This Lush Garden Is Proof That Nature Nurtures Beauty
Lois Kroll’s property is less than an acre, but it’s a big deal for small creatures.
By Tovah Martin | Photography by Andre Baranowski
"Whenever I feel the need for a little uplifting, I go to the nursery,” Lois Kroll says, as she makes her way along a terrace chock full of flamboyant annuals before wandering down the steps to a lower garden jammed with all kinds of shrubs.
And judging from the number of plants interlacing twigs and blithely performing around her Briarcliff Manor home, Kroll has availed herself of nursery therapy on frequent occasions, rarely returning home empty-handed. Although the longtime gardener may not be able to identify the botanical name of every plant on her premises, she knows exactly which shrubs produce fodder to entertain the birds and insects that she loves to host. Kroll’s nursery junkets aren’t only about an afternoon’s outing, the real payoff comes when a hungry butterfly benefits from her new acquisition or a weary dragonfly rests on the stem of a recently installed planting.
Originally, everyone from the real estate agent to her family weighed in that the house Kroll was considering was too small, but the compact floor plan didn’t faze Kroll for a blink. In fact, nothing about the house’s design concerned Kroll, who has an architect on auto dial. She had eyes only for the pond.
What worried her when she first looked at the property in 2011 was the lack of easy access around the house to the yard. “There was no path down the hill,” she says, while gazing out windows framed by a blaze of autumn foliage to the little body of water that sold her on the place. High up on her checklist, following closely on the heels of the renovation that added a story to the house and gave her a dining room with a panoramic view of a landscape calibrated to shine well into fall, was a terrace with steps and a path down to the yard. Access was essential for Kroll to make every square foot of her land valuable for wildlife and then immerse herself in the results. “Everyone has something they love, and my love is nature,” says the unapologetic tree-hugger. “The fish in the koi pond, the chipmunks … I love it all.”
With a mission to lure as many insects and animals as possible to her property, Kroll went to work ripping out the botanical thugs that had claimed the breakneck hill behind the house prior to her tenure. “The hill was nothing but poison ivy, stinging nettles, and invasive vines,” she says. A longtime supporter of Rosedale Nursery in Hawthorne, she knew that native plants were a wise direction for a good host to take.
After removing the bad, non-native guys, Kroll made haste to install plants to serve her furry and winged clientele, with an emphasis on shrubs that would spread into a large footprint and muscle out undesirables. Berries such as viburnums, blueberries, elderberries, amelanchiers, and hollies are interspersed with flowering shrubs such as hydrangeas, buddleias, and crepe myrtles (which seem to dote on her location, despite their questionable hardiness in most of Westchester County).
Working with her wetlands, Kroll added a smaller pond closer to the house, surrounding it with plants that tolerate wet toes. To enjoy the view, she increased the upper patio and added a lower garden surrounding a dining table tucked into the woodlands. Everything is planted to the hilt, including the crevices of the bluestones. For season-long pollinator fodder, she offers a full menu of annuals — her favorite being the lantanas that ring the patio and please pretty much every insect with wings.
(Above) Wisteria climbs over the gate to the fence accented by a pair of potted begonias. (Below) Five koi swim blithely in the pond. Phlox, hydrangeas, aucuba, viburnum, crape myrtle and Magnolia ‘Anna’ grow on the hill.
The upper terrace is cosseted in osmanthus and Sunny Knock Out® roses surrounding wrought iron furniture.
Previous owners planted some shade trees, but Kroll bulked up on the woody plants to bring in birds. Before putting her previous house on the market, she moved rhododendrons, honeysuckles, abelia, redbuds, smoke trees (cotinus), and hollies. “I came and watered the transplants every day,” she recalls. The result is heaven. “It looks like Giverny,” she observes, gazing out at the majestic “borrowed landscape” framed by her plantings. And sure enough, everything from blue herons to merganser ducks are present due to the water in the distance.
From the intensively planted front garden that greets visitors and offers a bounty of buffet stations for birds (many feeders and birdhouses were crafted by Kroll) to the lower reaches of the backyard, this property is filled with intrigue. As a result, the experience feels vastly greater than 3/4 of an acre. Perhaps the scenic pond was the selling point, but Kroll has upped the ante considerably.