Outdoor Spaces Abound in Fairfield

In loving hands, a lush wonderland compound emerges over three decades.
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A magenta purple poppy in full bloom. Photography by Nancy Elizabeth Hill.

Couples don’t always first agree on where to live, but when they do settle, they learn to love it together. Such was the case with Chris Lennon and his late husband, Peter Stephens, when they came upon a property, some 30 years ago, for sale in Fairfield. “The day I first passed the property, with its old ramshackle house, I said, ‘No reason to live there,’” says Lennon, who with Stephens ran, until recently, Elegant Effects, a well-known venue for creating floral designs for weddings and other events. “Then one day, while riding around the area with Peter, he saw the property from the road and immediately said, ‘I want that!’ You see, Peter’s all about designing, fixing, creating things. He loved to have his fingers in stuff. That was Peter.”

When the couple purchased the property, Lennon describes the grounds as “not having a single plant, except for one euonymus tree, which still exists.” Everything that now grows, flowers and flourishes on the three-acre plot was planted, mostly by Stephens. In what is referred to by Lennon as the back garden, the couple created a grid of planted areas protected from deer with wire fencing. There, herbs, sunflowers and vegetables flourish, while another area features squash beds and dahlias.

“There’s a lot going on back there,” Lennon emphasizes, including “peonies that run along a slate walkway. The peonies bloom in June, and when it rains or if they’re hit with a sprinkler, they bend all the way over. But you can shake out the water, and they’ll just bounce back. Then you get a whiff of their fragrance.”

Within the small expanse of land, Stephens and Lennon created a series of outdoor rooms, each with a distinct function and mood. There are also several small buildings, apart from their four-bedroom home. A storage barn-house, dating to 1920, was reconstructed and reinforced by the couple. “That structure was used as a storage garden and conservatory in the winter, and it remained a safe place for plants during the summer and any season,” explains Lennon.

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Henry, one of the miniature horses, was always eager for a petting. Photography by Nancy Elizabeth Hill

Yet another building served for years as a horse barn, with its residents including miniature horses, notably Henry, who lived to the ripe equine age of 35. A classic louvered steeple, topped with a rooster weathervane, looms over the property. An adjacent chicken coop provided a daily supply of fresh eggs, many of which, Lennon says, were given to neighbors. For their work studio, where they created many of the elaborate and, true to its name, elegant floral displays for their clients, the couple converted a two-car garage.

Wherever the land allowed, the couple created actual outdoor living spaces, where they entertained and dined together. A slate patio made of stone from the property was set in a shady spot between the house and work studio, complete with a koi pond. “The gardens are loaded with birds, and they wash themselves in the pond and other fountains we put up,” Lennon says. Indeed, there’s a whole ecosystem in place, with the chickens digging up the worms, which feed the birds, who drink from the water and gather at the bottom of the property at the Mill River.

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Photography by Nancy Elizabeth Hill

“When we first acquired the property, we didn’t even know exactly what we had,” notes Lennon. “We went exploring, and after going through tall grass, came to the banks of the river.”

Over the years, the plantings took root. They include a towering Japanese maple that provides a burst of red in season, bright orange Clivia blooms, broad expanses of green hosta leaves, orbs of purple allium, fragrant peonies, towering sunflowers and well-tailored (and behaved) boxwoods fixed in planters throughout.

Kim McKessy, who worked with and for the couple for some 15 years, refers to the garden as a “sacred space.” She adds, “Everything that Peter planted and laid and stocked—from pea gravel to the koi pond to the lawn and flowers—made for a sensory wonderland. It’s as if the plants realized Peter’s energy. Sunflowers, for instance, would grow taller than you’d ever seen. Every plant loved being in that garden.”

The print version of this article appears with the headline: Green With Elegance.