Text by Tovah Martin
At Hollister House, autumn is the proud moment that George Schoellkopf has waited for all summer.
George Schoellkopf always knew a garden was in his cottage’s future, but he spent the first couple of years in his cottage stymied. On one hand, he was deeply captivated by the untarnished 1770 Connecticut saltbox. But by the same token, he had no particular interest in going the typical Colonial Revival route for its garden. George was at a stalemate to envision what sort of landscape would speak to the scenic 25-plus-acre property shouldered against a hillside with a brook trickling nearby. His inspiration, or “the clap of thunder,” as George calls it, came when a friend sent him to Sissinghurst Castle in Kent, England, with its labyrinth of rooms partitioned by seemingly ancient brick walls all wrapped in vines. Perhaps not coincidentally, he saw Sissinghurst in September, when the garden was in full density and volume. And that was the image he carried home to Hollister House. “I wanted to be dwarfed by my garden.” He spent the next 35 years achieving that voluptuousness and more.
Even before he began his quest for plants with the requisite heft, presence, and potential, George laid the framework for botanicals that could be giants. What struck him about Sissinghurst was the simple geometry, but nothing about his property lent itself to the straight axis that the British worship. When he came up with the eureka solution of siting the cornerstone wall perpendicular to the house, everything fell into place. From that starting point, it didn’t take long before he had captured the mystery and drama that only an 8-foot-tall wall with archways and hidden annexes can impart. George is still tweaking that seductive mood, and late in the season is when his deftly honed plan reaches full volume.
Not only do the rooms seize the imagination and coax it to wander, they also allow George to unleash the full spectrum. By limiting the vista into finite glimpses, he can access the rainbow without fear that colors will clash with the palette hidden around the bend. As a result, George builds up to the boldest possible spectrum in autumn. With the dahlias in full throttle and the roses in their second flush against a dappling of autumn clematis, Joe-Pye weed, and phlox, it’s enough to take your breath away. “And you never notice,” George shares, “that the garden is too big for the house.”
When someone forges a masterpiece, everyone takes notice. Fittingly, Hollister House has become a preservation project of the Garden Conservancy with the gardens open to the public on designated dates as part of the Garden Conservancy’s Open Days program.