After Her ‘Affair with a House,’ Bunny Williams Fell in Love with its Gardens

Formal hedged gardens at the northwest connecticut country home of interior designer bunny williams

The title of Bunny Williams’s latest book says it all. Life in the Garden, which Rizzoli recently released, is not just about the extraordinary and varied landscapes the noted interior designer has created around her home in Falls Village, Connecticut. It’s also about how she inhabits that space, literally and emotionally, and has nurtured — and been nurtured by — it. That’s what makes this book, her seventh, so appealing.

John Roselli and Bunny Williams in the parterre garden of their country home in northwest Connecticut
Interior designer Bunny Williams shares a moment with her husband, John Rosselli, in the parterre of their home in northwest Connecticut. The gardens surrounding the house are the subject of Williams’s Life in the Garden, her latest book for Rizzoli. Top: Carefully clipped hedges keep company with freer-form flower beds. All photos by Annie Schlechter

Williams does not claim to be a professional garden designer, and she cheerfully admits that she has made many mistakes over the years. But the book makes clear that she’s also learned how to correct them. Today, her garden is composed of a glorious series of interconnected rooms, including a traditional parterre, a formal sunken garden framed by two perennial borders, a huge and spectacular vegetable garden and extensive woodlands.

Vegetable and cutting garden at the country home of interior designer Bunny Williams in northwest Connecticut
Just outside the property’s barn, Williams has planted beds hosting favorite vegetables, as well as cutting flowers like tulips and fritillarias, peonies and dahlias, foxgloves, delphiniums, zinnias, lilies and sunflowers, which together keep the plot blooming from early spring through late summer.

Add to all this a greenhouse that is home to a dazzling year-round display of succulents and tender plants, an octagonal chicken pavilion, a glass conservatory that serves as a beguiling dining space, a poolside temple folly with echoes of the legendary Stourhead estate in England, a birdhouse village and, punctuating the grounds, a host of beautiful and unusual garden ornaments (antique pedestals, Cretan oil jars, iron obelisks and even a Victorian composting ring). It’s no surprise that whenever this garden is open to the public for charity events, visitors stream in by the hundreds, with more of them coming every year. (Williams graciously participates in the Open Days program of the Garden Conservancy, and her garden is a featured attraction every May during the hugely popular Trade Secrets weekend, a fund-raising event Williams helped create to fund Women’s Support Services, now known as Project Sage, in northwestern Connecticut.)

Parterre garden at the country home of interior designer Bunny Williams in northwest Connecticut
Williams defined the beds of the parterre using paths paved with antique bricks and low borders of Green Gem boxwood. Here, it impresses with a display of spring tulips. “We choose from very tall, late-blooming varieties that will reach over the hedge and, ideally, bloom in late May, in time for our first garden tours,” she writes in the book. To the right is a conservatory, and at the rear is a hedge of hornbeam, which, she writes, was planted to serve as something of a visual backstop.

The photography throughout the book, which runs to more than 400 pages, is principally by Annie Schlechter, and it is sumptuous, illustrating the garden in every season and juxtaposing long shots of the various rooms with delectably detailed closeups of individual trees and plants. (The latter were mostly shot by Williams’s nephew-in-law James Gillispie on his morning walks through the grounds.) 

The volume’s design charmingly disregards any conventional method of organization, giving it the feel of a scrapbook. This is reinforced by Williams’s highly personal text, which begins with recollections of her childhood in Virginia, reveals what has influenced her garden choices and details the long process of making a garden.

We see Williams relaxing on a bench with her husband, John Rosselli; cutting and arranging flowers; and in discussion with her gardener, Robert Reimer, who, in the five years he has been working with her, has brought the garden to a whole new level. Guests with drinks in hand wander casually down a garden path, a wedding procession winds its way over a hill, dogs are everywhere, and a snowy white cat can be seen emerging gracefully from behind a group of succulents. A profusion of flowerpots are revealed neatly stacked in a toolshed, we glimpse an enviable collection of antique watering cans, and we even get to see part of Williams’s extensive collection of inspiring garden books, carefully arranged on shelves within the reconfigured barn. 

By now, I’m guessing, Life in the Garden has taken its rightful place among them. 

Cover of Bunny Williams's new book from Rizzoli entitled Life in the Garden
RIZZOLI released Williams’s LIFE IN THE GARDEN earlier this month.

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