Harkness Memorial State Park

The mansion roof peeks from above the treetops in A Garden For All by Kathy Diemer https://agardenforall.com

The mansion roof peeks from above the treetops (photo by: Kathy Diemer)

In celebration of our anniversary, my husband, Ged, and I visited a gorgeous park overlooking the ocean in Waterford, Connecticut. Well worth the visit, my post will hardly be able to cover all the wonderful aspects worthy of mention on this beautiful estate. Between the stands of ancient beeches, maples and chestnuts, the expansive and lushly planted grounds and the breathtaking views, I hardly know where to start. Did I mention the mansion was being prepared for a wedding that day . . .

A stone pergola looks out over the West Garden in A Garden For All by Kathy Diemer https://agardenforall.com

A stone pergola looks out over the West Garden (photo by: Kathy Diemer)

Harkness Memorial State Park (www.harkness.org) encompasses 230 acres of sweeping lawn, extensive gardens, numerous outbuildings (more on those later) a green house and a 42 room mansion, all with views of the Long Island Sound. Edward Harkness purchased Eolia (the park’s original name) in 1907, and Beatrix Ferrand was brought in approximately ten years later to perform extensive improvements to the landscape (which took over a decade), creating many of the stunning scenes we are still able to enjoy today. Eolia was left to the state of Connecticut in 1950, became part of the park system in 1952, and was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1986. During the 1990’s, restoration of the grounds began anew under the guidance of Canton architect, Roger Clarke, and for the next ten years shrubs and perennials were added to complement the existing bones.

The West Garden looks out to the ocean in A Garden For All by Kathy Diemer http:/agardenforall.com

The West Garden looks out to the ocean (photo by: Kathy Diemer)

We entered the estate from Great Neck Road and were instantly mesmerized by the salt marshes and distant views of the ocean. As we got closer, the rooftop of the mansion  erupted between multiple treetops, giving it an enchanting feeling. Massive trees provide multiple shady spots to relax across the manicured lawn, while other areas offer tables and grills to enjoy an afternoon picnic. There is a spacious stone pergola with several benches to relax while viewing the vibrant West Garden and the Long Island Sound beyond. I was told the former mistress of the estate (Mary Stillman Harkness) took her tea on the veranda every afternoon, she so cherished the spectacular views.

The East Garden is scented with fragrant heliotrope in A Garden For All by Kathy Diemer https://agardenforall.com

The East Garden is scented with fragrant heliotrope (photo by: Kathy Diemer)

Once we actually entered the grounds, it was hard to decide which way to go first. Straight ahead lies the mansion and surrounding gardens, to the left are the original farmhouse and orchard, a greenhouse and the carriage house, and to the right is the Niering Walk, a grass trail that winds through native marsh leading to Goshen Cove. Finally, there is a footpath that follows the perimeter of the property along the shore line, with several opportunities to stroll right down to the sandy beach. We decided to start by going to the left, eventually winding our way back to the mansion.

A colorful display in the Cutting Garden in A Garden For All by Kathy Diemer https://agardenforall.com

A colorful display of annuals in the Cutting Garden (photo by: Kathy Diemer)

The first garden we came upon was the Cutting Garden; a delightfully colorful array of annuals lined row after row with zinnias, cleome and Mexican sunflower, all flanked by a formally trimmed boxwood hedge on two sides and amplified by a fiery red grouping of ancient Japanese maples tall enough to walk under (yet open enough to view the ocean from between their twisted serpent-like limbs) on the opposite end. To the right of the Cutting Garden was a stone water tower cloaked with vines that looked down on us from above the crown of nearby maple trees. As we took in the combination of prismatic plants, we couldn’t help but notice the ocean as it sparkled in the back ground, providing a perfect accompaniment to the garden.

The Carriage House surrounded with vibrant plantings in A Garden For All by Kathy Diemer https://agardenforall.com

The Carriage House is surrounded with vibrant plantings (photo by: Kathy Diemer)

From the Cutting Garden we continued north to the Carriage House, which was also surrounded by dozens of established specimen trees, perfectly shaped hedges and swaths of lively perennials in shades ranging from bold yellow to pastel pink. The roof of the Carriage House was made up of (what appears to be) a series of rounded ceramic tiles the color of the Emerald City (Wizard of Oz) that blended fabulously with the trees while glistening against the warm blue sky above.

Rows of bright perennials lead to the Green House in A Garden For All by Kathy Diemer https://agardenforall.com

Rows of bright perennials lead to the Green House (photo by: Kathy Diemer)

Adjacent to the Carriage House were beds filled with an exquisite kaleidoscope of lilies, each separated by grassy aisle ways. At the end of the rows of lilies, we came to an archway covered with lush pink climbing roses, and beyond were a sequence of annuals and perennials lining the grass pathway that led us right to the doorstep of the Greenhouse. The main greenhouse has been refurbished and is attractive in its own right, but the older structures-or what was left of them-intrigued us even more. One building housed three elderly grape vines that were cloaked with pale green orbs hanging in dense clusters from the branches overhead. Another structure was a simple cement foundation with a series of corroded heating pipes running throughout, which we assumed once housed the mansion’s tropical plant collection.

The Farmhouse was original to the property in A Garden For All by Kathy Diemer https://agardenforall.com

The Farmhouse was original to the property (photo by: Kathy Diemer)

From the Green House we walked to the Farm House, which we were told was several hundred years old and original to the property. The Farm House was guarded by a group of regal beech trees that I’m sure provided shade during hot summer days and a bit of adventure for the youngsters that once climbed their stately limbs. The front of the house had an open porch (sadly not structurally sound) and the side had a glassed in sunroom. I couldn’t help but feel the presence of those that worked the land decades ago, you could almost hear their laughter on the summer breeze . . .

The Harkness Mansion and the East Garden in A Garden For All by Kathy Diemer https://agardenforall.com

The Harkness Mansion and the East Garden (photo by: Kathy Diemer)

Back at the center of the property, the mansion rises above the tree line and greets the afternoon sun. Protected on three sides by majestic maple, chestnut and beech sentries, the ocean side of the structure is enveloped by a series of gardens, all ornamental, but with different interpretations; some for reflection, with fragrant heliotrope and sunken pools, while others are filled with bright flowers and ornamental shrubs designed to inspire. No matter which garden you stroll through, the ocean is always visible in the distance, offering a refreshing breeze and the scent of salt air.

A pair of Ospreys on their nest in A Garden For All by Kathy Diemer https://agardenforall.com

A pair of Ospreys on their nest overlooking Goshen Cove (photo by: Kathy Diemer)

Our final trek led us along the shoreline where we viewed the New London Ledge Lighthouse (circa 1909) and enjoyed watching the sea gulls scouring the rocks for an afternoon snack. The path eventually brought us to the Niering Walk, a natural preserve dedicated by Dr. William Niering in order to protect the Goshen Cove ecosystem and provide a place for the public to enjoy the beauty of this native setting. The mowed walkway is lined with tall grasses and a variety of wetland shrubs, and the sounds of birds and wildlife permeate the airwaves. The path ended at the cove, where we were thrilled to witness a nest of osprey feeding their young in a nest overlooking the water.

For an opportunity to enjoy the ocean (and a touch of romance♥), a series of fabulous gardens and period architecture, all while being surrounded with the sounds and sights of nature, you need look no further than Harkness Memorial State Park.

Enjoyed this post? Never miss one again!
Enter your email address below and we'll notify you whenever there's an update to our blog.
"Get our updates, free!"
Never miss a blog post again. No spam. We promise!

Comments

  1. How gorgeous and romantic! As an avid reader of this blog, I remember last year’s anniversary – a limo to NYC for a walk on the HighLine. My, how time flies. Happy Anniversary!

  2. Beautiful . I am a frequent visitor at Harkness but you have really captured all of it’s gems. Do you know when their chestnuts date back to and do you know of any other areas on the Ct. shoreline with healthy chestnuts ?

    • Hi Lynn, The mansion was built in 1906 by William and Jesse Stillman (sister of Mary Stillman Harkness), and purchased a year later by Edward & Mary Harkness. I would guess that any trees not there naturally were planted sometime during the 1910 to 1920 period. You might want to call Harkness directly (860-443-5725) and see if one of their staff can provide more info.
      For info on chestnut trees in Connecticut, you may want to contact the CT Chapter of The American Chestnut Foundation (TACF) at ctacf.org
      Thanks for reading ~

Speak Your Mind

*