Posted by: lornasass | June 2, 2009


Thanks to The Sweetie, who did all of the driving, I visited two private upstate gardens on Sunday, both open to the public as part of the Open Days program of the marvelous Garden Conservancy (see my blog roll).  One of the gardens, famous and much talked about, left me cold:  it lacked cohesion and the many beautiful plants, shrubs, and trees did not combine to create a memorable work of garden art.

But the second garden we visited was just the reverse: a memorable marvel to behold.  When I approached the garden of Robin Magowan and his wife Juliet Mattila in Salisbury, Connecticut, I felt as if I were entering a world apart where the thousands of tiny details added up to a land of enchantment filled with surprise and delight.

Although everything about the landscape was full of charm and discernment, the rock gardens were behind and to one side of the handsome house.  At every turn, miniature alpine plants poked out of the crevices between pavers and rocky hillocks.  The large, porous limestock rocks, Mr. Magowan told me, were from a nearby quarry.  This was difficult to believe since they looked ancient, at least as old as the white cliffs of Dover.

There is something so satisfying about passing through a garden gate, a marker that sets a space apart.  This one, opening onto the geometry of irregular tiles bordered by alpine plants, is made of branches and especially fetching.  The arbor above is an added treat:DSC01304

Here’s a close-up of the tiles bordered by carpets of flowering alpine plants:


Exiting from this back-of-the-house garden, I walked about 100 paces to approach the front of Mr. Magowan’s writer’s studio.  There I saw a magic mountain of rocks and plants.  Mr. Magowan told me that the gardens were designed by the eminent Czechoslovakian botanist Joseph Halda.




Beyond the rocky hill is a carp pool (look to the right) surrounded by trees, shrubs, and additional alpine specimens:


Here are close-ups of two more special treats:



Would you agree with my calling these rock gardens a magnificent obsession?



  1. Wow is all I can say. They are some fantastic gardens. I hope that I can get a big property of my own one day and do something like this. Thanks for sharing!

  2. Oh my goodness Lorna! What beautiful photos of a very magical place. And yes, I would agree they are a ‘magnificent obsession’!!!

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