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April 2010


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Coming Into Bloom
By Tovah Martin
Photographs by John M. Hall

AFTER CAPTURING THE ROSE GARDEN OF
HER DREAMS, LITCHFIELD'S DIANE STONER
SWITCHED COURSES, CUTTING THE LABOR
BUT NOT THE SPLENDOR

Click on any photo for a larger gallery view.

[Image]

For Diane
Stoner, Litchfield seemed like a botanical Promised Land. The California native was amazed that peonies were a viable option here—definitely not the case out west. Even daffodils were within her grasp; whereas when she lived in Florida they were beyond her reach. Not only was she able to extend her list of wanna-haves, but the 500 feet of coiled hoses that accompanied her to Litchfield in the moving van were newly out of a job. "We were suddenly swimming in water," she says, describing how rain-rich Connecticut seemed compared to the relatively arid climate of Tucson, which the Stoners once called home. Indeed, when they came to the five-acre property in Litchfield, anything seemed possible. Like roses, for example.

[Image]
ROSES ON THE RISE
(click photo for larger view)

There was nothing much growing around the 1850 farmhouse when they arrived in 1987, save for five apple trees that lost their crop to apple maggot on an annual basis. Even the willows went down, thanks to the real estate enterprise of resident beavers. But the lack of flora didn't bother Stoner in the least. After all, she grew up growing apricots (with frequent encounters with figs, cherries and blackberries) on a commercial farm in Los Altos Hills, CA, and had the know-how that could discern good dirt when she saw it. "The old Litchfield farmhouse was surrounded by wonderful, deep, loamy soil," she says. All the better to bolster roses.

She also had vision. Her childhood home was surrounded by heirloom roses, and that's exactly the scene she wanted to recapture. Though she knew that Hybrid Teas were not in her future, she figured that beauties like Austin roses, Gallicas and Damasks would all comfortably thrive on the windy hillside with impeccable drainage.

[Image]

So after planting daffodils, peonies, Oriental poppies and roses, Stoner went heavy on flowering trees and shrubs, as well as all the other elusive bloomers that she'd seen in other parts of the country. She has always dabbled in amateur flower arranging, exhibiting often in competition and filling her home with cut flowers. So she figured she'd plant fodder for her bouquets and skip the trips to the florist. "My view is that everything has to produce," she says. She went straight for lilacs, viburnums, magnolias, weigelas, dogwoods and hydrangeas that would fill her floral creations with color on a rotating basis. She prefers plants that have great flowers for a few weeks, then wonderful foliage for the rest of the growing season, followed by a crop of berries. All the casual perennials in her borders are subject to earn-their-keep rules. Hostas are enlisted not only for their contribution to the garden, but also for their leaves and flowers, which bulk up bouquets. Ditto for everything else, from the herbs behind the house to the beebalm and silenes along the paths.

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