A Garden with a Spectacular View

Thanks to great design and lots of TLC, a Sunapee landscape has matured into beautiful spaces with prolific gardens.

The hilltop home of Diane and Mark Goldman offers distant views of Lake Sunapee and Mount Sunapee. 
The couple enjoy the solitude on quiet mornings as first light appears over the hills.


When Mark Goldman purchased the two-hundred-acre hillside in Sunapee where his home now sits, the property was totally wooded. “I walked up this hill and thought there must be a view of some sort,” he says. “I had no way of knowing it would be this perfect.”

After clearing trees and a bit of blasting, the view was opened up and the house sited to make the most of it. Marveling at how well his homestead turned out, Goldman says, “It is better to be lucky than good”—and he was really lucky. The home—a hilltop farmhouse designed by architect Barbara Freeman, of Mehren Freeman in Newbury, that looks like it was built in the 1890s rather than the 1990s—has a spectacular, sweeping view of the surrounding mountains, including Mount Sunapee, and Lake Sunapee gleaming in the distance.

Gardens set in stone

To tame the south-facing slope, landscape architect Peter Cummin, of Cummin Associates Inc. in Stonington, Connecticut, designed a series of level areas for the buildings, gardens, terraces and swimming pool. “Otherwise the house would look like it was sliding down the hill,” Cummin says. Mason Joe Rolfe, of Stone Mountain Masonry in Belmont, came in with a crew of twelve to build the necessary stone walls and linking pathways. “Approximately 1,200 tons of stone were used for the project,” Rolfe says.

Flat sheets of schist and slabs of granite quarried in Vermont make up most of the paving and retaining walls, along with other handpicked fieldstone and mountain rocks. The handsome stonework gives clear boundaries to the sea of grass. “It defines the space,” Cummin says, “and provides places to pause and look out at the view as well as passages to channel the flow of foot traffic from one level to another.”

The landscaping also creates a framework for plantings Cummin used to add close-up interest to the larger view. “Plants add to the structure, and I love using color,” he says. “It is like painting, only with plants. But a decent garden needs to look good year round, and the stonework provides those bones.”

A border of flowers frames the perimeter of the large, grassy terrace near the house. Filled with a mix of annuals and perennials—including ladies mantle, coreopsis, daisies, bee balm, hollyhocks, catmint, cannas, filipendula and dianthus—there is always something in bloom. Mark says one of his favorite spots is sitting on the back porch, overlooking this large, rectangular garden, with the mountains and lake beyond. “The gardens are prettiest from the summer into early fall,” he says.

Cummin also designed a stone patio and dining area, shaded by a trio of locust trees. Located just off the kitchen, the patio is a convenient spot for lunch and grilling. It overlooks an oval swimming pool and stone-veneered pool house on the lower, side terrace. Granite steps linking the two levels are bordered with voluptuous ‘Annabelle’ hydrangeas, peach daylilies, yellow potentilla, fragrant clethra and purple clematis. Petunias are planted in pockets between the stone steps. 

Gardens are not static things; they grow and change, especially over the twenty years since Cummin first planned them. He has visited many times over the years and is pleased with how the gardens look. “This is a substantial house with a landscape to match, but the Goldmans take care of things and do what is needed to keep it looking great,” Cummin says.

Perennial borders filled with sun-loving plants—including the catmint, monarda, heliopsis and thalictrum seen in the foreground—enclose the upper terrace. The farmer’s porch overlooking the garden is Mark Goldman’s favorite place to sit.

A retreat for all seasons

Even though this is a second home, the Goldman family spends a lot of time here. “The home is both a retreat and a great venue for entertaining,” says Diane Goldman. “We have a lot of big groups of friends and family over the summer. I love to cook and to entertain at home, and I am delighted when the house is full. On the other hand, Mark and I really enjoy relaxing at home when we are the only ones there.”

Along with the pool where she swims laps daily, there is a hot tub, a fire pit, basketball and tennis courts, a horseshoe pitch, and generous amounts of outdoor seating arranged for conversation or quiet contemplation.

Savor the view

The gardens and views are also enjoyed from inside through the many windows on the south side of the house. “I overlook the lake from the kitchen sink, which is a great way to clean up,” Diane says. “The best view is the lake view. I can see it from our bedroom and from my office, which is on the third floor above our bedroom. The kids’ rooms all have the lake view, and our oldest has the corner view of both the lake and the pool.”

“In the fall, the colors of the trees are fabulous!” Mark says. The Goldmans also visit in the winter. “The powdery snow is really magical and the field just glistens,” he says. When they are not in residence, Mark says they often look at the pictures taken here and enjoy the views all over again.

Grow native

Cummin wisely chose to use native plants to act as a woodland buffer, easing the transition from the tamed to the untamed. “You can’t go wrong with natives,” he says. “Not only do they look right, but you won’t introduce something that will do harm.” Blueberry bushes line the driveway, Joe Pye weed (Eupatorium macutalum), elderberries, high-bush cranberry, Virginia sweetspire, black cohosh (Actaea racemosa), shrubby potentilla, pink spirea, bearberry and rhododendrons grow around the edges of the lawn and fields.

Many of Cummin’s choices have the added benefit of being deer resistant. The Goldmans have had trouble with wildlife over the years. Porcupines have eaten bark, broken treetops and attacked new growth, killing many trees—including the peaches and pears. Voles are a constant menace in the flower borders; a wayward woodchuck or two usually show up to wreak havoc each summer; and bears have raided the beehives.

There is an upside to living close to nature though; bald eagles soar overhead, and young moose have taken leisurely strolls across the open field.

Behind the scenes

Caretaker Matt Sweeney has been living on the property, and caring for the house and gardens from the beginning. “Matt works very hard to create and maintain our beautiful environment,” Diane says.

Along with handling the general maintenance and mowing, every spring, Sweeney designs and plants the many containers that are placed in strategic locations around the terraces and poolside. “I consider the herbs he plants to be a great gift,” Diane says. “I use the basil, rosemary and parsley for cooking. It’s such a luxury to just step out and pick fresh herbs. They’re so much better that anything you can buy in the market.”

Sweeney plants and tends the cutting garden in the field close to the house. Sandy Hatchett, house manager who also has been with the Goldmans since the beginning, keeps the house filled with beautiful flower arrangements all summer. “The assortment of flowers she uses continues to change depending on what is in bloom in the gardens,” Diane says. “Her arrangements are as good as any florist’s.”

Along with flowers, some vegetables grow in the ten raised beds within the cutting garden’s cedar-fenced enclosure. There is an even larger vegetable garden next to the barn where Sweeney grows more tomatoes, summer and winter squashes, peppers, broccoli, beans, and other edibles. “I try to cook based on what is available at any given time,” Diane says. “When we had a great tomato season, I made tomato soup with the large tomatoes as well as tomato pie. The cherry tomatoes are so sweet, you can eat them like candy. I put them in every salad, and I make a great tomato sauce with them for pasta. We also have zucchini and summer squash, which are excellent for roasted vegetables and soup.”

Sweeney keeps hives of bees on the property and taps the maples behind the barn to make maple syrup in the spring. There is an apple orchard near the barn as well, producing apples for eating and cider. There are also many blueberry bushes. “We had a great blueberry season,” Diane says. “I made blueberry salad dressing, blueberry cakes and a really good blueberry bread.”

“It is very satisfying—picking out of your own garden and eating your own food,” Mark says. He actually likes to weed and is actively involved in many of the projects around the property. Mark still gives Sweeney all the credit, though. “He is the single biggest reason the place looks so nice,” Mark says. “He has a great eye, he knows plants, and we think he does a remarkable job.”

Left: A bird’s-eye view shows the extensive terracing, or “inter-connected plinths” as landscape architect Peter Cummin, of Cummin Associates Inc. in Stonington, Connecticut, calls them. These terraces created level spots for the house, gardens and pool area.

Above: A fenced-in cutting garden is located down the hill from the house. This garden is full of annuals and perennials for bouquets and arrangements as well as a variety of favorite vegetables for snacking.

Left: Ivy adorns the stone veneer on one section of the house where daylilies soak up the afternoon sun. Twin pots flanking the steps are filled with blue fan flower (Scaevola aemula).

Right: The oval swimming pool is located slightly away from the main house for privacy, but has its own kitchen and bath facilities in the stone-veneered pool house.

Left: The long curving driveway snakes up the hill, past the barns and orchard to the house. Mount Sunapee rises in the distance.

Right: Peter Cummin’s use of native shrubs and perennials provides habitat for hummingbirds, butterflies, bumblebees and other pollinators.

Left:  The detailed workmanship of the retaining wall and stone staircase leading from the upper terrace garden to the open field is complemented by plantings that have gracefully matured around them.

Right:  Broad stone steps lead to the fire pit, one of several inviting destinations where guests can linger and take in the views during the day or gaze at the stars at night.


Categories: Gardening & Landscape