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New Canaan garden documented for posterity

Published 9:57 am, Monday, November 18, 2013

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  • Laura and Steve Case submitted their garden at 135 Comstock Hill Road to be documented and archived by the Smithsonian Institution. The home was previsouly owned by Richardson Wright, editor of House and Garden Magazine in the 1930s and 1940s, who wrote two books on the garden he maintained. Nov. 8, 2013. New Canaan, Conn. Photo: Tyler Woods / New Canaan News
    Laura and Steve Case submitted their garden at 135 Comstock Hill Road to be documented and archived by the Smithsonian Institution. The home was previsouly owned by Richardson Wright, editor of House and Garden Magazine in the 1930s and 1940s, who wrote two books on the garden he maintained. Nov. 8, 2013. New Canaan, Conn. Photo: Tyler Woods

 

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Between the driveway and the front walk of 135 Comstock Hill Road sits a brushy vine that features a yellow tinge in the winter.

It's one of owner Laura Case's favorite plants in her expertly maintained garden -- which was recently documented in the Smithsonian Institution's Archives of American Gardens and is now part of the Garden Club of America Collection -- but it was never planted there. Rather, it was planted on a pergola over the entranceway, where it is much thinner, and organically migrated to the front yard.

"One of the best things about gardens is to see what they've become after two or three years," Case said. "Nature has a will of its own, and you can try to subdue it, but it can't be done. It's a great way to connect to how things work."

Case and her husband, Steve, have a particularly famous house and garden. Among its previous owners was former House and Garden magazine editor Richardson Wright, who led the publication from 1919 to 1945. Wright had the estate exquisitely manicured by professional gardeners. The home is also the subject of two books by Wright, "Truly Rural" (1922) and "A Small House and Large Garden" (1924). Wright owned the home from 1919 to 1954, when he sold it to the Yankee family.

The Yankees owned the home for 40 years, and as they got older, the gardens fell into disrepair. When Steve Case bought the home in 1994, the gardens and lawn were a mangled mess of overgrown vines and brush. The couple has spent the last 10 years cutting away at the old garden and manicuring the salvaged space.

"One day I had time on my hands and I began pulling sod off stones and the walkway just got wider and wider and wider," Laura said. "This house is like living in an archaeological dig."

Eventually, the couple kept going and found, under a particularly large mound of bramble, a cherub statue, which is now displayed over a bed of ivy. They relaid the bricks they found to have the walkway travel from a stone wall-enclosed garden by the back of the house, through a gate, around the cherub, and to a patio by the pool.

Laura Case, who is a member of the Garden Club of New Canaan, thought documenting

the garden's history would be a worthwhile project.

"Gardens go in and out of fashion," she said. "For instance, in Richardson Wright's time, he thought the more color the better, and had lots of kinds of plants mixed into one. A lot of gardens now are based on seasons of bloom and have fewer varieties of plants."

To document, Case had to present a detailed site plan of the garden, complete with sketches and photographs. She submitted historical site plans and pictures of the gardens as well, taken from Wright's books.

"It's a rich part of our area history," she said.

twoods@bcnnew.com; 203-330-6582; @Woods_NCNews