Formal and contemporary come together to create a Zen-like outdoor space that is as beautiful as it is serene, all day and all season long.
Anni de Saint Phalle loved spending time outdoors at her Bedford Hills home with her husband and their dogs, splashing with her family in the pool, and lounging outside with good friends and a glass of wine. But the more time she spent there, the more she felt that the current design didn’t fit the mood she wanted for her outdoor space.
“It was too busy,” Saint Phalle explains. “There were just too many varieties of plants, and it didn’t have a nice flow to it.”
So she brought in landscape designer Max Apton and his team from Bedford-based Sweet Clover Design to collaborate on a clean, naturalistic outdoor look perfect for everything from a pool party with nieces and nephews to a romantic evening for two.
There’s nothing like lounging lazily out by the pool in a comfy chaise. Forgoing the cushions makes the furniture appear less cumbersome and avoids the mess of wet, moldy cushions thanks to rain or a wet swimsuit. Saint Phalle chose neutral, muted colors that pair well with the greens and pinks that Apton utilized in the patio garden beds.
“Whether it was due to nursery labor shortages or the recent boom in [COVID-19] quarantine gardens, annuals of all types were in very short supply,” says Apton. So instead of classic summer-garden staples, like begonias, angelonia, and New Guinea impatiens, he had to rely on gomphrena, zinnia, vinca, and nigella to fill the beds with color and fragrance without attracting a lot of bees and yellow jackets.
“We found ourselves using plants we hadn’t ever used previously,” Apton says. “I was delighted by the prolific blooms of the gomphrena, the scent of the Zepherine Drouin, and the dramatic color display of the Black Cherry vinca.”
The outdoorsy feel continues inside the pool house, with grey wash teak and sea-salt wicker in the chairs. A ceruse-finish wood table and wicker drum-pendant light fixture add to the beachy vibe.
The white performance fabric was carried inside to the pool house in the pillows and cushions, with splashes of blue for color. “It was important to me that the interior furniture be indoor/outdoor,” the homeowner says, “so I don’t have to worry about spills and stuff being knocked over.”
French sliding-glass doors framed with white, semi-sheer curtains keep the space light and airy, offering a bit of privacy when closed without completely obstructing the picturesque view of the Jacuzzi and pool.
“To me, it has that sort of European feel to it,” Saint Phalle says of the breezeway connecting the pool house and the garage. The neutrals and clean lines invoke a calm and inviting feeling, while the strong geometric shapes in the arborvitae, the arched doorway, and the window-pane-framed mirror add a touch of drama to the space.
An eye-catching striped indoor/outdoor runner and some strategically placed throw pillows pick up the characteristic blues and grays of the overall design.
The homeowner and landscape designer chose plants like moth orchids and preserved arborvitae, to lend the space elegance and a touch of nature but don’t require a lot of light, since the area doesn’t get much sun.
For this table setting, bright-pink napkins Saint Phalle had on hand were incorporated. The hot pink adds a fun flair and makes the blue flatware pop. The place setting complements the floral arrangements chosen by Apton in vibrant pinks and greens in a variety of cuts and shapes. Candles from Country Willow in Bedford Hills add sophistication.
The large crabapple tree and patch of arborvitae on the other side of the fence were already in place when Saint Phalle hired Apton. Apton installed tight boxwood parterre as a framework for the beds, which he filled with colorful, fragrant annuals. “People are getting together; they’re having a drink by the pool,” Apton explains. “So, we really wanted those gardens to be fun and bubbly in the way that we want people to feel in that space.”
To keep the seasonal ambiance, Apton used Verbena bonariensis, Pennisetum alopecuroides, and Drift Rose to add texture and draw interest.
Giant Kimberly ferns on either side of the pool house entrance and the boxwood-lined walkway seem to beckon the viewer to the pool seating area and the inviting chaise lounges awaiting them there. “It’s a garden that’s really meant to be observed and enjoyed,” says Apton. “We wanted people to stop and take it in.”
“When you’re laying out any garden, the hardscaping always comes first,” Apton advises. In the case of this home, the pool, Jacuzzi, pergola, and footprint of the patio were already in place. The next step was to fill in that existing framework.
Apton lined the garden beds with low boxwood hedges to echo the clean, straight lines of the hardscape, and brought in pyramidal boxwoods to accent the space: “A lot of it is permanent and shrubbery and perennial, and we always leave spots in these gardens for annuals.”
A pink flamingo float bobbing in the pool and the bright place settings on the table are simple ways to amplify the palette of pinks, whites, purples, and greens in the garden. The throw pillows on the chaises match the color of the pool water. The tight row of arborvitae behind symmetrically arranged parasols and chaises is broken up by an urn erupting in limelight hydrangea and sweet potato vine and are offset by round side tables.
“It’s fun to be able to take the softscape, the gardens and flowers, and have them connect with all of these other elements that adorn any outdoor living space,” says Apton, who has experience in regenerative agriculture.
Around midday, the patio can be drenched in sunlight, encouraging guests to retire to the nearby pergola. “You can lie on a chaise lounge and be in dappled sunlight,” Saint Phalle says — relaxing, reading a book, or watching the kids play in the pool.
The top of the pergola is covered in wisteria, giving it a whimsical, daydreamy look. According to Apton, the key to getting beautiful blooms is to meticulously prune them every few years. This encourages the plants to flower.
“When you’re working with a client on a garden of any size, you have to make sure to honor what the client is looking for,” Apton says, “because you want to leave them with the garden that they were dreaming of and that they are going to love.”
To get an idea of Saint Phalle’s vision, Apton spent a lot of time with her on the property before beginning the project, pouring over garden books, creating a mood board, and seeing the gardens at different times of day.
They decided to keep the old, moss-covered crabapple trees for the architecture and character they provided but opted to prune them to provide a more aesthetic frame for the gardens and keep them from being too distracting. An armillary sphere framed by arborvitae provides an eye-catching folly.
“It’s fun to be able to take the softscape, the gardens and flowers, and have them connect with all of these other elements that adorn any outdoor living space.”
Founder, Sweet Clover Design
A loggia off the back of the main house overlooks the side garden. A set of Sunset West club chairs and ottomans identical to those by the Jacuzzi complete a cozy luncheon nook for the homeowners. It’s a perfect spot for their two small dogs to relax or get some exercise.
“It’s nice to be able to open the door and go out into a pretty garden,” shares Saint Phalle.
The homeowner had a fountain installed (which her husband had purchased years prior) and the lawn laid with gravel. The fence she designed herself. “I love symmetry,” she says. “It’s just my thing.”
Once that was in place, she called in Lake Carmel-based Doherty Electrical Contracting to install lights for the fountain and uplight the two magnolia trees in front of the house.
“The dangerous thing aesthetically about planting trees so close to a house is that they can become overbearing in the way that they shade what would otherwise be sunny windows,” Apton cautions. To avoid this, he recommends keeping them rigorously pruned and thinning them, so they allow enough light into the house while still appearing full.
He also advises to take into account what the property looks like at different times of day, as different lighting will change the way the landscaping looks. You will want landscaping to look just as good in the soft light of morning or when uplit at night as it does when the sun shines directly on it.
Next to the loggia and directly opposite the pool pergola is another pergola — this one for enjoying hors d’oeuvres, a glass of wine, or a cocktail. With its sumptuous white couch and matching lounge chairs, “it’s a really nice place to sit,” explains Saint Phalle. “There’s the gardens and the trees and the sunken fountain. We spend a lot of time there.”
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Like the pool pergola, this one is covered in wisteria and makes use of the same Doric columns, but the different focal points keep the spaces individually exciting. As Apton describes: “I’m looking at some really nice, old crabapple trees, but then I also catch a glimpse of a cryptomeria there in the background. I see that boxwood hedging; I see the pyramidal boxwoods that are an echo of what’s happening around the Jacuzzi. But then, I also see there’s this foreign array of zinnias in between the boxwoods.”
Roughly 20 paces from the pool is the vegetable garden, with its rows of raised beds teeming with celery root, parsnips, kale, cabbage, and chard. The vegetables start out as seedlings in the nearby greenhouse before being relocated to the beds once they’re ready.
“We wanted the client to have something to eat all year long,” declares Apton, who was a vegetable farmer before delving into garden design. “So, the garden stays full of vegetables well into the late fall and early winter, but it changes a couple of times throughout the course of the growing season.”
“I do love getting my hands in the dirt,” Saint Phalle adds. “When you get food right out of the garden, it tastes different.”