Down in the meadow
He designed the house. She’s taken charge of the plantings. Together they’ve built a welcoming haven amid acres of green.
ON THE GROUNDS of Betsy and Kevin Tubridy’s home in Pomfret, Connecticut, plants and decorative grasses line the split-rail fence, elegant clusters of trees dot the lush lawn, and colorful flowers spill onto the edges of their two patios. Nevertheless, Betsy Tubridy insists she isn’t known for her gardening skills. In fact, she seems downright amazed at what she’s managed to do. “In our old house,” she explains, “I experimented in a tiny garden planted by a professional. I loved taking care of it. Stuff grew!”
The couple moved in nearly 10 years ago, and Betsy’s been “experimenting” like mad ever since. The house, a shingled beauty designed by Kevin, who runs his own firm, New England Design, in Mansfield, Connecticut, sits in the midst of a 30-acre meadow. Originally a farm complete with apple orchard, the property was so overrun with brambles and vines that it took Kevin a couple of seasons just to clear it. Once it was ready, the goal, Betsy says, was “to anchor the house to the land so it looks like it’s been here a long time.” The couple wanted their grounds to be welcoming, friendly, and colorful.
Right off the bat, they put in the basic landscape elements--rhododendrons, azaleas, hydrangeas. Subsequent years saw the creation of a post-and-beam barn painted the perfect shade of red, a fieldstone patio, a trio of maple trees, and a tiny vegetable garden. The newest additions are the birch trees and boulders in the center of the home’s circular driveway. “Boulders are a gardener’s friend,” says Betsy. “They fill lots of space, and don’t require water.”
It’s the third time she’s reworked that center plot. Other areas have also received intense attention. When the couple’s daughter, Boston-based interior designer Erin Gates, got married in the fall of 2005, they hosted a houseful of guests. In anticipation, Betsy planted the newly constructed fieldstone patio with 600 creeping thyme plants--all by herself. She saw it as “an excuse” to fix up that side of the house. At the same time, they added the maple trees, which have since grown so tall that Betsy has had to replace the flowering plants she had planted around them with shade-tolerant hostas and ferns.
It’s the more formal bluestone patio and adjacent covered deck, built with the house, that serve as the family’s primary spot for relaxing and entertaining. The space looks onto a pristine rural vista of velvety lawn, then down to acres of leafy green trees. The surrounding flower beds, with their landscape and fairy roses, butterfly bushes, clematis, bleeding hearts, daisies, and rudbeckia, all in shades of pink, purple, and yellow, create the homey feel of an English cottage garden. “I try to keep to that palette,” says Betsy. Then there are the 10-plus window boxes and tons of pots — she loves their portability — that hold whatever annuals look best at the garden center that season.
Although Kevin isn’t a fan of vegetables, Betsy finds it fun to grow them. Luckily their crew of dogs — a golden retriever, schnoodle, and wheaten terrier — tend to scare off the deer, so the garden yields plenty of kale, tomatoes, and potatoes. Betsy takes the veggies to a food pantry and soup kitchen affiliated with the University of Connecticut’s agricultural program, where she volunteers. She’s picked up tips about bugs and soil through her work there.
All the learning, experimenting, and sheer physical labor, including wielding a chain saw and driving a tractor, is incredibly satisfying, says Betsy, as are the quiet moments of taking it all in. “I love going out in the morning with a cup of coffee and pulling weeds, and admiring it in the evening with a glass of wine. I just love how good it all makes me feel.”
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