A Garden Where Old England Meets New England

Gordon and Mary Hayward’s magical landscape near their late-eighteenth-century farmhouse is being documented for the Smithsonian Archives of American Gardens.

Garden designers Mary and Gordon Hayward come from two different worlds. She grew up in England in the North Cotswold Hills on a 140-acre farm across from the famous Hidcote Manor Gardens. He is from northwestern Connecticut and grew up on a family farm with a 38-acre orchard and 100 acres of woodland.  

Although Mary and Gordon hail from opposite sides of the Atlantic, as the children of farmers, they share a love of gardens, the natural world and hard work. Over the years, Mary and Gordon have designed many landscapes for others—all the while developing and tending their own piece of ground located 2½ miles as the crow flies from the New Hampshire border in Westminster, Vermont.

Setting the scene

Mary and Gordon purchased their 1½ acre property—once part of a dairy farm—in 1983. The eight-room farmhouse with attached barn was built in the 1790s and had been in the Ranney family for generations until the Haywards bought it. Suffering from years of neglect, the house needed some major work to make it livable again, and it took Mary and Gordon more than a year to clean up the yard, removing truckloads of scrap metal, tearing down a rotting barn, burning brush and dead trees, and hauling out junk cars. “There was an old Nash Metropolitan that had been sitting in one place so long, it had a maple tree growing up through it,” Gordon remembers.

While deep in the throes of clearing brambles and trash from the property, Gordon had a visit from his mentor, landscape designer Howard Andros from nearby Walpole. Andros pointed out the connection between the front door of the house and an old apple tree 250 feet away, saying simply, “That’s an important line.”

The Haywards ran a string from the threshold of the door to the tree, marking out the sightline, and eventually built paths and gardens along that line. “Every subsequent straight path in the entire garden runs parallel or perpendicular to that stringline, providing coherence,” Gordon says.

When designing a garden, the Haywards start with the paths. “Paths furnish the internal structure of the garden and draw us into rather than around the garden,” Gordon says.

Feast for the eyes

When visiting this carefully laid out and cultivated space, you are immediately drawn in to a journey of discovery. There are so many interesting plant combinations, striking architectural features, enticing paths, beautiful views and welcoming garden rooms that the space seems much larger than 1½ acres.

The Haywards’ property is a labor of love. In 1983, they could see beyond the junk cars, brambles and neglected house (right, inset) to a vision of what their property could become (above). Many years of hard work later, their home and gardens are shining examples of what two people who share a common goal can achieve.

Two clumps of Japanese whitespire birches at either end of a yew hedge pay homage to the two stumps of old sugar maples that were cut down long before the Haywards moved in. This entry garden has peonies, ligularia, ‘Firewitch’ pinks, Hakonechloa grass, alliums and a ‘Red Sentinel’ Japanese maple for color. A deciduous weeping European larch now grows out of one of the old maple stumps, and hens and chicks nestle in the other one.

A break in the yew hedge opens onto wide stone steps with pots of annuals on each side, leaving no doubt this is the place to begin the garden tour. From the top step, you can take in the crab-apple orchard and your eyes are drawn to the garden beyond, marked by upright yew pillars and a brick walk. To the right is a garden that runs the length of the property,
buffering the view of the road, and off to left, in the distance, you can just catch a glimpse of a gazebo.

Down the steps and across the lawn is the crab-apple orchard, a nod to Gordon’s background. Two beds with six trees each are cut into the lawn and underplanted with hardy geraniums—an idea borrowed from a garden the Haywards visited in England. The crabs blossom first—white ‘Prairie Fire’, pink ‘Sugar Tyme’ and dark pink ‘Adams’—followed by the geraniums in blues and pinks. The trees hold onto their bright red fruits, adding color to the winter garden until cedar waxwings come to gobble them up. Spring bulbs along with other perennials—including ajuga, epimediums, hellebores and viola—add to the show.

The brick path beckons, leading to a circular center where a tall pedestal is topped with a sculpture bearing the face of the Argonaut, Jason. Upright black locust poles outline the circle and mark the bisecting paths that divide the garden into four quadrants. The tall posts form a colonnade, or topless pergola, further defining this space from a distance and framing views into other parts of the garden and back toward the house.

There are four seasons of interest in the Haywards’ garden. Spring flowering bulbs get the party started, along with early blooming perennials that include hellebores and epimediums. Then the crab apples in the mini-orchard put on their show.

Vines—including gray-leaved moonvine (Lonicera reticulata), orange-red honeysuckle ‘Major Wheeler’, pink Japanese hydrangea vine (Schizophragma hydrangeiodes ‘Roseum’) and white wisteria ‘Aunt Dee’—coil around the poles, adding fragrance to the air and color to the dark bark.

Each quadrant has an evergreen shrub along with deciduous shrubs with colorful foliage, such as Tiger-eye sumac, purple smokebush, yellow-leaved locust and Japanese maple ‘Bloodgood’ for contrast. “Plants choose their neighbors,” Gordon says. The perennials in each bed—including astilbe, actea, goatsbeard, globe thistle, pulmonaria, valerian, balloon flower, phlox and daylilies—provide even more contrasting colors and textures.

Exiting the brick walk garden, we come to the old Macintosh apple tree Andros had pointed to. On the right, granite posts mark the beginning of a path into the woodland garden. The Haywards unearthed a dozen of these posts when clearing the property, and like to use them to mark transition points in the garden and honor the past of this farm.

Dappled shade with occasional pools of sunlight, this area is full of shade-tolerant shrubs, including hydrangeas, viburnums, daphne, rhododendrons and witch hazel. Dry shade under the limbed-up maples is planted with tiarella, Phlox stolonifera and divaricata, sedums, and ajuga. Moister sections are home to hosta, astilbe, bleeding hearts, cinnamon ferns and double white trilliums.

A stone wall marking the boundary line runs along the south side of this garden, but the Haywards have since purchased the 10-acre meadow on the other side.

Views from the gazebo

Rather than fight their site by trying to plant a garden over the shallow, matted roots of these trees, the Haywards paved the area with bluestone and created a shady spot for outdoor dining.

Back to the apple tree, a tunnel made from purple-leaved beech saplings that were trained over bent steel rods leads to the gazebo. “The peastone path underneath the tunnel emphasizes the transition from one area of the garden to another,” Gordon says. Located near the southeastern corner of the property, the ten-foot-by-ten-foot gazebo provides a destination and a resting place. It is built from oak and hemlock beams with a cedar shake roof, allowing it to blend in with the woodland garden behind it. Views of the gardens and over the fields are framed by its timbers.

To the east, a mown path leads from the gardens three hundred feet through the meadow to three pin oaks. The Haywards planted them in honor of three oaks that are growing in the center of the village of Ebrington where Mary grew up.

Looking north from the gazebo, there is a wide grass path with ninety-foot-long borders on each side that were inspired by the gardens at Hidcote where Mary once worked. “An English garden can be defined as an informally planted garden within a firm linear structure,” Mary says. 

Waves of perennials and shrubs—many with dark red flowers or foliage to echo the color of their front door—flow down the borders with shorn boxwood, marking the corners. In the left border, two steps up lead to a bluestone paved nook with comfortable seating sheltered by a curving beech hedge and three English hedge maples. These are shorn to keep them in shape and add a formal touch to the area. “Throughout the garden, we enjoy the pleasing contrast of shorn trees and hedges next to exuberant natural forms,” Mary says.

The rock garden

In clearing the property, the Haywards found a mound of stones forming a ramp three feet high, fifteen feet wide, and thirty feet long. As part of the old farm’s sugaring operation, the ramp enabled horses to pull a wooden vat of sap up, where gravity fed the sap into an evaporator for making maple syrup. Gordon and Mary found the crumpled metal evaporating pan nearby.

Instead of trying to remove the rocks, the Haywards honored the past by leaving the rocks and creating a shady rock garden over them. By adding boulders to the sides, Gordon and Mary made terraces, filled them with soil, and planted dwarf evergreens, a Korean maple, spireas, white heather, lamium, clematis, sedums, ferns, hosta and heucherella.

The herb garden

A set of steps leads down from the rock garden to a classic New England four-quadrant herb garden, which was built in relation to the twelve-foot-by-eighteen-foot former tobacco-drying shed that now serves as a garden shed.

Each of the four beds is edged in Korean boxwood. An English armillary stands on a pedestal in the center, and the paths between the plant-filled beds are paved with peastone.

More herbs are grown in terra-cotta, long tom pots. Gordon and Mary added a grape arbor to the east side of the shed and paved underneath it with fieldstones, providing a spot for a bench.

Homeowners and garden designers Mary and Gordon Hayward have an office in the hayloft of their attached barn. Gordon designs gardens for others, gives lectures on gardening, wrote for Horticulture magazine for twenty-five years and is the author of eleven books. The couple also lead garden tours in the United States and England.

Grapes and clematis grow up the posts, while a climbing hydrangea clings to the shed wall and sprawls over the roof. A viburnum hedge blocks the view of the house and barn, adding to the sense of enclosure; metal gates mark the points of entry.

Leaving the herb garden, swing right along a free-form lawn and through a gate where mature trees shade the twelve-foot-by-twenty-four-foot dining area. A teak table and chairs are set up on the bluestone-paved terrace. The rock garden makes up one side of this spot, its lower retaining wall doubling as a useful sideboard. A black ceramic bust of Hero by English sculptor Patricia Volk overlooks the dining area from the rock garden. Recirculating water bubbles into and over the sides of a cast concrete bowl, adding the peaceful sound of water.

More to see

An antique English staddle stone—similar to ones Mary’s father once used to support ricks of drying grain harvested from his fields—stands at the entrance to the spring garden. Originally a shady garden planted under wild plum trees, this area is now in full sun since the plums were broken by heavy wet snow in 2012 and had to be removed. This meant extensive replanting in 2013. A stepping-stone path leads to a wooden bridge over a low spot that is planted with spring bloomers—including daffodils, primrose, bleeding heart, trollius and rhododendrons. But other plantings—including
yarrow, hollyhocks, asclepias, foxglove and asters—have made this more of a garden for all seasons. The path winds around under a ‘Donald Wyman’ crab apple back to the central lawn path.

A path of large stones leads to a forty-foot-by-eighteen-foot oval of lawn called the Dell. From here, we reach gardens that were developed around the old barn foundations. Up a set of steps, marked with rusty milk cans, is the well-worn, eight-foot-by-twenty-five-foot concrete milking parlor floor where six stanchions once held the cows each morning and evening during milking. Now thyme, sedum, and hens and chicks grow from the cracks and grooves the Haywards filled in with compost.

To the east is the old calf pen area, located four feet below the parlor. A new path leads into this wet corner bounded by the foundation walls. Here the Haywards grow viburnums, willows, ‘White Swirl’ Siberian iris, daylilies and primroses.

In the pool garden, green and white kuma bamboo grass provides an appropriate background for a statue of Buddha. The pond was created on the base of an abandoned silo. The moss-covered center stone is a two-hundred-year-old marble wellhead.

To the west, down a few steps from the parlor, is the pool garden. Kiwi vines grow on chains strung between locust posts on the south side of the path and tall emerald green arborvitaes form a hedge on the northern boundary.

Beds filled with shade-loving plants—including fothergilla, astilbe, hostas and darmera—lead to a pool surrounded with low perennials, such as ajuga, ladies mantle, European ginger and blue woodland phlox. The pool was built on the base of an old silo that the Haywards uncovered while cleaning debris from this area. They covered the sixteen-foot diameter concrete bowl with sand and a pond liner, and ringed the edges with stones that were soon moss-covered. A statue of Buddha keeps watch as water bubbles up through the two-hundred-year-old Danby marble wellhead in the center of the pool.  Arborvitae and a row of Fothergilla gardenii provide a background and screen this serene area from the road.

Gerry Prozzo, a friend of the Haywards who has since passed away, carved this image of the Green Man—who symbolizes the place where plants and people meet—into the eight-foot stump of a dead butternut tree.

Shade for a seating area near the back of the barn is provided by large maple and ash trees, a Phellodendron amurense given to the Haywards by gardener Kristian Fenderson from Alstead, and a tree lilac Andros gave to them thirty years ago as a seedling.

The last stop on our tour is a stone wall–enclosed, grassy paddock area at the back of the house. In another nod to Mary’s past, the Haywards had three topiary sheep made to “graze” here, a reminder of her family’s flock. The Haywards have also purchased an 8-acre field across the road where they have their vegetable and soft fruit garden, very similar to the one Mary’s mother tended. All 18 acres of meadows are protected by the Vermont Land Trust.

An eye toward the future

Now the Haywards are working to have their garden accepted by the Smithsonian Archives of American Gardens. “Mary and I spent two months documenting the garden with maps and plans, photographs, a twenty-four-page plant list of around one thousand plants and one hundred pages of magazine articles about the garden,” Gordon says. “The goal of the submission is to be so complete in your report that the garden could be replicated any time in the future.”

The Garden Club of Dublin, New Hampshire, is sponsoring their submission. The purpose of the Smithsonian archive is to document historic and contemporary gardens for researchers and the public today and in the future.

If you get a chance to visit this exquisite property, you are sure to come away with ideas for your own garden! This summer, the Haywards will hold an open garden tour on July 22 and 23 to benefit Westminster Cares, a local group that works with seniors and disabled adults.

Mary Hayward recently drew this plan of the garden as part of its submission to the Smithsonian Archives of American Gardens.


Categories: Gardening & Landscape