A Fashion Designer's Garden
by Mary Jasch
The serpentine drive at Linda Allard’s house in Washington, Connecticut, leaves you breathless as you reach your destination. The house, inspired by an Italian villa farmhouse, lays resplendent on a hilltop, comfortable in its surroundings of openness and sky - the perfect spot for playing with nature.
Through the gate to the right of the house, enter a world of green peace designed by Linda Allard, retired fashion designer/design director for Ellen Tracy.
The enclosed garden is formal, decked out in boxwood. It, too, has an Italian feeling emanating from its soft green texture and architectural look. Within these walls stress disappears and calmness washes over the visitor. The scent of box floats and the sound of water spills from a lion’s mouth in this stunning study in green.
Flowers bloom mostly white: roses and perennials. Boxwood edges beds of spring’s Thalia narcissus followed by summer’s white cosmos, and other beds of dianthus, miniature roses and umbrella-shaped white standard roses. Hosta, ivy, hydrangea, astilbe, roses, heuchera, peonies decorate the garden’s walls.
Grass paths, a perfect allee of yellow columnar crab apple, a sundial and boxed-in beds – perhaps it was here that the Queen of Hearts declared “Off with their heads!”
A central promenade of clematis- and rose-covered arbors and brilliant blue salvia ‘Victoriana’ separates the formal from the potager. Potager, according to Allard, is a combination of fruits, vegetables, and flowers. Hers are in European-inspired decorative beds.
This potager is a garden of everything: triangular parterres of blooming “The Fairy” rose and heliotrope, espaliered apple trees, sweet Tuscan kale, and 90 tomato varieties including German Strawberry. Beets of color and orange nasturtium, fuschia cosmos and climbing peas with orange flowers. Long rows of tomatoes and peppers growing on red plastic and eggplant on silver. Sundials, pots of heliotrope, tuteurs decorate the garden. Tall pink Oriental lilies, heady Casablanca, and Virginia creeper claim the walls. it is the perfect foil to the formal garden.
There is something in red plastic, Allard says, that makes the reflection of the red good for fruiting plants. “It really does speed up the ripening for me. The summers up here are pretty undependable. Sometimes you don’t get enough heat to ripen peppers and I’ve had really good luck with it.”
Allard grew up on a farm in Ohio.
“We always had a garden. My father had a big vegetable garden and my mom had a flower garden. We had to do the weeding and we helped with the planting and harvesting. We canned and did all of that stuff. As a young person it was not all that much fun – we could be playing with our friends or off doing something. But as soon as I bought my first house in Ridgedale in the late ‘60s, I immediately started to garden. I guess it’s something – it was part of my family. I didn’t realize how important it was growing up because weeding didn’t seem all that wonderful,” Allard says.
“Also, because we lived in a farming community my mother taught us how to cook and sew and do all of those things. I belonged to 4-H and every summer I had a 4-H cooking project. My mother, my aunt, my grandmother were really all wonderful bakers and cookers. My dad cooked too. My brothers all cook. In our family it’s a big event – cooking. We love to get together and cook.”
Now, from fruits and veggies of her land, she cooks, cans, and freezes: sauce, soup, roasted peppers…
Looking yonder, across the gardens beyond the wooden gate bedecked with slender iron branches, a line of mountains meets the horizon. Known locally as the Litchfield Hills, they are part of The Highlands mountains that extend from Pennsylvania’s Reading Prong to Vermont’s Green Mountains.
Down slope, a potato and dry bean patch with buxom monarda and hyssop around the perimeter also serves as a seedling nursery. Come March, so does the house’s conservatory.
In a nearby open shed, onions and shallots dry on screening. Next door, compost bins produce material to refurbish the raised beds in both gardens.
Meanwhile, for a few years now, Allard and her gardener have been naturalizing a woodland trail with dogwood, red bud, azaleas, ferns, and perennials that might be found growing in the woods. Emerald Jewel boxwood grows luxuriantly here in Zone 5, although Allard says it’s more like Zone 4. The trail leads down through woods and meadow to wetland.
Walk across the lawn for a sweeping view of the countryside. A ha-ha protects the lawn’s drop-off to a lower meadow between two orchards. Beyond that, wild trees lead down to the valley of the Shepaug River. (Go ahead, try a rocking chair, soak up the view, then close your eyes. You won’t want to leave.)
But up on the hill, close to the lawn, nine rows of apple trees – Russet, Ida Red, Liberty, Baldwin, Winesap, Northern Spy, Empire, Cortland, Gravenstein – provide fruit and fun for family and friends. In mid-October they gather for an apple-picking/cider pressing day. When asked what her favorite is, she says “Northern Spy” because it was her father’s favorite. When Allard bought the house in ‘88 the hillside was all meadow, as was her thick lawn.
Look left to the deck to see a magnificent urn, planted with ferns and ivy.
Step down the steps between crab apple trees to an aquamarine world of pool and mountains, both reflecting the same color. Then step through the gate to the Courtyard garden where pink roses bloom.
Linda Allard is very much into her gardens. She has served on the board of The Garden Conservancy, remains very supportive, and also designed a community garden for New York Restoration Project.
Come visit her garden on September 7 as part of The Garden Conservancy's Open Days program.
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published August 20, 2008