Jane Ellsworth’s Garden is an Ode to English Country Style

Jane Ellsworth Garden Darien BlueIf you’re a hard-core garden Anglophile and a sucker for the tumbling cacophony of lush mixed borders barely contained within a tidy pattern of low, clipped box, then this is the garden for you. Many designed gardens are planted to impress—with the latest and hardiest varieties, the most obedient and reliable of cultivars, the crispest of hardscapes. Those gardens can be beautiful, and they do weather the storms. But they sometimes lack je ne sais quoi… maybe it’s a sense of ease. Maybe it feels like they try too hard. That’s certainly not the case in interior designer Jane Ellsworth’s garden.

Ellsworth has the breezy confidence of a seasoned traveler and the subtle eye of a true artist (at one time, she studied watercolor painting). What Ellsworth loves—in her interiors and in the garden—is the exuberance of British country style. The look is classic, but idiosyncratic; tailored, but tousled. It’s something she soaked up as a child on trips abroad with her parents. And it’s a sensibility she has made her own, particularly here at her home in southwestern Connecticut. 

Eleven years ago, Ellsworth and her husband decamped from Greenwich to a 1940s brick Georgian house set in seven spectacular acres in Darien. The garden’s foundation was there, she recollects, with the box parterre borders and three grand copper beech trees.

“We knew we wanted to make some changes,” Ellsworth says, so they threw out the standard roses and hauled in perennials from her former home: echinops, hollyhocks, iris and tree peonies. And lots of lilies. “They’re my husband’s favorite; they add a fragrant sensuality to the garden,” she notes.

For all the abundance in the flowerbeds, there is real restraint to the details. Much to Ellsworth’s credit, what worked from the 1940s was appreciated and left intact. The hardscaping, for example, is not over-done. A major path through the garden remains simple white pea gravel. By allowing these traces of the garden’s past to remain, the property feels comfortable and stable—like a beloved family estate. An eccentric witch on a broomstick weather vane that came with the property has become a signature element, an unexpected bit of whimsy that adds greatly to the overall charm.

But not everything stayed. Dark taxis hedges surrounding the pool were removed. Now that area is opened up and sunny—a great opportunity for planting in containers. “We made it clean,” says Ellsworth. “You have to have restraint.” Elegant pots are dotted throughout the landscape. Matched pairs flank the porte cochere as well as on either side of the doors leading out to the pool.

Masses of blue hydrangeas are a nod to the couple’s Nantucket property. Favored in the borders are flowers in whites, blues and pinks, with accents of orange and yellow. White lilac shrubs do triple duty; they were planted for shape, size and fragrance. “Scale is so important,” Ellsworth notes. Areas at the front of the house are monochromatic in simple green with a variety of textures—all the better foil for showing off guests’ dresses at the couple’s cocktail parties. 

The season begins with a sea of tulips, which Ellsworth plants annually in different color combinations. “I cherish that moment when the tree peonies start to bloom,” says Ellsworth. “It’s then I know spring really is here; I can’t wait to create bouquets and arrangements for all around the house.”

The garden is Ellsworth’s canvas. Helping with the task is her brilliant gardener John King. “John and I spend hours moving plants around, shifting perennials to suit our eye,” notes Ellsworth. Dark-leaved roses add depth; white fairy candles provide texture. Annuals are then liberally sprinkled in. Under Ellsworth’s eye, they all gracefully combine to create a timeless feeling of happy, blousy abundance. 

A version of this article appeared in the May 2015 issue of Connecticut Cottages & Gardens with the headline: British by Design