Stroll Southeastern Connecticut’s Gorgeous Gardens
For southeastern Connecticut, it felt like a hint of spring to come when temperatures rose to an unseasonable 60-degrees in mid-February. Of course, avid gardeners had been thinking ahead to spring for many months before, planning the plantings they'll introduce to their yards, flower and herb gardens, when the ground thaws and becomes pliable again. They eagerly await the fruits of their autumn labors, when bulbs were last planted.
Gardening is a labor of love for people passionate about creating beautiful spaces that are also healthy for the environment and pleasing to pollinators. Their labors "pay off" from spring to fall, bearing gifts of color, texture, fragrance, and fascination.
A GIFT OF GLAMOUR AND GARDENS
It was 1907 when the wealthy philanthropic couple, Edward and Mary Harkness, bought Eolia Mansion as their summer home. The 42-room mansion—in the style of Roman Renaissance Revival—had been built just a year prior— new construction.
Since 1950, Eolia Mansion has been owned by the state, and is the crown jewel of the Harkness Memorial State Park. The state maintains the grand Eolia and offers it to rent for special occasions—weddings, conferences, private parties, and teas.
Annually, the mansion is opened to the public for guided tours, but the 237-acre grounds draw crowds of their own, year-round. It's a favorite spot for walkers and their leashed, four-legged friends. The expansive lush lawns provide the perfect unfettered spot to sail kites in the air on gusty days. "Eolia" was the island home of the Greek god of winds.
Families lay out picnic blankets, spending quality time on spring and summer days, and couples can be found cozied up on benches overlooking the water. It's a particularly romantic setting, a nod to its post-Victorian legacy.
The property sits perched on Goshen Point, overlooking the lapping waters of Long Island Sound. In the distance, Long Island can be seen from the expansive lawns off the back of the mansion, with Fishers Island and Plum Island in the horizon's foreground.
To the west, there's sandy beach, a haven for Piping Plovers and Least Terns during their nesting and mating season, and a salt marsh that attracts all varieties of shore birds.
From 1918 to 1929, Landscape Designer Beatrix Jones Farrand was hired to beautify the grounds and spent those 11 years creating and nurturing several gardens around the property that still flourish today.
Though the greenhouses at Harkness State Park have quieted since they once bustled during the Roaring '20s, they're still used on a limited basis today by the park's caretakers, and there's a lot to care for. With an antique maple presiding over one end, a brilliant cutting garden blooms each year, with blossoms in every shape, texture and color. Bees appreciate it as much as the tourists. Off the back of the mansion, there's a maze of English-style gardens, with hedgerows and specimen trees, purple salvia and statues. Little pathways wind through the gardens, past a shady frog pond, through courtyards dotted with boxwoods, and through pergola-topped conversation spots. The public tours of Eolia Mansion are typically held at peak blooming season, so add a guided tour of the gardens if you plan to visit.
A BEAUTIFUL B&B EXPERIENCE
The historic 1850s-era Federal-style colonial home at 209 Main Street in Deep River is a remarkable property, currently listed for sale with an asking price set at $950,000, and so are the 0.45-acre grounds, with beautiful gardens and lovely outdoor living spaces. Diane DeVries is the listing broker for the property, as well as the assistant brokerage manager at William Pitt Sotheby's International Realty's Madison and Guilford offices.
DeVries shared some thoughts about the Deep River property and its most compelling attributes, including lovely landscaping and gardens. "This is a quintessential New England escape, right at the beginning of the Connecticut shoreline, where you can enjoy all the seasons," DeVries said. "Close to skiing in the winter and boating in the summer."
The nine-bedroom house has been the site of the Riverwind Inn Bed & Breakfast, and it has all the charm of a special-occasion getaway, with high ceilings, cozy sitting rooms, restored wide-plank hardwood floors, six fireplaces and bedrooms with ensuite baths.
Outside, there are stone patios and a stacked stone fire pit to gather 'round, nestled flower gardens.
"In the spring, the peonies and hydrangeas begin to bloom and line the walkways," she said, "while the hostas and daylilies fill the shaded spaces. Walk around, and it's like a botanical garden, filled with coneflowers, roses, lilacs, and so much more.
"Additionally, there is a custom-made locally milled white oak pergola highlighting the stone terrace, with a cast-iron and stone fire pit, all beautifully lit by landscape lighting in the evening," she described the setting.
"The homeowners have poured their hearts into planting and maintaining these gardens and hardscapes on the property," DeVries said. The Deep River location puts the owners of this property within walking distance to restaurants and shops. Connecticut beaches are within reach, and the area is rich in theaters, wineries and antique curators. New York City and Boston are just two hours away in either direction.
LORD ESSEX'S LAWN AND GARDENS
Kelsea Hillyer and Edward Hillyer, Realtors with William Raveis Real Estate's Niantic brokerage, are the listing agents for another unique and historic home — this one, in Essex. Edward Hillyer described the property in an email to The Day Magazine: "A secluded in-town elegant entertainer, fashioned for fun."
Located at 15 Evans Lane in Essex, the seven-bedroom Federal-style colonial dates back to 1857, and it's known to locals as "Lord Essex," for how it presides over Evans Lane. The house was built by the seafaring Captain Henry Hovey, and of course, it's been updated to live and function like a contemporary luxury home.
"Every inch of this gracious country estate is magnificent—a blend of formal entertaining and a cozy private haven that is casual and comfortable," Hillyer explained. "The details are bold: flowless heavy moldings, cornices, gables and unadorned friezes, styled with symmetry, proportion and functionality."
Captain Hovey surely would marvel at the addition of a heated saltwater pool to the 3.3-acre setting, as well as the full outdoor kitchen and pizza oven, if he could see it today.
"The sweeping pool exudes an aura of leisured elegance and is sited for no-neighbor privacy and extravagant entertaining," Hillyer wrote. There's even a bocce court, mere steps from the pool.
The property, which includes a barn, is surrounded by mature trees, providing a private and lush perspective, though it's just a short walk to the center of Essex Village. Here, hydrangeas line the driveway to the statuesque, column-framed front entrance, and raised-bed gardens just off the pool patio provide a perfect, sunny spot for flowers and herbs.
"Essex is one of the most iconic New England shoreline villages in the state of Connecticut—quaint boutique shopping, restaurants that offer a wide variety of cuisines, boating, hiking trails, art galleries and historic home museums that display the town's heritage," Hillyer concluded.