Fields of Green
John and Sarah Walsh's home in Southport is alluring, offering a view of the Sound and a distinct country feel. However, certain aspects render the home exotic, like its yard full of native plants and its maze of thuja.
The first thought on seeing a white gate with a shamrock cutout leading into a hedgerow maze is the classic children’s story “The Secret Garden.” But the inspiration for the maze at this Southport home on the Sound was not English, but American, a reflection of owners John and Sarah Walsh’s interest in early American antiques and folk art. It’s modeled, in part, after the Governor’s Palace Maze in Williamsburg, Virginia, according to landscape architect Diane Devore, who brought the vision to life. Much of the home’s yard is designated as wetlands, so Devore’s first challenge was to use only native plants in designing the home’s landscape. Blueberry hedges, ferns, and wildflowers give the sweeping yard intimate corners and colors in each season. The maze itself is designed from an evergreen called thuja, and the gates can be open and latched in various configurations, allowing for endless variety for the Walsh’s three daughters, Connie, Elizabeth and Alexandra, who were five, six, and nine in 1998 when the maze was installed. “I didn’t want a swing set in the front yard,” Sarah Walsh says. “It would be so visible. I wanted something you wouldn’t mind looking at. A maze is greener.”
Though visible from the house and road, the maze allows an uninterrupted gaze across the yard to the blue of the Sound beyond, and up close, its high walls, narrow corridors and gates with unique-shaped peepholes—sun, moon, star, bell, grapes—provide a place of wonder leading to an inner hiding spot where the children could arrive, breathless, and ring the garden’s central bell; and later relax around a midday picnic. “Even now, at 16, 18 and 20, they have a lot of fun with it when their friends come,” Walsh says. “They go down and take pictures; they’ve had lemonade parties in the center.”
Devore says the Walsh’s maze was the second she’d designed. The first was for the Weston home of Rolling Stones guitarist Keith Richards. The center of Richards’ maze has a faucet that activates a sprinkler system. “Anyone coming in behind the person entering the middle would get wet,” she says.
At the Southport home, the outside is an extension of the inside rooms—with stone walls leading to stone slab steps reflecting what Devore calls a “hierarchy of materials,” so that the patio gives way to the yard, the gardens and the Sound in a natural progression. The front view comes to full prominence in spring, with crabapple trees and daffodils growing close to the road, and Tardiva hydrangeas blooming white-to-pink beyond the formal dining room. Then, too, the wisteria trained along the walls of the driveway send a cascade of purple leading to the home. In the driveway’s round center red tulips bloom, surrounded by evergreens that give the home its winter focus. “So many landscapes and gardens look pretty in spring,” Devore says. “With hedges and walls, we included structures to hold together the four seasons.”
Beyond the kitchen is the bluestone terrace with the home’s grill and entertaining area—a pool sits close to the home, due to the wetlands, but is kept neatly from view by a high stone wall. A small pink rose garden surrounding a statue is its focal point. Despite the home’s size, Devore has kept the outside full of intimate escapes and natural hideaways, eschewing an over-manicured look for contained wildness. Even a vegetable garden at the rear of the home is quaint in size, enclosed by a quince hedge—a vision, in miniature, of a place Peter Rabbit might visit.