A Family’s New Garden on Lake Waramaug Feels Timeless

The Lake Waramaug parcel was nearly perfect. It had the feeling of intimacy, a sense of privacy, waterfront siting, and the option for expansion. There was only one drawback—it had no real landscape. And a garden was important to this family relocating from an antique Litchfield County home blessed with abundant ambiance outdoors, yet also laden with more than its fair share of old house baggage. Not only did the family deeply need to feel grounded, but their goal was a garden that felt like it had inhabited the place forever. What they needed was a team of landscape designers able to deliver deep roots on demand.

For a landscape designer, a dream client utilizes an installation immediately and fully. So working on this six-acre Lake Waramaug property brought out the best in Darrell Cherniske of Kent Greenhouse & Gardens. While the house was being constructed by Alexander Antonelli Architect PLLC, work was already underway on the gardens. In fact, two landscape professionals were working simultaneously—landscape architect Ben Young was creating a pool surrounded by naturalistic plantings above the house, while Kent Greenhouse was planting below the house. The result was the fast track to an alluring configuration that brought the family instantly outdoors.

While work was underway, the family “camped out” and entertained in the renovated boathouse on the water. The boathouse offers only a sliver of land, but Kent Greenhouse made it immediately functional to begin the land/homeowner dialogue and nestle the family into their new venue. In that interlude, the big picture was being conceived. The flowing space lent itself to broad gestures and a natural syncopation as if it had grown up over time. “It was always our intent to create cohesiveness,” says Cherniske, “we wanted to enhance the land’s attributes rather than imposing a brand new design.”

Underground issues were the first order of business as drainage was addressed. Even so, plantings at the foot of the steep hill above Lake Waramaug needed to tolerate wet conditions. Ultimately, rapid-growing, tall, straight-stemmed ‘Green Giant’ arborvitae was the winning selection to create a deer-resistant screening hedge. With privacy in place, Cherniske added moisture-loving shrubs and trees such as clethra, dwarf purple Osier willow, shadblow, buckeye bottlebrush and river birch to ease into the lower landscape. All his selections fit the critical criterion of screening the road while revealing the lake view. From there, Cherniske assigned space flowing around the house for the family’s various activities, such as grilling, lounging, campfire moments, etc. Where possible, plant palettes and masonry features were preserved to underscore the integrity of the past. When necessary, crumbling retaining walls were rebuilt skillfully to feel as if they were the original version. And added perks were installed such as the vegetable/cutting garden tended by mother/daughter garden team Tara Kottman and Sierra Simpson of the Barefoot Gardeners to provide the fixings for meals and more. Filling the freezer with overflow was such a delight for his clients that Cherniske is inserting additional berries and fruit trees for more “fridge” benefits.

A sure sign of a win/win relationship comes when a client is motivated to expand the dialogue. With the acquisition of two adjacent parcels, land was seamlessly merged into the discourse to feel totally right. How did they manage to make it work? Basically, more of the same with an emphasis on natives that feel timeless. By massing and repeating plants, the swarms infer instant age—and that’s Cherniske’s smart little secret. The result works on all levels for a sense of yesterday and a commitment for tomorrow.

A version of this article appeared in the May 2019 issue of CTC&G (Connecticut Cottages & Gardens) with the headline: Roots with a View.