Paradise in the Garden

LANDSCAPE-August 2009

by Rebecca Falzano
Photography William Brehm

Two doors down from Stephen King’s house, in the heart of Bangor, sits a lovingly restored circa-1863 lumber baron’s home. While the architecture of the Victorian-era manse exuded great character, the backyard—a virtual wasteland of lawn, mulch, and neglect—lacked soul. The home’s generous inner-city lot presented the opportunity for creating a natural oasis where no ordinary terrace would suffice.


Landscape architect Bruce John Riddell was brought in by the homeowners to design a small garden terrace environment for entertaining and meditation. The homeowners were concerned that a design too “modern or dated” wouldn’t complement the architectural vintage of the circa-1860 Victorian home, while a design “too conservative or unimaginative and predictable” would not engage their interest. The homeowners wanted a unique, horticulturally diverse gardener’s garden, one enriched with native flora and plants and would attract wildlife. They wanted a garden filled with native ferns and ground covers as well as more traditional cottage garden perennials that reflect the time period of the home. The clients desired a garden rich in bloom, texture, depth, and color, a garden that would add seasonal interest and architectural detail and meaning to their outdoor living spaces.

Riddell’s design philosophy blends quality craftsmanship and creative site detailing with native plants and traditional Victorian garden perennials to create the ultimate, picturesque, fairy-tale setting: a garden of timeless quality, exuding an atmosphere that intensifies one’s feeling of closeness to nature—despite its inner-city setting. This small garden space transports the visitor beyond the confines of the typical backyard setting and plunges them into a world of wild gardens and imagination.

Balancing old and new, wild and formal, Riddell created a garden of depth within a very small space. There was no room for great meadows, large ponds, or dark woodlands, but just enough room to create a symbolic gathering space adorned by the simple complexities of nature, plants, and stone.

Cleverly integrated granite paving (indigenous to the area) comingles with creeping thyme and lawn panels to physically and visually minimize the scale of paving within the central terrace. The stonework artfully melds plants and paving into a unique swirl of grounded energy. The plantings were orchestrated to blend the new and old, native and introduced, into a unique design vocabulary that keeps with the property’s architectural lineage.

Every detail—from the boulder lighting, tapestry stonework, stone benches, lynch gates, historical estate fencing, carved stone pieces, custom pergolas, quarry steps, secret walkways, guardian stones, and traditional garden ornaments and planters, to the one-of-a-kind water feature—was designed specifically for the project. The water feature adds the mystery of sound, light, and movement within a sparkling dreamscape ultimately designed to minimize the sounds of the surrounding city.

The key to this project was creating a landscape design that reinforces the historic architectural features of the period home, adding a unique overlay of landscape design. The replicated arcs and circles on the existing porch and façade of the main house have been reinterpreted in the design of the pergola, fencing, and gates of the maCRW_0018_win garden.

All plant materials were purchased from local nurseries, indigenous stone was purchased from local quarries, and boulders were found on the site or in nearby gravel pits. Locally based Allenfarm Fence Company milled trees from their own property to construct the pergola and most of the fencing. Drainage is intercepted in riverstone trenches or diverted into fern-swales that surround the garden with a green moat. Steps and elevation changes add depth to the design and a feeling of distance within the small space, while runoff is diverted around the raised terrace to be absorbed by the thirsty lawn and cedar groves.

The result is a truly classic garden constructed from plants, stonework, woodwork, and ironwork. The aging effect created by moss on stone completes the illusion that the garden has been in existence longer than the house—perhaps even forever. This garden is proof positive that great things can come in small packages. The owners named the new garden “Pardisan,” a true paradise of complex simplicity and understated beauty.

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