The Style, Inspiration and Life of Oscar de la Renta

A view of the gardens at Oscar and Annette de la Rentas' Connecticut house

Tell me about how your passion for gardening began.

Though I have loved nature since my childhood, I never thought—perhaps because I have always lived in cities—that one day I would have a garden of my own. When Françoise and I arrived at Brook Hill Farm, neither of the previous owners had thought of making a garden, probably because of the natural physical beauty of the place. But I started thinking about it, and I had the idea of inviting the great gardener Russell Page to come and visit for the weekend. At that time, Françoise and I had an apartment on East Seventieth Street, overlooking the Frick Museum, and I’d watched Russell creating the garden there. So I took him around our property, and when we came to the terrace, I was totally dismayed when he told me, “You will never have a garden here because a garden is a room, and to have a room you need walls, and you have none,” he said. “The eye stops at the horizon—the only thing you can do here is add more trees to frame the view.” A few weeks before his visit I’d bought a book from the White Flower Farm and had been preparing and planting a herbaceous border in a half-moon shape. I was excited, anticipating Russell’s reaction—but in the most polite but icy manner, he looked down at it as we passed by and asked, “What is that?” I was so utterly embarrassed, I said it was there when I bought the house! After that, Russell made a plan for me. From that visit on, I have built nothing but walls!

The Style, Inspiration and Life of Oscar de la RentaCan you explain the concept of your garden “rooms”?

First, I planted a wall of yew around our pool; this eventually became our very first “room,” where I have only late-blooming white flowers. The second room is what used to be a parking area, and the third—my favorite—is what I call my “secret garden.” It was originally intended as a rose garden and was built in a space 50 feet by 50 feet and divided into four planting areas by a brick path. It’s a paradise.

But gardening is more than a horticultural exercise. Do you and Annette find a deeper dimension in it?

A garden is probably the most pure and spiritual of joys—a communion with nature and beauty in their most simple and fundamental forms. It is an experience that needs to be lived at every instant. In a garden, one cannot reflect on something bad. What is truly wonderful is that it teaches you a lesson about life’s continuity. In a sense, a garden is a fragile vision that can quickly disappear out of neglect, but with constant work and tender love, it can preserve beauty forever.

Reprinted from The Style, Inspiration, and Life of Oscar de la Renta. Copyright (c) 2014. Published by Assouline.  

 

A version of this article appeared in the May 2014 issue of Connecticut Cottages & Gardens with the headline: A Well-Tailored Garden.