Traditional Gardens for a Historic House

Uncultivated land around an 18th-century farmhouse slowly became a series of garden rooms, formal but not overly structured.

An overhead view of the main room in the Potager Garden, bordered by hedges and a stone wall, shows its pleasing geometry.

Robb nestor and Bill Reynolds looked at over 200 houses before buying a 1732 center-chimney Colonial, on 11 uncultivated acres in Connecticut. “I desperately wanted a ‘garden room’ so we kept looking for a house with one, then realized we’d have to create it ourselves,” Robb says. “When we found the property, we knew this was it. It spoke to us; we saw its potential.”

In the Potager Garden, apple trees are espaliered on the stone wall.

When they began their search for a retirement home, the couple were living in Atlanta, where Robb had a successful landscape-design business. Initially they looked in Georgia and Tennessee—until Bill stumbled across the book The Garden Room: Bringing Nature Indoors, by Timothy Mawson. The book showcases many Connecticut scenes. The couple found those so appealing, they headed north, to Robb’s home state, looking for locations from the book. “That book brought us to Connecticut and to our house,” Bill says.

The front Terrace Garden has catnip, St. John’s Wort, Verbascum, Japanese aster, and Baptisia. Stone steps lead to a birch allée and to The Temple (not shown), a place for intimate dinners.

Over a three-year period, the two shuttled from Georgia to Connecticut on weekends, each time packing a 26-foot truck with plant materials, garden ornaments, and interior furnishings. “It was 16-hour drive back and forth but the advantage was we had that time to talk about the garden,” Bill says.

Outbuildings were designed by owner Bill Reynolds. The old house is seen in the background.

“And seeing the place with fresh eyes every time we returned helped us with the full picture—what we wanted, what was working and what wasn’t,” Robb adds.

This view takes in the Pool Garden and the colonnaded Potting Shed, which houses tools and supplies and where succulents and tropicals go for the winter. The wood gate beyond leads to The Temple, which is used seasonally.

The vision for the garden, which now flows seamlessly from one space into the next across three cultivated acres, began with the Perennial Garden. They placed a fountain in the middle as the focal point because the house overlooks this swath of land. The rest of the gardens evolved around it. “We wanted something a little dressy there. After that, everything else fell into place,” Robb says.

Strong geometry and ornamental cabbages distinguish the second room of the formal Potager Garden.

The couple didn’t adhere to a fixed garden plan. Instead, they allowed the garden to develop organically and creatively. Still, throughout the process, they were careful that the formal structure wouldn’t overpower the simplicity of the old farmhouse.

The two-room Potager Garden is beyond a stone wall with the main garden gate.

“We didn’t line everything up. We didn’t want it all on an axis,” says Robb. “Eventually, we added onto the Garden House and made a Citrus Garden. Then, to balance it out, we added the White Garden, ending up with another linear connection.”

The Citrus Terrace in a small courtyard next to the Garden House. Citrus and fig plants are stored inside for
the winter.

Bill is a self-professed “frustrated architect” and lover of interior design. When he was designing outbuildings including The Temple, a seasonal, neoclassical outbuilding for intimate gatherings, he adhered to the same principles they’d applied to the garden. The building is classical in style but not too structured, keeping it in harmony with the surroundings.

Left: A rose-covered archway leads towards the Perennial Garden, which is centered on a fountain.  Right: A sweet Garden House in the Perennial Garden is a place for recording the seasons in garden journals

The couple spend many dedicated and delightful hours tending and nurturing their garden, and claim they are obsessed with it. Bill, who grew up in Georgia enjoying his grandparents’ garden, views “maintenance” as a passion rather than a chore. He values having a creative outlet. “I met Robb when I was in the restaurant business,” Bill recalls. “We had a greenhouse at one of our restaurants and Robb tended the plants there—so plants brought us together.”

Tools, vases, and more used in the Potager Garden are stored in the Potager Mudroom.

For Robb, joy comes from designing but also from experiencing the garden’s changing look. “There’s satisfaction when you do your job well and can sit back and appreciate it. Like being a writer or a painter,” he says.

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