The traditional English garden isn’t everyone’s cup of tea. It’s often thought to be too formal, or too informal, or prone to breeding whimsy and eccentricity in gardeners. That it can be all of these things at once is a pleasurable paradox and the reason why Linda Andros’s repotting of the classic form on this side of the pond is so interesting. At her home in New Canaan Linda created an Anglo-American hybrid. Her property is part early-nineteenth-century English country manor–stately with specimen trees, parklike lawns and orderly hedges–and part romantic English cottage garden, lush with wild bloom. There are also elements of an organic New Age Eden sifted into the mix and designed with harmony and serenity in mind.
Linda grew up in Oklahoma. Oklahoma is not a garden state, but she was close to her grandmother, who regularly won contests for her roses and who apparently passed her gardening gene down to her granddaughter. After college and three years of studying in Germany, Linda came to New York to work for Time Inc. in Manhattan. In 1994, while a director of marketing at the company, she and her husband, Bill, moved to England. “That’s where I really learned about gardening,” she says of their home, called Conifers, outside London in Surrey. “I had friends who were avid gardeners, and a third- or fourth-generation Italian gardener who taught me a lot.”
When the couple returned to the U.S. in 2000, they settled into a 1929 English Tudor on six-plus acres along Ponus Ridge Road. “We’d fallen in love with England, and when we saw this house it was like a secret England,” says Linda. “We could drive down our driveway and pretend we were still there.” To enhance that nostalgic feeling, Linda had plans for the landscape. “I had loved the gardens I’d seen in England and I wanted to recreate that vision here.”
Greening of a Garden
At the end of the long gravel drive leading to the Andros house, a towering conifer stands sentry on an island of its own. Although conifers and other mature trees and foundation plantings were well maintained by the home’s previous owners, the gardens had been neglected. So, after fencing off two acres of the property to serve as a kind of wildlife preserve and free-ranging meadow for the honeybees Bill keeps, Linda went about redesigning nearly every square foot of the rest of the property, expanding existing beds and creating new ones from the ground up. Today, old-fashioned roses run riot over much of the property. More than a dozen varieties, from Meillands and knockouts to David Austins and English Romanticas, take star turns throughout the summer. They’re framed by a curving bank of boxwood in front of the main house and elsewhere attended by lilies, veronias, salvias, lupines and delphiniums.
“The English like their roses and most English gardens have them,” says Linda. “I just love roses and have them everywhere, although I think I’m a little more obsessive about them than most people.”
Beyond the conifer and a gravel courtyard, a path of handsome Connecticut bluestone threads through a broad gate to the back gardens. Paths and gateways do more than lead the way, though. They beckon. Shrouded by wisteria and hung with wind chimes, the roofed main gate stirs something in the memory or imagination. You’ll wonder if you’ve encountered this scene before on a tour of the English countryside, in a book or even in a dream. Along the rear of the house and back terrace, Linda planted more roses and attendant flowers, and they’re punctuated by small, tight arrangements of ground plants. Back here, outbuildings further divide the grounds to create rooms both public and private. This is smart landscape design. Linda has taken existing elements, highlighted them with border gardens and incorporated them into the overall landscape. In this way, the sum of a property’s parts can appear to exceed its acreage.
At one end of a shimmering pool, Linda converted an old barn into an airy, light-filled, Victorian space that’s deeper than the standard Fairfield County pool house. It serves a multitude of purposes. It is guest house, painting studio and rainy-day meditation room. And, it may be the only pool house in the county presided over by a statue of the Buddha. Nearby, a smaller outbuilding was turned into a cottage-like shed. Here, Linda stores gardening tools on one side of the space and her husband’s bee-keeping equipment on the other side.
Roses bloom in front of both outbuildings, of course, and in the narrow jungle of English border garden running the length of the pool fence.
A quieter beauty lies in a more secluded area of the grounds. Groomed for reflection and tranquility, this section of the Andros garden seems to honor the natural order of things. “I try to let nature take its course without using sprays or chemicals,” says Linda. “Working in the garden is a very spiritual experience for me. It’s where I learn about creation, the energy of plants and spiritual energy. This creation in the garden teaches me a lot about life.”
Behind the pool house and shed, in a shaded area that for decades served as the estate dump, she designed adjacent serenity gardens that float in ponds and streams carpeted with light-colored gravel. In the smaller of the meditative spaces, there are natural outcrops of granite that look powerful and permanent. In the larger garden, hollies, boxwood and Japanese bloodroot maples surround a large statue of the Buddha, and the gravel is raked to suggest streams and eddies of movement while simultaneously defining the edges of the space. Here, and throughout the grounds, architectural elements such as urns, sundials, obelisks, bird baths, arbors and statues express the owners’ sensibilities. On the paths, inscribed Celtic stepping stones keep walkers mindful of what could be a higher purpose in working the land. “May you walk in the palm of God,” reads one; “live, love and grow,” reads another.
In Fairfield County, gardening can be a competitive sport, but that’s not the impression you get here. In the Andros garden, the desired effect is serenity and joy, emotions that seem to be most fully realized when the green rooms are shared with visitors.
“I have no sense of how my garden compares to others,” says Linda. “I just do what I love and try to create landscapes of beauty. And it’s so wonderful to share this garden with people and to see that they enjoy it. That experience alone really nurtures my soul.”