I have a special fondness for Newport, Rhode Island’s Point Section. Since 1990 or so I’ve been attending the self-guided annual Secret Garden Tour there in June. My mother got me started. She’s an avid gardener who shares my taste for charming architecture. This tour happily suits us both since it reinforces the concept that house and garden are each vital to the other. True, only the gardens are open for public touring, but in this densely packed, seaside neighborhood, the historic homes they accompany can also be appreciated in the round.
My mother learned how to garden in her 30’s and over time assimilated a vast wealth of plant knowledge. Nothing tickles her more than to see a new variation of a favorite plant species, an unusual grouping, or a devil-may-care dense cottage garden. Try as I might to retain the plant information that she’s shared over the years, I remain a novice when it comes to plant identification. I do, however, have an appreciation for garden design, especially in relation to buildings, outbuildings and garden structures. There is always plenty on the tour to please us both.
Naturally the gardens on the tour change over the years as do the owners, but there have been several fortunate repeats and some that I haven’t seen in years but hope each year to find on the tour anew. When you go, you’ll find your own highlights, but there was one my mother and I won’t soon forget.
It was a deep, dense “jungle garden” (as they referred to it at the time) tucked behind a dark, clapboard colonial. Tall flowering dogwoods, tangled clematis vines, climbing roses, and a thicket of greenery overhung brick paths with clam shell edging that bordered brimming plantings of annuals and perennials, all seen en route to a gloriously overgrown outbuilding to the rear.
This was no ordinary outbuilding. With doors opened wide, it was set up for rustic, alfresco dining and casual lounging in flea-market-style upholstered finds. It was an otherworldly escape featuring vines growing through open windows and unlikely furnishings like an old cast iron stove (that I assumed didn’t function). It reminded me of playing house and sparked my fascination with outdoor living. Amazingly it wasn’t the only structure shaping the garden; there was an open, translucent-roofed lean-to immediately adjacent to the house, perhaps for a brighter and tamer garden experience, and an arbor elsewhere that enriched the journey with another type of interlude.
Stunning secret gardens like the “jungle garden” have kept me going back year after year, in hopes of happening upon yet another hidden, breathtaking gem to captivate my imagination for years to come. There have been others that I carry with me in my mind’s eye today. The most memorable for me are the ones that creatively incorporate a built structure in some way. There’s one you may see that features a tall stucco ruin as a backdrop and another that envelopes brick remnants from a long-gone building footprint, each enchanting in their own way.
by Katie Hutchison for the House Enthusiast
To visit go to http://www.secretgardentours.org