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Visiting Hollister House Garden

Hollister House Garden in Litchfield, Connecticut features formal gardens and beautiful buildings.
By Chris Freimuth Urban Landscape Designer. All Photos courtesy of Hollister House Garden.

Hollister House is a public garden located on an unbelievably romantic 25-acre property in the unbelievably romantic rolling hills of Litchfield County, Connecticut. It is a town landmark site in its native village of Washington and one of the chosen children (officially a “Preservation Project”) of The Garden Conservancy. It is so hip that it’s only open to the public two days a week. Talk about exclusive, right? Don’t you want to go?

Hollister House is open to the public for select hours on Fridays and Saturdays from May through September. It is also open to groups by appointment. For more information, visit Hollister House Garden.

A trip to Hollister House starts with, actually, the trip to Hollister House. The garden is located on one of those classic country roads we all ogle at in calendars of old New England: a ribbon of quaintly half-paved asphalt winding its way aimlessly through mossy, babbly-brooked forests populated, no doubt, by fairies and gnomes.

It’s a gorgeous ride, and one whose 25mph speed limit should be obeyed for the sake of sightseeing as much as safety.

Hollister House Gardens in bloom

At once rustic and formal, Hollister House Garden is styled after classic English gardens.

You’ll know you’ve arrived at Hollister House when you see a quintessentially carmine 18th century barn tucked behind a rustic wooden fence and unassuming gravel drive. Or, since this scene describes just about every home in northwest Connecticut, just look for the sign that says Hollister House.

All this time you thought you’d been in regular ole’ New England, but now that you’re at Hollister House you realize you are truly in a new England.

This garden is one of America’s boldest responses to the great garden traditions of the Queen’s England, taking the baton from the likes of Sissinghurst, Great Dixter, and Hidcote and running with it. Hollister House exemplifies an impeccable mastery of horticulture and design, and it is unlike any other garden in America.

The garden we know today began in 1979 under the direction of George Schoellkopf and Ron Johnson. In the three and a half decades since, George has been its constant steward, joined in 1993 by the insightful and dedicated Gerald Incandela. Through their work and the skilled help of colleagues, mentors and assistants, they have grown what is known today as “A classic garden in the English manner, with a loosely formal structure, informally planted in generous abundance.”

Find a 'hidden' sitting spot as you meander through the garden paths.

A private home for most of its existence, Hollister House has only in recent years transitioned to a fully public garden.

As part of this opening, the garden has begun fleshing out what has already proven to be a highly-regarded and well-attended slate of public programing. Most notable thusfar are its annual late summer Garden Study Weekends – three- day symposia featuring distinguished speakers, nursery vendors and networking.

Like its American cousins in the lineage of English gardening – Wave Hill in New York and Chanticleer in Pennsylvania – Hollister House has a sunset-colored aura that is at the same time grounding and uplifting. Its mixed emphasis on history and spontaneity come together in a way that just makes you feel good.

Manicured beds and sheared shrubs open up to sweeping pastoral views.

The core of Hollister House radiates out through a series of garden rooms. A traditional element in and of themselves, they are populated by references to the best of the English gardening style:

  • Borders and double borders of loyal perennials and spicy annuals.
  • Themed gardens, such as “Grey Garden,” “Herb Garden,” “Kitchen Garden,” etc...
  • Hidden-in-plain-sight paths that lead to quiet benches or antique pottery.
  • Clipped hedges holding back waves of color-coordinated flowers.
  • Persistent referencing of the aged red brick and Belgian block detailing.
  • Pastoral views across a lazy stream, and of course, the rill. What would an English garden be without a rill?

The rill at Hollister House.

Another water feature in the gardens.

Before heading to Hollister House, I suggest picking up one of the many books in which the garden has been featured over recent years. Among them, Outstanding American Gardens by Page Dickey and Marion Brenner, Rescuing Eden, by Caroline Seebohm and Curtice Taylor, and The Gardener’s Garden, by a cast of contributors including Bill Noble, Madison Cox and Lindsey Taylor.

Christopher Freimuth is a horticulturist and designer based in New York City. To connect, visit www.cfgardens.com or follow him on Instagram at @cfgardens.

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