A Stamford couple takes a break from tending their garden paradise to reflect on the fruits of their labor
photographs by stacy bass
Bathed in the shade of the white dogwood in the Valley Garden, there’s a Jacob’s ladder with little-boy-blue flowers holding their inquisitive heads up to the sky. Beazie Larned gives its leaves a gentle pat as she passes by, a subtle recognition of the long history behind that petite plant. Back in 1977, when Beazie and her husband, Michael, bought their June House property in Stamford, it was what drew them into the yard and led them down a long and fruitful gardening path.
“When we moved in, we had a newborn daughter and a three-year-old daughter and a jungle,” Beazie says. “We didn’t have any flowers. The nursery school teacher gave us this Jacob’s ladder.”
And the garden grew from there, Michael adds, referring to more than two acres on a five-acre estate that he and Beazie have spent the last twenty-five years planting and grooming around their quaint Cape Cod home, built in 1797 by the farmer Silas June.
The Arbor House in the Overlook Garden, where rose campion is in full bloom
Michael and Beazie aren’t really sure how they caught the gardening bug; it just seemed to grow on them over time. To be sure, Michael’s mother was an avid gardener. “I enjoy being outside listening to the birds and playing in the dirt,” he says.
Beazie, a quilter, brings her love of color, texture and design to the plantings. It was her maternal grandmother, the one with the “magic touch” in the garden, who inspired her. “I love making something out of nothing,” Beazie says. “The garden is the one place where I lose track of time.”
Michael and Beazie’s garden, documented in the Archives of American Gardens at the Smithsonian, has no overall theme or color scheme. It’s divided instead into what Beazie calls “pockets,” each with its own proper name. Michael likes to say it’s a “hodgepodge.” Yet all of it was carefully planned to take advantage of the lay of the land and its topography of rock outcroppings. How much time does it take to tour? “How much time have you got?” Michael asks and laughs. “You need at least two hours.”
And you’ll need good walking shoes to navigate the abundant terrain; it’s hard to keep up with Michael and Beazie, who are used to spending hours every day working outdoors. “We do have someone who mows the grass, and we’ve hired people to help us with planting, pruning and weeding,” Michael says. Otherwise they do everything else themselves.
Michael and Beazie begin their tour by walking around the swimming pool in the rear patio and stopping at the Overlook Garden, which provides a panoramic view of the grounds. To one side, there’s the Arbor House, which faces a tennis court and croquet lawn, houses household potted plants in summer, and provides one of several cozy shelters for an afternoon iced coffee after a hard day’s work.
Beazie then leads the way down a sparkly mica-flecked stone path to the Bee/Butterfly Garden, which in addition to Buddleia, showcases Clethra plantings of Ruby Spice and Creel’s Calico. She stops at the Tetradium daniellii and points out this bee-bee tree’s doilylike clusters of blooms, now the color of clotted cream but bearing the hinted promise of red for the fall. “Listen to the bees in the tree,” she says, cocking her head to one side as the sweet hum of honeybees fills the air. “They’re getting drunk on the nectar of the bee-bee tree,” Michael says.
The busy buzzers, numbering about 160,000 and housed in two hives close by, feast on blueberries and raspberries in nearby patches. “The crops doubled in size when we got the bees,” Beazie says. “We share the raspberries with the birds. There’s plenty; I freeze them and make jam in the winter.”
One of the newer gardens in the property, designed to spotlight a collection of conifers that complement the face of
Above the beehives is the Terraced Garden, a beautiful border of flowering perennials—iris, phlox, yarrow, bellflowers, hollyhocks, coneflowers and mums in a rainbow of colors. “This was our first major project,” Beazie says. “The terrace walls are made largely from rock excavated from the swimming pool when we renovated it.”
Michael leads us on to the new undulating border at the property’s perimeter that is being planted with rhododendrons, serviceberries and various other small trees and shrubs. A shovel is thrust into the dirt as if caught in midplanting. “See that wall?” he asks, pointing toward the border. “It’s called a lace wall because there are gaps in the stones that look like lace,” Michael says. “It’s an original wall.”
Another stone pathway, which passes the blueberry cage and raspberry patch, points to the Vegetable/Herb Garden, which Michael and Beazie created to celebrate their twenty-fifth wedding anniversary. “This was the site of an old Victory Garden that probably dated to World War Two,” Michael says. “We try to make sure nothing goes to waste; I’ve even started making birdhouses out of the gourds.” Its entrance is marked by an arbor abloom in clematis vine, and it is partially hemmed in by weeping European beech trees that are trimmed to hedge size.
Beazie walks ahead to check on the zucchini, under a pergola that protects assorted vegetables and herbs from intense sun. She grows many things from seeds; her latest crop includes Alpine strawberries.
All Grown Up
The Larneds have done extensive research on plants and plantings; the two have made study trips as far away as England and New Zealand. It could help explain why the fastest-growing item in their garden is the to-do list. Every year it seems to get longer, says Beazie, a member of the Stamford Garden Club. As a result the garden has only grown bigger and more refined; their eagerness to work the land more inspired.
Beazie Larned, with the Vegetable and Herb Garden visible behind her, tends to the raspberry patches, with bees buzzing overhead.
A recent addition is the Meditation Garden, built into the face of a rock cliff, is a kiva-like circle of stone that surrounds a monolithic glacial erratic boulder, soon to be shaded by Japanese maple and Acer palmatum. “The idea is to sit and contemplate the stone,” Michael says. “In November at nine at night we come out here to watch the stars. The stones are still warm.”
Michael and Beazie also like to gaze out at the grounds from the gazebo, which they put together from a kit and situated up a climb near what they call the Khyber Pass, a woodland nature trail they take to hike high above the property. They plan to fill this area with native plants.
The nearby Wildflower Meadow, complete with slender mountain mint, giant purple hyssop and black-eyed Susans, skirts Mole Mountain, a rock formation that was named by the Larned daughters, who loved to climb it when they were children.
At the garden’s south end is Michael’s Alpine/Conifer Garden, a striking Stonehenge of towering evergreens and dwarf conifers. Michael, a member of the American Conifer Society, singles out the neighboring sourwood tree. “In autumn its panicles of blossoms turn gold and the leaves turn red, contrasting with the blue and green of the conifers,” he says.
Michael hopes that when the time comes to pass the trowel and tractor, the property goes to a serious gardener and that the Jacob’s ladder that started it all will have a bright future. As we approach it at the end of our tour, Beazie adds, as if lost in thought, “I’m dividing it and sending it to my daughters so they can grow it in their own gardens.”