Take it outside

Inspired by English gardens, a New London homeowner has created a perfect space for contemplation, entertainment and plants.

New London homeowners Carrie Pelzel and Bruce McClintock find joy and satisfaction from their home’s outdoor living spaces and gardens. “Over the course of eighteen years, we set out on a journey to create different outdoor spaces,” Pelzel says. “We love the outdoors, particularly dining and entertaining outside.”

Enjoying the outdoors—whether dining, entertaining or relaxing—is one of summer’s greatest pleasures. For New London homeowner Carrie Pelzel, the outdoors is all that and more: it is a place where she can exercise her creative expression and love for gardening.   

Eighteen years ago when Pelzel and her husband, Bruce McClintock, acquired their home—a circa 1798 homestead—they were immediately taken with its expansive landscape and stunning views of Mount Kearsarge. “We love the outdoors,” Pelzel says. “And in terms of outdoor space, we were very fortunate that, when we bought the house, there were already wonderful raspberry bushes; craggy, old apple trees; a gazebo garden; and open fields.”

Pelzel also saw the opportunity to preserve and enhance these outdoor features while creating new ones. “I loved the notion of taking a historic property with great bones and creating a comfortable outdoor living area—an outdoor house, so to speak—for friends and family to enjoy,” she says.

The evolution of outdoor spaces

The gazebo garden offers a picturesque place for entertaining friends. Pelzel (second from left) worked with Jeff Good, owner of Jeffrey M. Good Landscaping, LLC in Canterbury and former director of gardens at The Fells in Newbury, to redesign the garden, where plantings like coneflower, amsonia, peonies and dwarf hydrangeas flourish.

Over the course of eighteen years, the homeowners transformed several outdoor areas on the property, including a brick and stone patio; the gazebo garden; a rock garden; a sitting area with vintage teak furniture; and a tennis court. Pelzel also enhanced the decoration of her home’s entrances, added colorful containers and planted a number of favorite trees appropriate to the New London climate, including katsura, Merrill magnolia, Japanese stewartia, chamaecyparis, American yellowwood and paperbark maple.

Pelzel describes the development of these different spaces and features as “very incremental and organic.” She did not bring in a landscape designer to survey, design and execute the various areas all at once. She did most of the planting and arrangements herself, taking inspiration from English country gardens, most particularly the gardens at Sissinghurst Castle in Kent, England. “It is one of the most beautiful gardens in the world,” Pelzel says.

Described by the National Trust as a “refuge dedicated to beauty,” Sissinghurst is perhaps best known for its outdoor “garden rooms” designed by English novelist and poet Vita Sackville-West and her husband Sir Harold Nicholson. The couple gradually created several “rooms,” giving each one a distinct structure and personality. As a whole, the garden exudes beauty and artistry, and attracts thousands of visitors every year—Pelzel included. “Before I went there, I read Portrait of a Marriage, a memoir about Sackville-West and Nicholson [by their son Nigel Nicholson], and was so inspired by the story of their relationship and the evolution of their garden. It was fun to have read that history and then stroll the garden, because I could think about the spaces they created and when they developed them.”

A porch with rocking chairs is the perfect place for relaxing chats with friends on a leisurely summer day.

With these garden rooms in mind, Pelzel gradually gave her outdoor spaces their own function and flair.

The home’s two-tiered patio (the first outdoor project Pelzel tackled), for example, feels like two separate rooms. The upper-level patio is covered by a pergola, and provides a casual seating and cooking area. There, the homeowners can enjoy a cup of coffee in the morning or a fireside chat by the chimenea at night. Just beyond, a brick island (the lower-level patio) provides a layering effect in the landscape and is used as an outdoor dining area. A rock garden brimming with perennials and annuals—particularly sedums, palms and calla lilies—and a small pond separate the two patio areas and add visual interest. A Merrill magnolia tree and gazebo garden neighbor the patio, providing another lush and private outdoor space.

Pelzel redid the gazebo garden with the help of Jeffrey Good, owner of Jeffrey M. Good Landscaping, LLC in Canterbury and former director of gardens at The Fells.

“The gazebo garden had grown over time into a very ‘cottagey’ garden,” Pelzel says. “I wanted something more refined and proportioned. Good suggested a new layout, which he then planted; we brought in an interesting range of plants, like Mariken dwarf gingko trees, dwarf hydrangeas, astilbe ‘Delft Lace’ and peonies.”

Wandering through these verdant and stylish areas draws visitors down into the property’s rolling fields, where the homeowners love to have bocce tournaments. McClintock mowed all the fields as a way to open them up for walks and visual interest. “I like the contrast between the field’s wide-open spaces for play, and the intimate garden spaces for relaxing, dining and chats,” Pelzel says. “The flow is enjoyable.”

Making an entrance

The home’s four entrances provided Pelzel with an opportunity to add personal flourishes of charm and welcome.

“Because it is a large, sprawling house, I wanted to add plantings and color around it without cluttering the foundation,” Pelzel says. “I wanted to add some character to each space and bring the scale and size of the house down to the level of the person entering that part of the property.”

Much like the home’s larger gardens and outdoor spaces, each entrance has its own personality. The front entrance and façade declare the historic nature of the house with a historical plaque, an American flag, traditional lanterns and window boxes full of blooming plants. A rose garden and iron fence make an entrance on the side of the house more intimate; another side entry warmly welcomes and entertains visitors with rocking chairs, a whimsical rabbit statute and more lush planters. The patio’s entrance feels airy thanks to a pergola; there, Pelzel’s gardens shine and flourish.

Carrie Pelzel (right) loves to entertain and describes her two-tiered patio as “a real gathering place.” A rock garden full of tender perennials and annuals provides visual interest. Animal statues add a lighthearted touch to the rock garden and pond.

Gardener’s delight

A self-described “plantswoman,” Pelzel is self-taught, experimental and playful in her gardening approach. She adores Spring Ledge Farm in New London—where she has acquired most of her plant materials—and enjoys traveling throughout the Upper Valley in search of plants less commonly found in the New Hampshire landscape, such as pampas grass and agave plants.

Color is also a priority. “Each year, I love and look forward to picking colors for each garden,” Pelzel says. “For the patio, for example, I tend to pick two dominant colors for the season and play with all the different kinds of annual and perennial plants to enhance those two colors.”

At least one or more containers decorate each outdoor area, providing a pop of color and a touch of texture; these bountiful arrangements stir Pelzel’s imagination. “I’ve never seen a planter that I can’t love! What is so much fun about planters is that you get to change them every year,” she says. “The flexibility to create is fabulous. I enjoy utilizing different plants and experimenting every year with new colors and textures.”

Overall, Pelzel and McClintock’s outdoor spaces provide pleasure and delight; there, all senses are awakened.

“I love appreciating the remarkable architecture, color and beauty of each plant, and watching how people, birds and insects engage with the various plantings and spaces,” Pelzel says. “There is something about observing the remarkable majesty of nature when it has a coaxing hand.”

Inspired by English countryside gardens, this garden is a place of beauty. A stone footpath allows guests to admire Carrie Pelzel’s thoughtfully curated collection of flowers and trees.
Categories: Gardening & Landscape, Outdoor Spaces