Bunny Williams's 
‘Life in the Garden’
Rizzoli

Bunny Williams's ‘Life in the Garden’

In 1979, interior decorator Bunny Williams and her husband, antiques dealer John Rosselli, had a fateful meeting with a poorly cared for — in Williams’s words, “unspoiled” — 18th-century white clapboard home.

“I am not sure if I believe in destiny, but I do know that after years of looking for a house, my palms began to perspire when I turned onto a tree-lined driveway in a small New England village,” Williams wrote in her 2005 book, “An Affair with a House.” The Federal manor high on a hill, along with several later additions that included a converted carriage shed and an 1840-built barn, were constructed on what had been the homestead property of Falls Village’s Brewster family, descendants of Mayflower passenger William Brewster, an English Separatist and Protestant leader in Plymouth Colony.

Williams has written extensively about the renovation of the Falls Village home where she and Rosselli still reside, but in a new book published Tuesday, March 5, from Rizzoli, Williams takes readers to the great, green outdoors. “Life in the Garden,” featuring principal photography by Annie Schlechter and additional photography by James Gillispie, combines matte and glossy paper, color and black and white imagery, as well as essays, seasonal maintenance steps and plant guides to chaperone readers through spring, summer, fall and winter on the Falls Village land. It’s an intimate tour of the gardening efforts that dwell beyond the white border fence on Point of Rocks Road.

“Life in the Garden,” however, is a slightly deceptive misnomer, for there is not one but many unique gardens to discover on Williams’s property, each with their own character.

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For the lovers of planting composition as a form of botanical embroidery, outside of the conservatory is the parterre garden, a formal garden that takes its name from the French for “on the ground.” This style came into English fashion in the 17th century after Claude Mollet, “premier jardinier” for the kings, first introduced the design for French royal gardens at Saint-Germain-en-Laye and Fontainebleau. In Williams’s parterre, a pergola covered by the growth of a vigorous William Baffin climbing rose that produces deep strawberry pink semi-double cluster blooms overlooks a rippling sea of blush and berry petals belonging to tall, late-blooming tulips framed in neat patterned squares of boxwood hedges.

Offering appeal for the more rustic and adventurous, hidden beyond the trees is a secret garden found by following a dirt path trail where woodland peonies and Japanese wood poppies will lead you to a cast iron bench overlooking a small pond graced by the extending white flowering branches of dogwood trees.

There are many more spots to discover, each a little world of its own, whether it’s the clucks emanating from the lively chicken coup, the twisting branches of the apple trees, the columns of arborvitae, the Guy Wolff handcrafted clay pottery or the greenhouse where Williams inhales “the delicious scents of jasmine and citrus.”

For the book, Williams and Rizzoli publisher Charles Miers have thrown out strict organization — Claude Mollet be damned — in favor of surprising juxtapositions that place candid family portraits next to quiet snapshots of life on the New England land: a lone limestone chicken sculpture blanketed in snow; a table springing to life with floral arrangements set for guests; a congregation of old watering cans. Per Williams, this anti-organization of photos is for readers to get lost in as they discover contemplation, inspiration and a new visual experience each time the book is opened with fresh eyes.

Whether Bunny Williams’s many Falls Village gardens are set in stone or will continue to evolve, destined to be updated in a future volume, is not for us to know. But if there’s any hint, Williams has included a quote from the late Gertrude Jekyll, the famed British horticulturist and garden designer closely tied to the Arts and Crafts decorative movement of the late 19th century. Perhaps best known for her designs for Munstead Wood, a Grade 1 house in Surrey, Jekyll, an author herself and Country Life columnist, wrote: “In garden arrangement, as in all other kinds of decorative work, one has not only to acquire a knowledge of what to do but also to gain some wisdom in perceiving what it is well to let alone.”

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