Explore a Litchfield Property Rooted in its Past

Glenn Hillman reinterprets and restores his garden.
Hillman Yard Fence

In the formal garden, Hillman echoes the shades of lilac in the beauty bush, ‘Palibin’ lilac and rhododendron, while contrasting them with creamy chartreuse of chamaecyparis and boxwood sprigs. The fencing and gates are from Walpole Woodworkers. Photography by Kindra Clineff

Glenn Hillman’s fascination for the past comes as no surprise. After all, his family bought one of the classic white Colonial Revivals in Litchfield center back in 1993. Even before moving to Litchfield, Hillman cut his teeth on a steady diet of Colonial Williamsburg, Old Sturbridge Village and all things historic. But his superpower is that he did not just explore the facades and interiors of our forefathers when forging his love for the past. He also focused on the scenery outside.

Hillman Landscaping

In the herb garden, boxwoods form structure beside topiary ‘Palibin’ lilacs. Photography by Kindra Clineff

Trained in architectural history, Hillman is one of the few garden designers who really knows the past and strives to produce a garden that fits hand-in-glove with its era. Now, he designs sensitive gardens that sing with their vernacular for clients, but it began with his own landscape. If the whole scene inside and outside his Litchfield home feels like time travel into history, he figures that he has totally succeeded.

Hillman Fish Pond

Hillman followed the pattern of the original Colonial Revival garden, adding a spring-blooming alpine terrace, changing the configuration of the fish pond, and including a new boxwood and urn focal point. Photography by Kindra Clineff

When Hillman came to the sprawling gambrel-roofed colonial and its two acres, he had only a few remaining rickety fences plus the vestiges of some perennial borders to guide his way. There was a tidy pond that he loved, but also an oversized terrace and swimming pool that had to go. With reverence for what he was given and yearning to make it into a totally suffused scene punctuated by the best of the past, he spun some majorly impressive magic.

Basically, if Thomas Jefferson landed on Hillman’s property with its Sturbridge-inspired glorified toolshed accessed through a promenade of ornamental fruit trees, its blowsy herb garden entered through weighted gates, and its tunnels of august trees and shrubs, he would feel perfectly at home. Absolutely, it’s all been reinterpreted and restored. Recent understandings have been applied with the adoption of native plants wherever appropriate and new cultivars if they prove to be riveting improvements, but Hillman specializes in retaining a sense of history. The vernacular is primo.

The line that Hillman walks is a tricky balance. On one hand, structure is paramount. That remaining rickety fence provided a template for craftsmen to restore a sturdy new version and imbue the garden with a sense of the original place complete with repros of the original finials on the gateposts. Hillman added arbors plus a network of pathways promenading through the series of experiences. He staged grade changes from space to space. There’s nothing like descending into a sunken garden to provide a heady experience you won’t soon forget.


Beyond the hardscape, he went deeply botanical, seeking appropriate plants to cement the retrospective essence. Essentially, Hillman is a plantsman—and that’s a rare attribute coupled with a designer. Every plant is carefully sought and then trialed for its traits. And in that capacity, the property serves as a testing ground before Hillman recommends a plant palette to clients. Knowing that catalog photos are not always accurate and plants can disappoint pitted against Litchfield’s challenging microclimate, Hillman can select perennials of the right hue and hardiness for clients. “It’s a constant process of evaluation,” he admits of his trials. Many plants fail the rigorous tests. Many plants succeed with flying colors.

Hillman And Son Gardening

The whole family shares in the joy of gardening. Photography by Kindra Clineff

Hillman’s vision has a lot to do with color. If everything feels wonderfully soothing and simpatico around his home, that’s due to the repetition of hues flowing throughout the scene. “Multiples tie everything together structurally,” he explains. His training as a fine artist translates into deftly perceived color echoes. Continuity comes when the ‘Palibin’ lilac orbs read off the blossoming chives and the further rhododendron. Under a lesser-trained eye, that could easily turn sour. But Hillman knows his hues.

“All my pinks have blue tones in them,” points out this artist fully conversant with color. Similarly, variegation could easily overwhelm, but not when carefully placed. And when chartreuse is bounced around between upright shrubs and creeping herbs, the eye is delighted.

The result provides an experience. Between the textural dialogue between clipped boxwood and the wispy mounds of perennial herbs against the sylvan backdrop of mature trees, you are wrapped in a retrospective encounter. Move over, Jane Austen. This is one instance when yesterday feels quintessentially current.

The print version of this article appeared with the headline: Deep Roots.