A Majestic Garden Is Restored
By Robin Sweetser | Photography by Stan FryThe forty gardens spread over four neighboring properties that make up Pineview, the Peterborough home of Cheri and Stan Fry, are so noteworthy that they have attracted national attention. They’ve been featured on HG TV’s Gardener’s Diary, and pictures of the gardens are included in the Smithsonian Institution’s Archives of American Gardens in Washington, D.C.
For his acclaimed twelve-acre site, Stan could easily obtain plants from all over the world. However, he limits his choices to plants that would have been available to the original owners of his late-eighteenth-century home.
“We are trying to do gardens that would have been on properties in New England during that time period,” he says. “We are somewhat strict about the plant material, but hybridizing has introduced so many new, better versions of the original plants that we sometimes go with a newer variety. We try to stay away from variegated plants or hybridized versions in colors that would not have been available during the time period the house was built. Some say that is around 1810, but the town history claims 1796.”
Early settlers brought English aesthetics with them, and Stan has incorporated many elements found in historic gardens of the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, such as formal gardens; terraces; boxwood and yew hedging; allées, or avenues of trees; as well as reflecting pools.
Close to the rear of the house, the land has been graded to form three level terraces. The back yard – where there was once a steep slope dropping 110 feet to a pond and old quarry – has been graded to install gardens and lawns. Stan carefully created graceful transitions from the formal gardens near the house to less structured and more naturalistic gardens as the land sweeps downhill, finally reaching two ponds – one an enlarged natural pond and the other man-made – at the bottom of the hill.
The Frys purchased the Federal-style Colonial house in 1990, and soon began the work of clearing the dense underbrush and debris from the property as well as restoring the few existing shrubs to a manageable size. The couple purposely used simple plantings of ground covers and evergreens in front of the house to emphasize its classic architecture. Next to the road, there is a magnificent climbing hydrangea, reaching nearly sixty feet into a large pine tree. Cheri says the blooms dry naturally and stay on the plant all summer. Not only beautiful, the hydrangea also effectively hides the view of a street-side utility pole.
Flanking the formal front entry are two bay plants in lead urns. (Stan collects sandstone and lead statuary and containers, using them as focal points in many of the garden rooms.)
With Help From Gordon Hayward
A walkway to the left of the house leads past the woodland garden to a bluestone patio protected by a pergola covered with blue, white and lilac wisterias. The patio overlooks a formal garden – complete with a reflecting pool, spouting water fountain and clipped squares of boxwood – designed by Vermont garden designer and author Gordon Hayward. After reading Hayward’s book Garden Paths: Inspiring Designs and Practical Projects, Stan contacted the author for advice. The two spent some time just walking around the property, with Hayward suggesting what to plant, what to change and how to proceed. Stan also had lots of ideas for plants he wanted to use and how he wanted the property to look.
“In a way, I was providing a running tutorial on garden-design principles; on the other hand, I was a gentle brake on the unbridled enthusiasm that now and again was heading over the top,” Hayward says.
The two men developed a working relationship that has lasted for years. “[Stan] always had the entire garden in mind as we walked around brainstorming,” Hayward says. “Stan is a quick study. He took my answers and ran with them. Then he began applying what he learned without needing to talk to me. He’d go off to England or across the country, always visiting gardens, and he’d come back and apply something he’d seen or been inspired by. He didn’t need me anymore. He was launched. Clearly it was working, because the garden kept getting better and better, bigger and bigger.
“What I encouraged Stan to think about was how each area of the garden would take on its own style, its own feeling, its own plant list,” Hayward says. “This approach, rather like English garden rooms, ran the design.”
Hayward eventually contributed to the creation of nine of the gardens. “We have developed many friendships as a result of the garden,” Stan says. “Over the years, we’ve met some interesting people who have helped us with our property or who have a strong interest in gardening, and they have become close friends.”
Most gardeners plant in groups of threes or fives; Stan plants in hundreds. A massing of one plant – like several hundred hosta ‘Krossa Regal’ under the birches – gives coherence to a large space. A four-sided allée located across the street from the house is made up of 110 ‘Snowdrift’ crabapple trees, which Stan says look spectacular in bloom in early May as well as in mid-October when the leaves drop and the bright orange fruits are visible.
One of the most striking garden features is the three-hundredfoot long sycamore allée – designed by Hayward, the allée leads to a delightful cottage that has been used as a studio, guest house, reading room and honeymoon hideaway. The trees have been pollarded (regularly cutting off the top to produce a dense growth of new branches) to keep them at a uniform height, and the branches trained to grow parallel to the allée, not across it. They make a stunning sight any time of year, thanks to the exfoliating bark, silvery spring leaves and interesting structure of the trees. Stan says the view down this allée looking toward the studio is one of his favorites. Cheri also enjoys the long views but says, “I don’t know that I could say I have one favorite spot. I tend to find the small secret places very special.”
Good foliage plants like boxwood, holly, privet and yew have been planted by the thousands. The hedges give a feeling of enclosure and privacy to each garden room. One powerful example of this is the circle garden, which consists of three consecutive semicircular yew hedges planted with arcs of boxwood, heuchera and lady’s mantle. Located right behind the house, the tiered hedges echo the curved deck above them. Repetition of these green architectural elements along with hundreds of flowering shrubs and trees – such as dogwood, lilac, crabapple and hydrangea – have a strong unifying effect.
The allées draw the visitor on to the next room, the next view, the next outbuilding, while each path leads guests to wonder what could be next and invites new discoveries. Benches appear in all the right places, beckoning visitors to stay and soak it all in. The eye is drawn to the distant view of Mount Monadnock, framed by the pines that give the property its name.
The Responsibilities – And Benefits – Of Gardening
Painting with bold strokes, Stan has planted an exuberant tapestry. “There is a real sense of accomplishment when you are working on a project in the garden because it is so visual,” Stan says.
“Even though there are always changes,” says Cheri, “the overall attention to structure coupled with a softness and sense of peace always remain. I feel fortunate to be surrounded by such beauty every day.”
Although he is a busy entrepreneur involved with hightechnology companies, Stan is an active gardener, spending several hours in the garden every day. He has even developed his own arboretum with red horse chestnut; cork tree (Phellodendron amurense); Kentucky coffee tree (Gymnocladus dioica); curly locust; purple rain birch (Betula platyphylla ‘Royal Frost’); American yellowwood (Cladrastis kentuckea); green vase (Zelkova serrata); katsura (Cercidiphyllum japonicum); dawn redwood; and gingko trees – among others.
“It is a responsibility to have a garden of this size. There is yearround attention required,” Stan says. “It becomes sort of a ‘life with garden’, as you don’t want to miss certain things occurring and you can’t miss others! But even though you are really busy in the garden, you can get a lot of relaxation from it.”
Working In The Gardens
Since much of his professional work has to do with the design of digital cameras, Stan possesses a photographer’s eye, as evidenced by his evocative pictures. Like many photographers, his favorite time of day in the garden is around five o’clock or six o’clock in the morning for the fleeting, luminescent quality of the light. His walk to work is a pleasant one.
Behind the eighteenth-century barn, the sky is reflected in a black-bottomed swimming pool that is bordered by a privet hedge. Next, pass through a loose allée of paperbark maples (Acer griseum). From there, the walkway is lined with yews, and there are four purple beech trees (Fagus sylvatica) being trained to a trellis. To the left, a large cottage garden filled with perennials is reached by passing through an allée of pollarded Bradford pears.
Straight ahead is the cottage that houses Stan’s office. Like all the outbuildings on the property, it is in keeping with the architecture of the house and boasts its own little raised-bed garden planted with lamb’s ears, geranium ‘Johnson’s Blue’, annual poppies, Persicaria polymorpha and, Stan’s favorite plant, cimicifuga. Not a bad commute, even in winter!
Leaving the office, the natural landscape forms the base of the man-made garden and branching paths follow the contour of the land. There is a long stone staircase that leads down to the ponds. Water flows to this area from natural springs and rainwater has been diverted via underground drains. Irrigation water is often taken from the ponds, which are home to trout, koi and goldfish. The long curved pergola between the ponds – which leads to an allée of willow – is covered with grapes, woodbine, trumpet vine, wisteria, kiwi and honeysuckle.
The verges of the ponds are planted with colonies of native shrubs, such as dogwood, hemlock and rhododendron; ornamental grasses; and flowers, such as ligularia, angelica, joe-pye weed and cimicifuga.
As you can imagine, maintaining forty gardens is more than a two-person job, especially with the extensive training and pruning of plants that makes Pineview unique. Clipping hedges, coppicing shrubs as well as espaliering and pollarding trees is time-consuming and exacting work – to say nothing of the weeding, deadheading and general plant care involved in keeping twelve acres looking spiffy. Fortunately, Stan and Cheri have the help of two full-time gardeners. Nothing goes to waste here. All the grass clippings and garden debris are composted, then used as top-dressing or as a base for new plantings.
“The garden now goes from strength to strength because of Stan,” Hayward says, “because of his drive, his work, his passion for the place. It’s his garden. I just got a pretty big ball rolling.”
Stan doesn’t show any signs of stopping, with plans to expand the maze entry to the crabapple allée and to add three hundred more boxwoods as parallel serpentine hedges. Last season, he and his crew were busy planting a scalloped yew hedge along the street with clusters of ‘Lime Light’ hydrangeas visible through the low points in the scallop; adding another quarter acre of pachysandra in the woods; rebuilding the bluestone patio; installing a tall yew hedge to be clipped into a wave shape around the pool area; and adding several new urns and benches.