At least a couple of times a year, I need to go visit other people’s gardens. Meander among somebody else’s work and just drink in the beauty.
A couple of summers ago, I visited a private Peterborough garden during the Garden Conservancy’s fundraiser garden tour. It was vast, formal and filled with gorgeous statuary and structure and reminded me of some of the gardens at the mansions in Newport, R.I. The stately, lovely home of Stan Fry and his wife, Cheri, sparked a yearning to investigate since I love all things houses but it was the gardens that drew me in.
To keep it in perspective, these are grand gardens. Created and maintained by an owner with the resources to support employees to help care for his over 5,000 boxwood shrubs, to faithfully pollard his catalpa tree allee, to maintain his over 130 urns and pieces of statuary. You get the idea. These are large-scale, extremely ambitious gardens that the average Joe gardener can only dream of. But that’s what a visit to this type of garden does. It inspires you. It plants ideas in your head.
I talked to Stan back in March about his gardens and he told me his first green thumb experience started as a kid when his parents made him weed their flower gardens. Then, in college, his horticultural interest was enhanced by a professor who hybridized orchids. Now a successful businessman and entrepreneur, his love for gardening has reached its zenith on Pine Street in Peterborough.
In my opinion, the biggest takeaway from a visit to Fry gardens is structure and symmetry. Yes, there are some gorgeous flowers throughout the property that sprawls across both sides of the street but it’s the trees, shrubs, urns, stonework and statuary that steal the show… providing a dramatic backdrop for the finer details of plants and flowers. Undulating, layered rows of yew hedges and hydrangeas, gravel paths through lovely allees and statuary with just the right amount of patina.
Stan explained to me that effort is taken to not place a statue or urn within sight of another piece unless it’s meant as a grouping. When I asked him what garden style he most identifies with, he told me formal and classical. Closest to the house is the most formal of the 52 gardens on the property and the further away you get, the more wild and relaxed the grounds feel. Not for lack of attention, mind you… just planning and mood setting. I’ll only be able to share a few photos of this gorgeous space, but you can find many more on Stan’s Instagram feed (#frygarden.)
Stan shared a couple of his garden secrets with me. I asked how he kept weeds at bay along all the gravel walkways and courtyards. He doesn’t use landscape fabric but does apply corn gluten generously over the peastone as a pre-emergent; he told me it’s important to get this done before the forsythias bloom. (I’m too late this year.) He also taught me something I didn’t know about boxwood. As an evergreen, you might assume it preferred an acid soil but it doesn’t. They like a more alkaline environment and that’s why they tend to do so well bordering lawns, since most lawns are fed an alkaline fertilizer. He shared with me some of his favorite plants: Hydrangea paniculata “Tardiva,” Phlox paniculata “David,” Picasso petunias, Verbena bonariensis and various alliums.
Stan is a collector of many things. From classical fine art to Belted Galloway beef cows to garden ornamentation. Two of his favorite pieces are black granite rams from China that are over 200 years old. He loves old European lead planters but they’re harder and harder to find now and quite pricey. There’s also an abundance of cast stone, marble and granite.
His perennials are started in the fall in seed gardens and he’s got the most orderly series of compost piles I’ve ever seen. One was strictly for grass clippings, which are turned frequently and then used to fill urns due to their high nitrogen content. There are numerous water features amongst the gardens, from lovely fountains to a dramatically dark-hued swimming pool.
As many on his Instagram can attest, it all comes together in a landscape that can seem mystical, steeped in age and antiquity, yet full of exuberance and life. Unfortunately, the Garden Conservancy’s tour this summer has been cancelled in our area. Keep your ear to the ground for another opportunity to visit this lush estate in the future. It will fill your head with ideas, ideas, ideas…