They were headed back to Fairfield, Connecticut, when Dana and Richard Wiehl first saw the Bridgewater property that would become their home. The Wiehls, who hail from England, took in the 1860s Greek revival style farmhouse with its five and a half verdant rolling acres and were instantly transported back home.
"It reminded me of my childhood Surrey countryside with the peaceful tranquility that I so love," says Dana.
Situated back from the road and flanked by two magnificent sugar maples, the white farmhouse looked "sad," Dana remembers. The original family had occupied it continuously for two centuries, but its recent owner had moved to the guest cottage, and the main house sat alone and unloved. That changed after the Wiehls purchased the property not long after that first sighting in 1998. Consisting of a main house, guest cottage, three red antique tobacco barns, and horse pastures, their purchase was the beginning of a love affair that continues to this day.
Fourteen years later, the dirt racetrack, barns, and horse pastures remain. Richard races sports cars at the famed Lime Rock Park in his spare time, and Dana uses one of the barns for her Internet business of collecting and selling English bone china. But much else on the once working farm has changed.
With the help of the award-winning Wilton, Connecticut, based landscape firm Hoffman Landscapes, Inc., the home today showcases Americana with a classic English cottage garden touch. It has become the family's hub for the elegant yet casual entertaining they enjoy.
"In terms of garden there was nothing here," says Dana. “The only flowers around were a rusted iron pot filled with plastic flowers." The home was still surrounded by manicured green lawns, however, and now new foundation plantings include a wide variety of colorful perennials; rhododendrons, viburnum, holly, and boxwood.
"Across the driveway from the main house facing the street is a magnolia tree. I had an antique English iron bench so perfect for that spot. Then I made an island bed and put in a fern and hosta garden," she says.
The heart of the property's transformation lies beyond the main house, in the form of a hidden swimming pool, with bluestone patio and dreamy four-columned white pergola. Surrounded on two sides by red tobacco barns, it's complemented by sprawling gardens filled with peonies, roses, pincushion, coneflowers, tickseed, Nepeta and sedum.
When it came time to design the gardens, Dana sought an English cottage garden theme. She insisted that Brian Cossari, the Hoffman Landscapes' landscape architect who oversaw the property transformation, add some cutting gardens so she could have fresh flowers around all summer.
Uncovering the simple charm of the place initially took some work. "Well, for one thing there was a rodeo arena from the previous owners we had to remove," Brian points out.
Dana adds, "You could have done brain surgery out there at night, the lights were that bright!"
Brian was able to convert the whole area into an intimate sanctuary for the new pool by constructing stone retaining walls and steps made of stones from the local quarry. He also added the poolside pergola, a hedge of privet and plenty of plantings with color and texture.
“The view from the pergola in the evening captures an amazing view of the hillside in the northeast,” he says. “The tranquility of the water combined with the sun reflecting off the barn creates a spectacular glow. We also put in paddock style fencing that meets the pool code with a wire mesh low in visibility. It blends with the fencing already on site.”
In the same vein, the pergola's four-column style echoes the home's front columns. “Greek revival on a farmhouse is very unusual,” says Brian. “Our goal was to tie in the new structures with the existing architecture for a cohesive look.”
Around the pool, flowering perennials like fairy roses, salvia, sedum, alliums, liriope, fountain grasses, Lady's Mantle, and moss phylox are tucked in with Emerald arborvitae, while Japanese wisteria climbs over the pergola. Inkberry and flowing shrubs create the loose English garden feel. Boxwood provides the structure.
Dana notes that while some native British plants like bluebells and primroses may not fare as well here as they do back home in England, plenty of other choices abound: “There are some wonderful things here, like Asiatic lilies, that would turn up their toes in England.”
From the minute the weather warms up until autumn cools it off, the family is out by the pool relaxing and entertaining friends. “What I love about the pool is that it's so sheltered, you feel you're being hugged by the long tobacco barn,” says Dana.
After the transformation was complete, the Wiehls received a surprise visit from some members of the family that originally owned the home. “One elderly lady was the last member of the Hatch family to have been born here,” says Dana. “With some trepidation I showed her around the property, but she was just delighted to see all the things she remembered still here.”
The Wiehls are happy, too. After fourteen years on their property, it has really become a home away from home, a little piece of English countryside in rural Connecticut.
Photography Courtesy of Hoffman Landscapes, Inc., Wilton, Ct.