A Symphony of Flowers
A lifelong gardener and music lover composes a well-orchestrated landscape surrounding her historic Epsom home.
Waves of color abound in Kyle Landt’s twenty-first-century cottage garden. Bright orange nasturtiums, marigolds, calendula and daylilies brighten the side of the barn, while the opposite bed offers calming shades of blue salvia and deinanthe ‘Blue Blush’ with soft yellow daylilies and kirengeshoma.
An exuberant mix of plants welcomes visitors to the gardens at Wells’ Corner, an eighteenth-century home in Epsom where familiar perennials, vines and flowering shrubs are so artfully interwoven with fresh-faced annuals, lush tropicals and herbs that the gardens will once again be open to the public as part of the Garden Conservancy Open Day Tours.
Every spring for thirty years, homeowner Kyle Landt and her helpers plant 250 flats of annuals among the established plantings. In designing the beds, Landt starts with texture and shape before color.
“There are all sorts of things that I haven’t tried yet, so every year, I add new varieties,” she says. “The garden is my playpen. It is so rich with possibilities that I never plant the same way twice.”
In keeping with the style of Landt’s center chimney Colonial house and barn, there are no formal boxwood hedges outlining garden rooms. “This was a yeoman’s farm, not a grand estate,” she says. “I knew I wanted the gardens to be appropriate to the surroundings.” To do this, Landt uses sight lines to define the different sections of the property, creating a natural flow that draws visitors through the landscape.
A well-orchestrated garden
Music played an important role in Landt’s life when she was growing up. “Gardens and music have a lot in common,” she says. “The timing, the rhythm, the feeling of being lulled and lured, the sense of surprise and resolution.”
These bronze koi may be fish out of water embellishing the pondside rocks
but they represent their living counterparts swimming in the pond.
Her gardens flow like a musical composition, starting with the front flower borders. “This is the prelude,” Landt says. It sets the tone for what is to come. The former front lawn has become more of a path, making way for mirroring beds—one framing the front of the house and the other along the two roads that form Wells’ Corner.
Landt hired Robert Potter of Gilmanton Iron Works to build a low, dry-laid stone wall along the outside edges of the 4-foot-deep bed. At 134-feet long, this border runs along the corner’s two roads. The border is filled with tall poppies, yellow daylilies, roses, blue bachelor buttons, white cosmos, fringed dianthus ‘Rainbow Loveliness’ and phlox, and is edged with alyssum and verbena. For an additional staccato note, Landt lets the seed-heads of tall alliums stand long after the blossoms have faded. In one corner of the garden next to the house, dark-leaved cannas stand out amid plants with gray foliage and others accented with silver, while an intensely fragrant tree lilac grows at the far corner.
Many of the plants in the roadside bed are repeated across the front of the house, along with others of a similar color, form or texture, providing an engaging rhythm to the view from the street. The far end of the bed is shaded by a 150-year-old horse chestnut tree. More than sixty-five-feet tall and with a crown that is more than fifty feet wide, the tree is the largest in Merrimack County.
On this side of the house the tempo builds. Clematis scramble up five tall pillars. Pink and white cleome, lychnis ‘Angel’s Blush’ and pale blue salvia harmonize with peonies, irises and peach daylilies. Dianthus ‘Neon Cherry’ attracts swallowtail butterflies, while larkspur and lavatera in shades of pink and white are complemented by the dark foliage and clear white blossoms of ‘Twyning’s After 8’ dahlias.
There are many more plants that Landt calls her “good animals,” including zinnias, cleome, geum, aconitum and astrantia, to name just a few. “They have strong, clear colors, good structure and are robust growers. I couldn’t garden without them,” she says. They provide a unifying refrain throughout the gardens.
In the shady corner of the ell, the pace slows where a magnolia and Solomon’s seal flank the stone steps. Large leaves of hostas and rogersia are underplanted with New Guinea impatiens, salvia, monarda ‘Bergamo’ and verbena.
On the other side of the ell, the cadence switches as the full length of the property comes into view, and fragrance and flavor beckon. Raised beds containing asparagus and raspberries are bordered by a lilac hedge, and a raised octagonal potager takes center stage. Here Landt grows peppers, parsley and leeks; bok choi, carrots and beets; eggplant, onions and artichokes; lettuce interplanted with marigolds; tall pole beans supported on a center tripod and pots of heirloom tomatoes with basil.
Growing along the side of the barn next to the potager are a climbing hydrangea, lime green nicotiana, deep purple heliotrope, rhododendrons, cosmos ‘Psyche White’ and Rose of Sharon.
Beyond the potager, a woodland walk brimming with shade-loving plants skirts the edge of the property behind a seventy-five-foot-long and twenty-foot wide sunny bed where Landt grows a medley of verbascums; white snapdragons; blue, pink and white salvias; poppies; tall ageratum ‘Blue Planet’; flowering balsam; blue cerinthe; fuzzy-leaved silver sage; ammi; and lupines. There are cardoons and potted artichokes for flowers and foliage; tall, single yellow hollyhocks; and a tree peony.
The soothing sound of water draws back to the beds behind the barn where bees are buzzing along in the upturned blue bells of dwarf echium. Highbush blueberries, magnolia and smokebush keep the fifteen-foot-by-thirty-five-foot koi pond from view until we reach the opposite side of the barn. “I wanted it to look like an old spring was feeding a stone horse trough,” Landt says. The water cascades from a small, upper pool into the trough and overflows into the pond. It appears so natural that it attracts a wide variety of wildlife—some welcome and some not. Frogs, turtles, birds, snakes, wild turkeys and ducks make good use of the pool, while marauding raccoons, mink and herons come to poach the koi. Welcoming Adirondack chairs provide a restful place to sit and listen to the water music, watch the fish, and enjoy the antics of birds and frogs.
Containers with double-flowered, yellow calibrachoa, cardoon and helicrysum ‘Silver Mist’ are placed at water’s edge where ladies’ mantle, coleus, epimedium, ferns, primroses, black colocasia and eucomis grow. “Gardens need worthy destinations,” Landt says, and this is one of many on her property.
A winding, grass path leads back to the house past a deep bed filled with white veronicastrum, red zinnias, delphiniums, red and yellow celosias, chartreuse nicotiana, white cosmos, pink astilbe, variegated hosta and yellow ligularia. Pale purple clematis and honeysuckle grow on tall tuteurs, and softwoods, maples and magnolias provide a dark green backdrop.
Beside the barn, the colors rise to a crescendo with orange zinnias, marigolds, calendula, nasturtiums, the striped leaves of ‘Tropicana’ cannas and tithonia. “I call this Victorian vulgar,” she says. “Anything interesting has a touch of vulgarity.”
Across the driveway Landt has created a brick-paved path lined with pots of scented geraniums leading to the open porch. The dooryard gardens combine the pitch-perfect fragrances of climbing roses, peonies, self-seeded dill, rue and actea with the floral harmony of zinnias, cosmos ‘Cupcake’, gaura, nigella, pulmonaria and pansies. “I like to have fragrant plants wherever I sit,” says Landt, but she doesn’t sit for long. In a garden of this size, there is always something that needs to be done.
Dedication and effort
Landt’s gardens do have a magical quality about them. But they didn’t appear like a magic trick where you snap your fingers and voila! In 1988, when she moved to Wells’ Corner—which is named after the family who lived there from 1794 into the 1960s—there was very little landscaping, just a narrow bed of vinca near the porch, an old grape arbor and some tawny daylilies.
An avid gardener, Kyle Landt says she’d like her trowel to be buried with her when she dies—just in case.
The first garden she attempted was a free-standing border across the driveway from the house. Here she encountered the soil that has been her toughest challenge for three decades. “It is just yellow sand over hard pan clay. There is very little top soil,” she says. “The most ambitious part of the project was driving that first shovel into the ground. Once you start, then you know you have a tiger by the tail,” she says. “My mother always said that first you have to get your soil right. I have been working at that for thirty years.”
Every spring, she has fifty yards of surf ’n turf compost, made mainly from cow manure and lobster shells, delivered from Benson Farm in Gorham, Maine. “To have a successful garden, you need the three M’s,” Landt explains, “money, muscle and manure.”
She started with that one narrow border and the garden evolved from there. “I just kept adding borders and adding borders,” she explains. “It began modestly, but grew over time and soon got out of control.” She finally realized that she needed to call in reinforcements.
In 1998, landscaper Mark Rynearson—of The Rynearson Company, Inc. in Goffstown (see page 60 for the story on his garden)—arrived with the heavy equipment necessary to dig through the clay and debris. Rynearson’s crew even found an old drywell that had to be removed.
The borders on the south side of the barn were extended, and the pond was installed by the late Jeff Crary. Holly Suojanen brought her backhoe and has helped immensely over the years, constructing and planting many of the other beds on the property.
Now retired from her practice of medicine, Landt used to work long hours and did a lot of gardening at night. “I would come home from work and use the car headlights to light up the garden while I weeded,” she says.
There was no watering system in place in the early years, so she would set her alarm clock and go out to the garden every two hours to move sprinklers around. “I found the garden to be a beautiful place at night, especially under a full moon,” she says.
Landt she says she has never left someone else’s garden without learning something, and over the years, she has had many garden mentors. Her mother was an in-terior designer with an excellent sense of color, and her grand-mother had only a postage-stamp-size lawn, but grew a deep flower border down the length of her property. “It was about thirty-five feet long,” Landt says. “She was fearless with color, and her garden had a sumptuous, Arabian Nights feel to it. She grew everything from castor beans to begonias.”
Stumbling across a copy of Christopher Lloyd’s book The Adventurous Gardener in a used book store was an epiphany for Landt. “It was like stepping off into a swiftly moving stream,” she says, “He wrote about everything I was raised with.”
That experience prompted her to visit Lloyd’s gardens at Great Dixter in England, and she became friends with “Christo” and his head gardener Fergus Garrett. “Christo was so generous with his time and ideas, and he made you raise your game,” Landt says. She has attended many of their symposiums and goes back every year to work in the garden.
A learning experience
What advice does Landt have for other gardeners? “Have fun with it! You have to play and tweak things. Don’t be afraid to edit. There are no green or brown thumbs,” she says. “You have to be willing to accept failure and replant.”
When asked about thirty years of gardening in one place, she says, “Well, I’ve made a good start!”
Homeowner and gardener Kyle Landt replaced a large section of lawn with a raised octagonal potager where she grows vegetables, herbs and flowers.
Right: Leeks, lettuce and marigolds grow in one section of the potager. Landt mixes flowers and vegetables to take advantage of companion plants that aid each other’s growth and ward off insect attacks.
Right: Yellow ligularia ‘The Rocket’ contrasts with blue delphinium in the background.
Right: Water falls from the upper pond into the antique, stone horse trough and overflows into the 31/2-foot-deep pond where the koi overwinter.
Right: A photo captures a moment in time but gardens change with the seasons—and over the years. A large maple that once stood in front of Kyle Landt’s house is gone now, turning a shady garden into a sunny spot.
Gardens Worth Seeing
Wells’ Corner is one of many great New Hampshire gardens open to the public during this summer’s Garden Conservancy Open Garden Days. No reservations are required, and the gardens will be open rain or shine. Admission is $7 per garden; children age twelve and younger are admitted free of charge.
On Saturday, June 16, five homeowners in the Monadnock region welcome visitors from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Highlights include a large koi pond, a terraced vegetable garden, a bog garden, a formal peony/clematis garden, formal boxwood gardens and beehives.
On Saturday and Sunday, July 14 and 15, two private gardens in the Merrimack Valley region are open from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.; a third (Wells’ Corner in Epsom) closes at 5 p.m. Highlights include groves of Japanese maples and birches, an idealized woodland with hundreds of mature rhododendrons, an ornamental potager and deep mixed borders.
For more information, see opendaysprogram.org or call the Garden Conservancy weekdays, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. at (888) 842-2442.
Saturday, June 16, Monadnock Region Gardens
Robertson Garden at 162 Gerry Road in Dublin
Thoron Gardens at 139 Harkness Road in Jaffrey
Briggs Garden at 86 King’s Highway in Hancock
Elliott Gardens at 191 Depot Road in Hancock
Gordon Garden at 14 High Street in Peterborough
Saturday and Sunday, July 14 and 15, Merrimack Valley Region Gardens
Evergreen Garden at 42 Summer Street in Goffstown
Oak Hill Garden at 51 Langan Drive in Goffstown
Wells’ Corner Garden at 5 Wing Road in Epsom