Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Our sunken garden

Our secret, sunken, four-seasons garden is a magical little spot to be in any time of year. We've spent many a lazy summer evening out there, sipping wine or having a bite to eat, and when darkness falls we watch the fireflies dance in the night sky, or watch the bats diving for bugs. On summer mornings this is a great place for a cuppa while listening to the the delightful trickle of the palazzo fountain or singing birds. Autumn is upon us now and it's a perfect time to be down in there, bundled in a sweater or a blanket, while flocks of squawking geese fly overhead. A magical time to experience the garden is after a snowfall in winter, with a warm fire pit burning and a thermos of hot cocoa spiked with Baileys Irish Creme. Every spring we pop champagne on a sunny day in April when we start up the fountain for the season—read more about that here.

Building the sunken garden was basically a very long "weekend" project. The entire job took us a couple of summers of random weekends and a sprinkling of vacation weeks to finish. This included achy muscles, the occasional pinched finger, blood, sweat, tears and our good friend, Advil. Oh and stones... pallets of Pennsylvania field stones, tons of pea gravel, truckloads of cobblestones, and and you don't even want to know how many arborvitae shrubs we planted. Hopefully the garden will feel more secret as the shrubs become bigger and bigger. 

The stone steps that lead down into the garden—flanked at the top by two antique limestone columns from the old Bartlett Estate in Beverly, MA—have cascading woolly thyme planted in the nooks and crannies, which is especially lovely when in bloom. The "four seasons" part of the sunken garden (quattro staggioni in Italianwas inspired by gardens we've visited in Italy and France. We revisited one such garden recently on the sunny isle of Capri. We planted four cobblestone-edged quandrants with pachysandra and boxwood, and we found our four seasons statues—made in cast iron—at an antique store in nearby Ipswich. 

Hidden benches and arborvitae lined pea gravel pathways lead you around the top perimeter of the garden. We joked that we made the paths wide enough for two walkers or wheelchairs to fit in for years from now, when we are old and need help walking. The back entrance has a custom made teak moon gate, which leads in to a Japanese maple grove. The pea gravel paths are lined with very old cobblestones that came from the old Beverly Salem Bridge. Apparently George Washington crossed this bridge in 1789, so we like to brag about having historical cobblestones—some worn smooth as marble—in our garden. We got the cobbles free from a landscaper friend who worked on the B/S bridge job. We hired some pros do about 18 inches of the top wall (where it's double sided) and they also did the cobblestone capstones, but we can proudly say that we did everything else. Dream big, and just do it! 

Excerpt from GeorgeWashington's diary

Below are some more photos of the sunken garden.

photos, Dan Ryan

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