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Transforming a 50-Acre Christmas Tree Farm Into a Lush Garden (2020 Ver.)

//This blog is updated in 2020//

As a landscape architect, it’s not every day you’re presented with the challenge of moving some 3,000 trees—Christmas trees, at that. But that’s exactly what Janice Parker faced when interior designer Darren Henault tapped her to work on the 53-acre grounds of his new home with his husband, Michael Bassett, in Millbrook, New York. The land was formerly a Christmas tree farm, and it wasn’t in great shape when he bought it. “The farm and the land had been abandoned and neglected for several years before Darren and Michael took a leap of faith and purchased it,” says Parker. Before diving into a redesign, she and Henault surveyed the entire property, not only plotting the evergreens but also discovering groves of other trees, such as maple and apple. “We were surprised by the small, ornamental tree plantings we found on another field, separate from the Christmas trees,” Parker notes. “This ‘nursery’ had been uncared for but held some wonderful specimens of trees that were salvaged, and have since become beautiful features and key moments in the gardens.”

Repurposing the Christmas trees, too, was essential to Parker’s plan. “Preserving existing mature trees near the residence created a naturalized framework to hold the new gardens; hundreds became the backbone of the design when they were transplanted and pruned into hedges,” she explains. “We worked with a small crew and two small tree spades and were able to transplant up to 15 trees a day. That was certainly a challenge!” And countless trees that couldn’t be replanted were donated to the town of Millbrook and to family and friends of the designers for Christmas. Ultimately, through the careful reworking of the farmland, Parker was able to design several distinct zones: a pool, a dining and entertainment area with patios and pergolas, an apple orchard, vegetable gardens, space for chicken coops and beehives, and open fields (Henault hopes to add a tennis court one day). “Throughout the design process, the focus was on how farmers use the land in a way that often results in disciplined beauty and focused simplicity,” says Parker. “Approaching site challenges with innovation and respect allowed problems to become opportunities and was the key gesture of the design.”

Here, take a tour through Henault’s new gardens.

an aerial view of a pool surrounded by hedges with a row of trees in the distance

The pool is surrounded by pruned Christmas tree hedges.

a pergola with a table underneath

A patio for dining and entertainment.

a cement urn with vines growing up and around it

An urn stands in a field.

a cement birdbath in a garden of boxwoods

A birdbath in the garden.

a stone wall with boxwoods behind it and large trees on a hillside

A stone wall lines a lawn.

a gate leads into a garden with evergreen trees in the distance

Evergreens can be seen throughout the design.

a barn in a field with mist rising

The grounds still retain their heritage as farmland.

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