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Home » PEOPLE AND PLACES » CONNECTICUT » Hollister House Garden
Hollister House Garden

An English Garden Oasis in Washington, Connecticut

By Mark B. Oliver | August 14, 2012

A short drive from the center of Washington, Connecticut is an enchanting English garden the like of which has never been seen this side of the Atlantic.

BY & COPYRIGHT: George Schoellkopf

English weather is notorious the world over; it’s wet.   The warming effects of the North Atlantic Drift (a continuation of the gulf stream that runs up the west coast of Ireland) negate England’s much higher latitude providing for wetter but warmer winters than in New England.

The practical effect, when it comes to gardening, is that plants that can survive English winters die in New England from the cold, and plants that thrive there in the summer can burn to a crisp in a single day here.

Thirty-two years ago, George Schoellkopf visited Sissinghurst Castle in Kent, England.   It was to be a life-changing experience.   The Elizabethan manor house had been visited by Queen Elizabeth in the 16th century before falling into ruin for nearly 300 years.

In the thirties, Harold Nicolson, a writer and diplomat, and Vita Sackville-West, poet, novelist and gardener began restoration of the manor house which was set in the middle of its own woods, streams and farmland and with long views on all sides across the fields and meadows. The quintessential English garden they created is now a National Heritage site in the United Kingdom.

BY & COPYRIGHT: George Schoellkopf

Schoellkopf delighted in the vibrancy of the garden and the seeming randomness of the layout and plantings that blended with the local landscape unlike traditional gardens in the United States.

Upon his return he decided to develop his own English garden in the grounds of his home, Hollister House, an 18th century farmhouse.   Professional and amateur gardeners alike were at best skeptical.   The English garden was not in vogue, and the climate differences would hamper both plant growth and survival.

Hollister House stands atop a small hillock overlooking a stream below.   At the time the slope consisted entirely of grass.   Knowing that English gardens need a solid architectural base, Schoellkopf decided that he needed to create terraces.

“One of the first things I did was build an eight feel wall,” says Schoellkopf, “that was key.” Now the wall, weathered with age and surrounded by plants looks as though it has stood for hundreds of years.   An archway built into the wall is reminiscent of Elizabethan gardens and the mind wanders to wonder of all those that have passed through it.

Schoellkopf explains how his garden consists of “rooms” each separate and distinct and yet blending with the next.   Stone pathways abound as do chairs and benches.

BY & COPYRIGHT: George Schoellkopf

“They aren’t really for sitting, but again provide a backdrop for the plants.” And how did he manage to create such a thriving garden?

“I killed a lot of plants!” His hearty chuckle is infectious, and you warm instantly to the charming gardener.   “There was nobody to ask so a great deal was trial and error.”

As most of the plants he needed to create his garden were not available in the US, he acquired an import licence and the tiny saplings arrived devoid of any soil to meet legal requirements.

“It is very satisfying,” he continues, while instinctively removing a dead flower head, “to see the wonderful plants and trees that have grown from those saplings.”

A traditional English garden consist of few shrubs with perennial, biennial and self-seeding annual plants predominating.   These grow from the ground each spring and after flowering die back to the root stock (or die in the case of annuals).   As each species of flower grows at different times, a common problem gardeners’ experience are barren patches in the flower bed, before a plant has started to grow or after it has flowered.

The solution? Group together plants, so that as one is dying back, another is growing to fill its place.   Known as ‘succession’ this problem has haunted gardeners for hundreds of years, but Schoellkopf has mastered it in just thirty, as the full beds thrive with a mixture of leaf textures and complimentary colors.

“The house is the star of the garden - the entire garden was planted to accompany it.   There is never a straight on view of the house - you always see it from an angle.” A lesser gardener would have fallen into the ‘trap’ of having at least one path straight to the path, but the effect of moving from room to room as you approach is very special indeed.

BY & COPYRIGHT: George Schoellkopf

And does he now know what needs to be planted where?

“No!” Again that laugh.   “I know what should grow well in certain spots, but it doesn’t always work, and I have no idea why, so I dig it up and plant it elsewhere.”

The landscaped parts of the grounds consist of four to five acres, and he is assisted by talented gardener Krista Adams, who helps him several days a week.

As in Sissingbourne, the garden blends seamlessly with the surrounding landscape creating beautiful vistas from every aspect.

As we walk around the garden he has created, the gentle sound of water trickling through Sprain Brook is ever present.   The combination of the sights, aromas and moving water combine into a majestic whole.

Hollister House Garden is so prized that it is one of only sixteen gardens that is designated a preservation project by the Garden Conservancy, who seek to protect and ensure the long-term stewardship of fragile environments for the benefit of all.

In addition to being open every Saturday during the summer (see hours below), special events are held in the garden in July and August that are highly recommended.

You don’t have to be a garden enthusiast to enjoy the Hollister House Garden, as the tranquil setting is the perfect antidote to our busy, stressful lives.

ONE would like to thank George Schoellkopf and Karen Kopta for their generous assistance.


BY & COPYRIGHT: George Schoellkopf

Hollister House Garden

294 Nettleton Hollow Road, Washington, CT 06793

(860) 868-2200



Opening Times:

The garden is open every Saturday until October 1, 2011.

Jun – Aug: 8AM – 10AM and 3PM – 6PM

Sept: 10AM – noon and 2PM – 5PM

Special Events for Summer 2011:

Twilight in the Garden

Saturday, July 9th, 2011.   6pm – 8pm

Enjoy a summer evening in the garden with wine and nibbles.

$20 per person or $35 per couple.

Moonlight Serenade

Saturday, August 20, 2011. 6PM – late.

A romantic evening is guaranteed at the Gala Dinner and Dance in the garden at Hollister House with honorary hosts Bunny Williams, celebrated interior designer, gardener, author, and John Roselli, noted New York antiques dealer and connoisseur.

Garden Walks

Daylilies: July 23, 2011.

Dahlias: August 13, 2011.

The Hollister House’s talented gardener, Krista Adams and George will share with you their experiences and information about which hybrids work best at the Hollister House Garden.

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