AN ESTATE GARDEN CAN TAKE MANY FORMS - FROM FORMAL AND ELEGANT (SYMMETRICAL planting beds, statuary, and topiary) to wild and natural (native plants, meadows, and riotous color). George and Dominique Perrin's 7-acre property, which is set on a pastoral hilltop overlooking the sea in Jamestown, Rhode Island, exemplifies a balance of both styles, creating a casual sophistication well suited to the couple's lifestyle.
"For us, the joy of New England in the summertime is being outdoors and enjoying the natural beauty," says George Perrin, a retired telecommunications executive. Having cruised around Newport as boat owners for many years, the Perrins were familiar with the area when they bought the Jamestown property in 2005. An existing cedar-shingle house captured the iconic New England architecture the Perrins had long admired, but a small patio didn't provide enough room for outdoor living, and an undistinguished driveway didn't capitalize on the house's wow factor.
Enter landscape architect Kate Field of Katherine Field and Associates in Newport, who has applied her combination of gardener's soul and architect's eye to many estate gardens, in both contemporary and traditional styles. For the Jamestown property, Field was charged with transforming the entire landscape, from the front gate to the backyard patio, and everything in between. The most dramatic addition is along the back of the house, where a new east-facing terrace is designed for outdoor entertaining and gazing at Narragansett Bay. "We designed different terrace areas for daytime and evening use," says Field. The terrace is made from bluestone in varied colors, handpicked at a quarry and installed according to Field's design. A spa, fountain, and outdoor kitchen were sited on the primary terrace. The spa, flush with the terrace, includes a ring of energy-saving fiber-optic lighting just below the bluestone coping, giving the feature a strong nighttime presence. The outdoor kitchen includes a gas grill built into a bank of cabinets and topped with bluestone slabs. Bluestone slabs were also used as steps from the house to the terrace.
To define the fire-pit area, Field specified a change in level, making it three steps lower than the spa. Several cushioned armchairs were placed in this 15-by-20-foot space, with the 20-inch-high custom fieldstone fire pit taking center stage. "We like to entertain in small groups," says George Perrin. "We use the seating area around the fire pit for drinks and informal dinners while enjoying the water view."
A third area of the terrace lies just behind the part of the house that acts as a connector to a new master bedroom suite. Field echoed the home's exterior by making the terrace curve outward, and she designed semicircular steps leading down to the lawn. To further separate it, she used mosaic bluestone instead of variegated bluestone rectangles. An armillary sphere stands as a focal point, echoing the circular motif as well.
While the backyard terrace is an hommage to outdoor living, the landscape on the other side of the house glorifies the natural surroundings. In this area, Field's most dramatic move was to reorient the driveway, creating a chip-seal gravel lane that winds seductively for several hundred feet before arriving at a point that is centered on the massing of the house's twin gabled facade. Along both sides of the curving drive are beautiful stands of native tupelo trees, which Field underplanted with other natives such as azalea, clethra, viburnum, and ferns. "We created the feeling of a natural shady glen," says Field, who also placed pots, urns, and statuary as landscape focal points.
Field enhanced the gardens along the front facade with flower beds defined by bronze railings with a native-grasses motif. For these small entry gardens, Field went for maximum summer color, choosing St. John's wort, iris, and roses, as well as native grasses.
Although the property possessed unquestionable natural beauty, it also presented challenges: Poor drainage made some areas waterlogged at times; the local deer population ravaged plantings; and the property includes 1 1/2 acres protected by a conservation easement. Field addressed the problems through a variety of strategies, including grading some of the poor drainage areas, specifying deer-resistant plants like arrowwood viburnum and summersweet, and adding an attractive wooden fence along the conservation easement line.
But more than anything, Kate Field enhanced the qualities that appealed to the Perrins from the start. "The property for us had a rural pastoral feeling that we wanted to keep," George Perrin says. "We wanted something that fit into the island culture, but also had a finished look to it." The result, he says: "From the terrace, we look across to the Newport shoreline and that view of Narragansett Bay - and it sure is sparkling."
Jill Connors, editor at large of Design New England, is a Rhode Island writer specializing in architecture and design. Send comments to email@example.com.