Tour an Outdoor Oasis with Remarkable Landscape Designs

The property features a sugar maple tree that is over a century old.
outdoor stone patio with awning

Photography by Caryn B. Davis

A fertile ground is often backed by a fertile mind. Dedicated gardeners know that just as their garden continues to grow, so too, do their ideas for improving it. When East Lyme–based landscape designer Drew Kenny of Outdoor Lifestyles meets with his client at her property along the Connecticut River in Lyme, the two are filled with ideas for new plantings and ways to furnish the outdoor rooms on the 10-acre site.

More than 10 years ago, Kenny began working on the property when he designed the pool and pool house that he and the homeowner dubbed the “Birdhouse.” “We immediately developed a good working relationship,” says Kenny, “and we started planning for everything from timbers to stones to terracing.” Since then, he and the homeowner have managed to both tame nature and allow it to run wild.

As Kenny describes his work on the land, “The further away from the house you get, the more pastoral and wooded the site becomes, while closer to the house, the more refined become the plantings, landscaping and hardscaping.” Indeed, on a clearing out by the river, a meadow has been left to grow and flourish along the bank, while steps away from the main rooms in the 1748 home, well-furnished outdoor spaces replicate the same care shown throughout the home’s interiors.

“While we work very closely together on the outdoor elements, the homeowner makes all the furniture choices,” Kenny stresses. “We take the best ideas of each other. She knows what she likes, I know her style, she has an exceptional eye, and, so, it becomes very much a collaboration. And for a designer, collaboration is fun.”

Among the most striking outdoor rooms is a circular parterre, accessed via pea-stone pathways lined with low boxwood borders. The center area is defined by an antique English sundial, ringed with boxwood and an apron of ivy. One can then view the whole space from a bench beneath an arbor, thick in the season with wisteria.

In season, outdoor terraces meld indoor and outdoor life. A newly configured breakfast garden, outside the kitchen door, is equipped with a table and chairs, the furnishings positioned to capture morning sun. A dining terrace, shaded by a pergola with a striped awning, and ringed by boxwoods and rhododendron hedges and planters, has the feel of a sheltered room. Some of the outdoor areas Kenny designed can, indeed, be wholly occupied. For example, the Birdhouse, which serves as a casual indoor poolside dining area, as well as changing cabana. A cozy potting shed, topped with a steeped roof, lies at the end of a vegetable garden defined by latticed cedar fencing.

chairs overlooking the connecticut river

Photography by Caryn B. Davis

Since nature never takes a rest—certainly from growing—neither Kenny nor the homeowner seem content to accept that their work on any part of the land is finished. However, while planting areas are always being groomed or refurnished, a centuries-old sugar maple tree on the property remains untouched.“That tree,” Kenny notes, “is competing with another tree in Connecticut for the oldest sugar maple in the state. This one might be the champion.”

In choosing the shrubs, trees and flowers, Kenny seeks plantings with intriguing shapes that reinforce the function of the spaces in which they are placed. “We used potted plants and annuals to create colors and details for seasonal aspects and evergreens because they remain interesting for four seasons.” He emphasizes, too, “I don’t want anything in the garden to diminish the character of the house itself. There’s a lot of history in that house and on this property and it would be a shame to take anything away from that beauty and legacy.”

The print version of this article appears with the headline: A Patterned Advance.
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