Byfield Couple Creates a Garden with Soul
Written by Lynn Felici-Gallant
Photographed by Joseph St.Pierre
Produced by Marsha Jusczak
There are exquisitely designed gardens, and gardens for plant connoisseurs, but rarely does one encounter a garden with soul. Alan Collachicco and William (Bill) Towne have created such a garden.
Hidden in an unassuming neighborhood in the heart of Byfield, Massachusetts, Alan and Bill have, for the past eleven years, devoted nearly all of their personal time and talents to creating an oasis of such beauty and tranquility that it nearly defies description.
The gentlemen’s journey in the garden began upon purchasing the First Period Colonial home in 1999. At the time, the landscape was unkempt and the plant palette was limited: daylilies dotted the front yard and a few hosta species were strewn about the back. There were remnants of an attempt at a vegetable garden, and weeds smothered the property throughout.
Alan and Bill soon learned that the landscape reflected the chaotic life of its most recent owner—a woman and her children forced to leave the home abruptly to hide from an abusive husband. And upon further research, the men unearthed more tragedy: a Civil War-era resident killed his wife in the home, a later homeowner hanged himself in the barn and a scorned husband died there of a broken heart.
Many a lesser couple would have packed their bags and left a house haunted by such unspeakable pain and tragedy. But Alan and Bill stayed. Not only did they stay, they made it their personal mission to restore joy to the home.
And restore joy they did. Alan and Bill drew upon their own childhood memories, imagined how the original homeowners—a family of colonists from England—might have fashioned a garden, and incorporated their combined design sensibilities and passion for plants into a garden that today is brimming with love—love for history, love for friends, love for the gifts of nature.
Join me on a journey in pictures of this inimitable and extraordinary living work of art.
The front of the Oliver Goodrich home, so-named for one of its earliest occupants, a bodyguard for General George Washington, is striking in its own right. The fieldstone wall was one of the first projects Alan and Bill tackled upon purchasing the home in 1999. Alan laid every stone Bill transported to him in a wheelbarrow, and the two extricated the millstone from the ground to insert it into the wall. Bill proudly claims that laying stone is “in Alan’s blood as a descendent of Italians.”
The courtyard along the side of the home leading to an ell that was added to the original home in 1954 introduces the first of myriad European garden design influences. The discovery of an existing dug well inspired the gentlemen to create an Italianate terrace around it, replete with tiers and steps and a blended bluestone and brick patio that looks as if it has been there for decades. The plant selection for the courtyard is as purposeful as each stone in the walls: a river birch and ilex enclose the area, while perennials such as towering bugbane and low-growing hosta lend it lushness. The house is smothered with climbing hydrangea, and euonymus crawls along the stone wall. “We chose to honor the history of the home when designing the gardens,” said Alan. “We put ourselves in the shoes of people arriving from Europe and imagined how they might fashion their environment in a way that reminded them of home.” Today the terrace serves as a quiet space to enjoy a glass of wine while overlooking the garden, or as the perfect spot to entertain intimate gatherings of friends amid music and merriment.
Alan’s penchant for decorating knows no bounds. Here he draped a low fieldstone wall with Hydrangea petiolaris (Climbing hydrangea) by staking rebar along the wall and adding string. The hydrangea, typically planted to grow vertically, now extends horizontally, sheathing the wall with bursts of splendid white lacecap flowers and verdant foliage. Small statues of birds disguise the rebar, and the effect is striking.
The pièce de résistance of Alan and Bill’s garden is a boxwood labyrinth. Inspired by a labyrinth at the core of an elaborate seventeenth-century parterre in an Archbishop’s residence in Chantilly, France, the concept developed in collaboration between Alan and Bill and their neighbor, landscape designer and historian, Ann Uppington. “Alan and Bill wanted every aspect of the garden to have a spirit of place, a precedent,” said Ann. Indeed, labyrinths and mazes have existed for thousands of years, proliferating in sixteenth-to-eighteenth-century French gardens as spaces for reflection, prayer and celebration. This spectacular view of the labyrinth and surrounding areas depicts a medley of design influences: the plant-to-architecture component of French design with its purposeful placement of statues and the home in the distance; a hedge of native Viburnum trilobum (American cranberry bush) that shields an English pleached allée to the left; a sunken garden in the foreground; and a mural reminiscent of one Alan saw on a wall in Venice, Italy, painted on the back of the columned garage by artist Julia Purinton of Ipswich, Massachusetts. Although their influences were decidedly seventeenth-century, neither Alan nor Bill were wedded to a single garden design concept. “We appreciate many aspects of the French baroque gardens of André Le Nôtre, as well as naturalistic English landscapes and Italianate features such as stone walls and terraces,” said Alan.