite destinations in the UK. Plants that suited Wadia's taste were selected with the guidance of David Jewell, the RHS Wisley Floral Superintendent, and garden consultant Alastair Gunn. The English border is decked with purple fountain grass, sunflowers, cannas of assorted colors and bright orange ornamental ginger, all set against a deep-green backdrop of leafy plants and trees.

The kitchen and breakfast room in the new addition are positioned to overlook the herb garden and English border. The herb garden went through a number of changes before it satisfied Wadia. It started out as a rose garden with its original owners; by the time Wadia purchased the property the garden was infested with diseased roses. Since his wife loves to garden and cook, they replaced the roses with herbs. Wadia decided to plant a thyme lawn in front of the house facing south. "Since a thyme lawn requires gritty soil, we had to remove the topsoil and replace it with gravel," says Wadia. "The thyme looked beautiful early in the spring and had a nice fragrance when we walked on it, but after a couple of months it just looked dowdy for the rest of the year." After a couple of years Wadia removed the thyme lawn and replaced it with espaliered pear trees; not only do they provide color in the early spring, they also produce fruit for the rest of the season. Along with the pear trees, assorted annuals are planted in the spring to provide a different view every year.

To satisfy his wife's passion for peonies, Wadia designated a section on the southeast side near the pool for the peony garden. The peonies were initially grown along the border that surrounds the property. "When each one blooms by itself it doesn't have the impact of all of them blooming together, so two years ago we decided to pull all the peonies out of the borders and plant a separate peony garden," says Wadia. The separate garden tucked towards the edge of the property suits the peonies' short blossoming period and delicate flowers. "That way you can go admire it when they are blooming and when they are done you can forget about that part of the garden until next year," says Wadia.

For the first two years of the garden construction, Wadia worked with a local landscaping company. Although he was satisfied with the company's work for the initial stages of the project, he disagreed with the plant choices the company made for the landscape design. "We started out with pastel shades, light creams, white and light peaches, but because our house is a cream-colored stucco everything got lost," says Wadia. "Their plant choices were flat – we needed color." To offset the cream-colored house, Wadia favors vivid green leafy plants that provide a bold background for the vibrant-colored blossoms. The only white blossom plant that remains is the 80-year-old climbing hydrangea on the entrance façade that was meticulously preserved by Wadia. "I used special scaffolding and tied the hydrangea to the scaffold to enable the work that was going on – the stucco work on the front of the house – and then I had the hydrangea tied back to the house," says Wadia. "It has a very deep green background so the white blossoms stand out supremely."

While achieving the right color scheme through plants can be a challenge, the maintenance of the existing plants is even more difficult. One of the two ash trees in the back of the house died two years ago due to old age. Wadia also lost several large pine trees during the winter that same year. "They got hit by lightning – pines are very susceptible," says Wadia. To replace the trees, Wadia planted new cut-leaf beech trees. Along the stone walls within the property there were clematises that died unexpectedly. "We've tried two or three clematises since and nothing has the sparkle, the vibrant color or the sizes of flowers of the former clematis," says Wadia, "so this year we're going to try something else."

The swimming pool and pool house will be the last steps of the garden construction and they are currently underway. With their completion, Wadia and his family will be able to enjoy the completed garden and the tranquility it provides. "We'll break out the champagne when it's done," says Wadia. Nonetheless, the garden planting process will be an ongoing trial-and-error routine that Wadia and his wife will enjoy for years to come.  

 

 

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