A Garden for All Seasons

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The formal symmetry of the garden at Parterre adds structure to the landscape, but leaves enough room for experimentation year over year.

Though many transplants to New England who hark from warmer climes may learn to live with winter, few come to truly embrace it. Bettie Bearden Pardee is an exception to the rule. The author and gardener extraordinaire spent much of her life in Atlanta and Southern California, but fell in love with Newport — and its distinct seasons — when she moved to the city nearly three decades ago.

When establishing the gardens for her home on Bellevue Avenue with landscape designer Ginny Purviance, she discovered the importance of evergreen shrubs such as yew, and how the bones of the garden would provide both shape and texture in wintertime. To that end, the winter garden of her home, Parterre, is directly off the south side of the house, where it’s visual appeal extends through the coldest of months, especially, Pardee says, when a blanket of snow covers it.

Coincidentally, Pardee’s new book, Living Newport – which hits bookshelves nationwide in September — is organized by season, as a tribute to Newport’s lively year-round community. “Newport has graduated from being a summer colony to being a place where people can live year round,” says Pardee, “and I wanted people to see that.”

Pardee’s fondness for her adopted home city lies largely in its architectural past, and the willingness of residents to live with history while adapting structures to the present day. So while Pardee’s residence was built was from the ground up in 1999 (the original structure was demolished in the 1940s), Parterre’s landscape still retains much of the character of the original Belmont estate, which also included Rosecliff, the Guilded-age mansion now maintained by the Preservation Society of Newport County. In fact, Parterre still features several of the property’s existing trees, squarely anchoring it to the past. Since then, Pardee has added several specimen trees, as well ‘Hally Jolivette’ cherry trees and a hedge of copper beech.

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Author Bettie Bearden Pardee in the mudroom that also serves as a work space for floral arrangements and her garden library.

Though her home has a French country personality, the gardens take their cue from the English aesthetic, acting like an extension of the house. Formal in structure, but friendly in attitude, Pardee’s gardens use symmetry to organize their structure as well as their seasonal relationship to the main building.

In the backyard, an orangery — a Christmas gift to Pardee from her husband — delineates the lawn from the black and white garden, filled with dark purple and green plantings as well as bright white blossoms. Here, the garden is sectioned into four quadrants, which adds energy and a line for the eye to follow through the space. Opposite, another bed uses spirals with a border of wild Eurpoean ginger referencing the shapes across the path, a thoughtful transition between the two beds.

Behind the gardens, and extending across the border of the winter garden, a yew hedge creates a microclimate. Beyond it, the landscape opens to an entirely new room — a woodland garden with a noticeably cooler temperature. Inspired by Kyoto’s famed Moss Temple Garden, but adapted to Newport’s climate, Pardee planted Japanese maples, Hosta, ferns, and Solomon’s seal.

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Japanese painted ferns dot a boxwood border, while a limelight hydrangea hedge walls off the winter garden.

Around the corner lies one of Pardee’s prized specimen trees, an unusual variegated dogwood, Cornus controversa ‘Variegata,” also known as the “wedding cake tree” due to it’s tiered branches. Pardee is so fond of it, she named it Coco. On the other side of the front of the house lies Coco’s “sister,” called Sophie, a Sophora japonica ‘Pendula,’ also known as the Japanese weeping pagoda. “They are my two babies,” says Pardee of her gems. “I am a mother hen!”

Like most gardens, Parterre’s — which also includes a large cutting garden filled with dahlias and zinnias and bordered by espaliered pears — have evolved to their current state through years of trial and error. “The garden told us what it didn’t want in it,” says Pardee, who calls herself “a garden maker” and is unafraid to try different annuals year over year, experiments frequently, and pushes the boundaries of what can grow in her zone. Despite the gardens’ organized boundaries, Pardee has no compulsion to be a ruler over nature. “I like things irregular,” she says. “It’s not supposed to be perfect. Gardening is one of the most humbling things you can do.”

Photos by Meaghan O’Neill, except where noted. Click on any image below to launch the gallery.

Cover photo of “Living Newport: People, Houses, Style,” by Bettie Bearden Pardee (Glitterati Incorporated, 2014) used with permission.

Meaghan O'Neill is a writer, editor, blogger wrangler, and the founder of Puddingstone Post. She was formerly editor-in-chief of TreeHugger, Discovery Channel online, and TLC's Parentables. Her writing has appeared in numerous print and online publications, and her book, Ready, Set, Green: 8 Weeks to Modern Eco-Living (Villard/Random House) was published in 2008. She lives in Newport, RI with her family.

1 Comment

  • Reply January 18, 2016

    Blake Warner

    Very Interesting! What an impressive green thumb. I am interested in seeing what the garden looks like during winter months. That would be a great addition. I also wonder how invasive some of the vegetation is. Bamboo for example can be very invasive and problematic when introduced to certain environments.

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