Field of vi­sion

In the gar­den around his en­ergy-ef­fi­cient home, ar­chi­tect Larry Wente has cre­ated a gar­den of lu­mi­nous grasses and na­tive plants that blends with the sur­round­ing farm­land

Gardens Illustrated Magazine - - Contents - WORDS TOVAH MARTIN PHO­TO­GRAPHS CLAIRE TAKACS

Strad­dling the bor­ders of New York and Con­necti­cut is an in­ven­tive gar­den that com­bines grasses and na­tive plants with great verve and style

When en­vi­ron­men­tal ar­chi­tect Larry Wente first saw the hill­top that is now his home, his view was partly ob­scured by tall stalks of corn and he had to fetch a steplad­der to get a good look. But even perched pre­car­i­ously atop a lad­der he could see that the site had po­ten­tial, of­fer­ing breath­tak­ing views over corn and al­falfa fields to the dis­tant Berk­shire Moun­tains.

Seven­teen years on the prop­erty – now, un­sur­pris­ingly called The Corn­field – feels an es­tab­lished part of this farm­ing area that strad­dles the bor­der of Con­necti­cut and New York State. At its cen­tre is an en­ergy-ef­fi­cient house, de­signed by Larry, that fea­tures a cool­ing tower, so­lar pan­els and a grey wa­ter sys­tem, which col­lects rain wa­ter for use in the house. It is also has eight doors with each one lead­ing out into a dif­fer­ent area of the gar­den. “Even when you’re in­side, you feel as though you’re out­doors,” says Larry. “I can’t stay in­side. I’m con­stantly pulled out into the gar­den.”

Larry de­signed the gar­den to work al­most as an ex­ten­sion to the house, with a struc­ture that is loosely based on the orig­i­nal corn­field. Its grid-like com­po­si­tion re­flects the blocks of crops typ­i­cal of farm fields. While the struc­tural lay­out of the gar­den was largely down to Larry, the plant­ing de­sign was very much a joint project between Larry and his late part­ner Jack Hy­land, fea­tur­ing many na­tive plants and or­na­men­tal grasses that blur the lines between cul­ti­vated gar­den and agri­cul­tural land.

Grasses have been a fea­ture of the gar­den from the start. Even while the house was in its ear­li­est stages of con­struc­tion, Larry and Jack planted ti­mothy grass, Ph­leum pratense, to hold the soil firm near the house in an area that has be­come a wild­flower meadow. To­day grasses fea­ture through­out the many ar­eas adding height and move­ment and in some ar­eas colour – with the Ja­pa­nese blood grass ( Im­per­ata cylin­drica ‘Rubra’) play­ing its role in the red-themed plant­ing beds. But de­spite the em­pha­sis on grasses and loose,

meadow-like plant­ing within the gar­den, there is no doubt this is a care­fully de­signed, well-struc­tured gar­den. When it was still in its plan­ning stages, Larry and Jack spent a lot of time vis­it­ing other gar­dens look­ing for ideas, and de­cided tra­di­tional gar­den styles were not for them. Al­though they could see that wide peren­nial bor­ders might hold drama, Larry and Jack pre­ferred gar­dens that of­fered plenty of changes of scene, ar­eas with suc­cinct themes that would be re­vealed around a bend or glimpsed through tall shrub­bery or a clipped hedges. The ar­eas they’ve cre­ated, which in­clude a for­mal rill gar­den, wooded walk and the to­tally un­ex­pected al­lée of so­lar pan­els, which in this eco-friendly gar­den is turned into an fea­ture in its own right, sur­rounded by plant­ings of rows of sun-lov­ing nepeta.

Orig­i­nally, the site had no trees but Larry has planted some to add strong ver­ti­cal el­e­ments through­out the gar­den and added a grove of pines, spruces and maples that will ul­ti­mately reach heights of 12-15m, on the edge of the prop­erty. They act as a wind­break to the strong winds that would oth­er­wise race through to the house. Those breezes are harnessed in the tall cool­ing tower, which has been clad in un­painted West­ern red cedar to re­flect lo­cal farm build­ings.

Be­yond the more cul­ti­vated ar­eas are or­chards and wild­flower meadows that help to smooth the tran­si­tion to the sur­round­ing fields that Larry now rents out to a lo­cal farmer. These meadows not only link the gar­den to sur­round­ing farm­land but serve as a re­minder of the gar­den’s own farm­land past. But this is a gar­den that could never be ac­cused of dwelling in the past. It’s a gar­den that has a for­ward-look­ing vi­sion – that sits com­fort­ably in its sur­round­ings and works with the sus­tain­able house it sur­rounds. “De­sign­ing some­thing sus­tain­able was al­ways in my DNA,” says Larry. “The gar­den was an ob­vi­ous ex­ten­sion of the house.”

USE­FUL IN­FOR­MA­TION Ad­dress 95 Tay­lor Road Miller­ton, NY 12546, USA. Email lwente@gwarch.com Open As part of the Gar­den Con­ser­vancy Open Days pro­gramme. Email for de­tails.

Right A path made from lo­cally sourced stone cuts through a meadow of Ver­bena bonar­ien­sis min­gling with Deschamp­sia ce­spi­tosa ‘Schot­t­land’ to one side and a stand of Sol­idago ru­gosa ‘Fire­works’ to the other. A pair of tall Thuja oc­ci­den­talis ‘De­g­root’s Spire’ mark the steps, shel­tered by box hedge and a dome-shaped crab ap­ple tree.

Right Orig­i­nally, this area close to the house was planted with ti­mothy grass, Ph­leum pratense, to hold the soil firm. It’s now be­come a wild­flower meadow made up of five dif­fer­ent va­ri­eties of Sol­idago, some grown from seed that blew in from nearby ar­eas. The Sol­idago at­tracts plenty of pol­li­na­tors and cre­ates a won­der­ful con­trast with the deep green of Larry’s house.

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