This month’s issue of Hartford magazine is all about secrets — and included are two secret gardens that I’ve loved visiting.
Secret gardens have captivated me since girlhood — even before I first read Frances Burnett Hodgson’s classic novel, “The Secret Garden,” rooted in the wisdom of a garden as a healing, health-restoring tonic.
In particular, I was entranced by the sheltering bowers of rhododendrons at my grandparents’ home, where I often played hide-and-seek with my siblings and cousins (all of them younger than I). Those hiding places offered quite a refreshing respite; I could get away from the fracas and daydream, yet still be part of the action.
Back in 2010, work had just begun on what is now the glorious Heritage Rose Garden, in an intimate and often-overlooked corner of Elizabeth Park. Restoring the garden and replanting Elizabeth Park’s collection of old roses — and I mean old, all of them developed prior to 1867 — was the centennial project of the Connecticut Valley Garden Club (though the actual centennial isn’t until 2017).
One of the ancient roses included is the Apothecary Rose, at right, developed before 1240 and thought to have been brought to France by a returning Crusader.
Alice Prescott Whyte, an aficionado of antique roses and author of “The Roses of Elizabeth Park,” designed the 10 raised beds in a lovely rosette pattern. Her photographs of roses are featured here. Back in 2010, when volunteers were replanting the roses and the garden still looked pretty bare, Alice told me that the popularity of contemporary Knockout roses has knocked a lot of older roses out of favor.
“We’re saving history, one rose at a time,” she said.
The Heritage Rose Garden is tucked a little bit out of sight so be sure to make a point of discovering it later this spring, when the park’s famed Rose Garden arches and beds are in full flowering glory.
For now, feast your eyes on Krystian von Speidel’s appreciation: click here.
Another Hidden Gem
Meanwhile, Iris Van Rynbach writes about another hidden garden — this one in Farmington, created by landscape architect Fletcher Steele in 1954.
A pioneer in landscape design, Harvard-educated Steele designed nearly 700 gardens in his career. Many were at grand estates, like the renowned gardens he designed in the 1920s at Naumkeag in Stockbridge, Mass., now a museum, with its renowned Blue Steps flanked by white birches.
It was quite a coup for Stuart and Mary Smith to have the highly exacting designer transform their 1-acre yard on Main Street — which he initially derided as looking like Tobacco Road — into such a serene showplace.
Here’s a link to Iris’ story: click here.
I love the tale of how the garden was created in the 1950s by the renowned Steele, who had a fondness for martinis and a rather authoritarian streak.
And here are a lot more photos of the garden, by Mark Mirko and yours truly: click here.
Photos, from top: Heritage Rose Garden at Elizabeth Park (courtesy of Elizabeth Park).
Cardinal Richelieu, Apothecary and Camieux roses (by Alice Prescott Whyte).
Farmington garden, including view of ram’s head fountain drenched with water (all three by Mark Mirko).