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Surprise Garden

They bought the house—and discovered something special



Photos by Wendy Carlson

Only after Arlene and Jon Glantz had closed on their house in Washington ten years ago did they realize what was waiting for them in the garden. In fact, they didn’t even realize there were significant gardens at all.

The Glantzes—she is a jewelry designer and gemologist with her own company A.Glantz, Inc.; he is a stockbroker—both New Yorkers, decided they wanted a year-round weekend house. Like so many others, they decided to limit their search to two hours in any direction from the city. 

“We had been looking in Columbia County and Dutchess County,” says Arlene. “One weekend we decided to explore Litchfield. We went into a local broker’s office. There was a young, eager agent on the floor that day who took us to see houses in Sherman, New Milford, and Roxbury—we didn’t know any of these places.

I had explained I wasn’t necessarily concerned about the style of the house. We would make it our own, but I did specify that I wanted a house on one level, close to town, with western exposure.”

Needless to say, the realtor wasn’t paying attention. When the realtor next called it was as if the Glantzes had never given her any specifics. “I was sitting in front of my computer, trying to sell a stone I had just bought,” recalls Arlene, “and the realtor calls to say she has found our house. She is so positive about it I thought she had filled all of our needs. I asked if it was close to town. She said, ‘Well, it’s not too far away, maybe ten minutes.’ On one level? ‘Well, there was an upstairs to deal with.’ But we went anyway.”

Jon took one direction and Arlene the other and they walked through the house. It was heavily decorated with a grand piano, puddled draperies, and a lot of 18th-century furniture. But as most people will attest to, when you walk into a potential house you know right away if it speaks to you. And the Glantzes knew that after 40 houses they had found the one. It was March—it was gray and dreary outside, the pool was covered. 

There was no hint to what lay beneath the remnants of a recent snowstorm. “The broker is still trying to tell us why this is the perfect house for us and we are trying to explain that we’ve already decided to buy it. No negotiating. We want it and we are going to pay the asking price.” And so they did.

“I went back with the architect who has worked on our New York apartment and whom I trust implicitly,” Arlene explains. “He was very diplomatic and muttered that it was lovely.”

That particular day the owners’ housekeeper was there. She mentioned that the gardens have been featured in a book. Gardens? It was the first mention of their existence.

“In May, just before we were about to close, I wanted to show the house to our son,” says Arlene. “Since we didn’t own it yet, I was told we could walk around the outside, peer in windows, but could not go in. I almost didn’t recognize the grounds. The entire place was lush. Beautiful potted plants around the pool, amazing flowers peering out from so many directions. It was the first time I realized we had real gardens.”

The previous owners were designers who had owned the house for 20 years. One of them focused on the exterior. Meticulously planned, there were specific groupings that bloomed at different times throughout the season.

“There was a white garden,” says Arlene. “When the white and pink peonies came up there were other plants to complement them. Later on, the purple garden featured incredible irises. There were flowers to highlight the wisteria. He created a parterre of all boxwood. In a sense he created a series of garden rooms that you can enjoy throughout the spring and summer.”

Even though there is little more than half an acre of land, the gardens seem enormous—and every inch is breathtaking. The bones were there. It took the Glantzes’ energy and perseverance to bring the gardens back to life.

Although revitalizing the gardens was a main concern, the Glantzes had to deal with making the house their own—it had originally been a barn that belonged to the neighboring property.

The French doors were originally sliding doors through which to move the horses. All of the original stone floors were restored and the original windows were replaced. “Our architect convinced us that the entire south wall that faced the gardens had to be glass,” Arlene explains.

“We put in French doors so that you can experience the outdoors when you are inside—even when it’s snowing.” The original transom over one of the sets of doors was installed in the kitchen to bring in more light. The gray interiors were all painted white bringing a fresh, clean look to the open space.

The Glantzes try to spend as much time as possible in their home, especially during the garden’s peak moments. “We like to entertain outside during the summer months, simply because it allows our guests to enjoy the flora and fauna that we see all the time,” Jon says.

Although they still employ gardeners once a week for upkeep, Arlene enjoys doing some of the work herself. “Gardening feeds my soul and inspires me,” she says. “I get ideas for jewelry colors and combinations from what I see around me. I can’t imagine being happy anywhere else.” 

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