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A Storm-Damaged Garden Reimagined

Artist Debby Crane Jones’s proudest moments happen when she shares her outdoor canvas with fellow gardeners.
At one of the garden entrances, Debby is beginning to train ‘Constance Spry’ roses to embrace an arch. She added alliums to create height among the low-lying plantings surrounding the arch.

The Jones family had a running joke. Every time Debby and Bart Jones drove by the imposing house with its massive columns and “look at me” dimensions, they would turn around and say to their three sons, “This is the house we were really meant to live in.” The Joneses were weekending in a modest saltbox just down the street in the Connecticut neighborhood, and they really had no intention of buying the dramatic white house when it came on the market in 1997. But when the “For Sale” sign lingered for three years, they couldn’t figure out why it hadn’t sold.

The blossoms on the Japanese lilac tree help soften the formality of the Joneses’ Greek Revival house.

The family decided to satisfy their curiosity by making an appointment to tour the home. They quickly discovered that not only were new roofs needed on all buildings, but a tornado had damaged most of the trees on the site. Undaunted, the Joneses decided to dive into the deal, and suddenly they were full-time residents of the town of Cornwall Bridge—with a whole lot of projects on their plate.

Debby’s love for fragrant dianthus is evident in the border beside the Akebia arch.

As an abstract artist, Debby is well-versed in working with blank canvases. However, that’s not what she was given with the family’s newly adopted 23 acres. What remained after the storm was “a total chaos of stumps,” so Debby was faced with a different dilemma. “My challenge was to gain control,” she says. The artist found the solution by leaning into her comfort zone. “When I paint, I usually search for order by establishing a grid, so I wanted to do something similar with the garden,” she says. While the network of remaining stumps made establishing a true grid impossible, she worked a “hybrid” solution. The result is a masterpiece of a completely different type.

As she navigated around the stumps, Debby designed a series of circuitous pathways that beckon discovery in the labyrinth-like space. To create some cohesion, she provided repetition when possible. Starting with the parade of crabapples that form an allée leading into the further field, she used geometric shapes as touchstones. Within the garden, a series of boxwood orbs serve a similar purpose. “They dissolve the chaos by holding the garden together,” Debby says. And beyond the boxwoods, she incorporated plenty of vibrant color—a subject she intimately knows through her artwork.

The chandelier in the rustic gazebo provides a whimsical juxtaposition in the garden.
A frog pond surrounded by plants marks the garden’s center.

In a sense, Debby “paints” the garden with flowers, but she does approach her artistry a little differently when working with nature. “The garden allows me to be bolder,” she says. “I don’t have to control myself as much as I do when painting a canvas.”  That boldness is evident in the rotating rainbow of blooms, including tulips, geums, dianthus, and peonies. Spring begins with blushing pinks and later gains hotter “circus” colors, while greens offer quiet moments between color bursts. And sometimes seedheads, such as allium blossoms, create lingering shapes long after their glory days. To compliment those shapes, Debby adds creative accents, such as the woven willow wreaths used to support and corral plants.

The arborvitae hedge protects plantings from cold winter winds.

For Debby, her garden is a gift she loves to share with others, so she often opens it up for tours. She also sees it as a place of comfort and peace for those who might want to spend time in the multi-dimensional habitat she has forged. Rock benches and metal chairs punctuate the landscape, serving as “little places to sit and contemplate.” And nothing thrills her more than hearing guests apply the cherished “magical” word to her garden, which is a common occurrence. Just as Debby’s art often reaches out and creates cohesion among those who view it, this place speaks a universal language of wonder to all who visit.

A climbing hydrangea tucks into a corner of the barn.
A Welcoming Place

When Debby Crane Jones’s Labrador retriever sheds, Debby knows just what to do with the fur. It goes outdoors with the hopes that birds might take notice. “It definitely disappears, and I like that I later find it woven into nests,” she says. But she goes even further. Debby is a knitter, and she often hangs 6-inch lengths of wool from tree branches as offerings for nesting birds. Although Debby doesn’t feed the birds in summer due to the prevalence of black bears in the neighborhood, her sons have crafted birdhouses for the comfort of incoming winged guests. In addition, a shallow birdbath has been fitted with a bridge-like stick so insects can drink. Husband Bart also continues the family’s organic initiatives as a beekeeper. And every creature benefits from the water music of the fountain that trickles from a stone-and-timber wall. It’s all part of the invitation the Jones family extends to anyone who might come and alight, whether creature or human.

More From The Garden
Fragrant dianthus border the garden.
The rustic birdhouse was found at a yard sale.
Debby gave Bartzella Itoh peonies to husband Bart for their anniversary.
The fountain combines local stone with weathered, wooden beams.
Dianthus ‘Coconut Surprise’ emits an enticing aroma.
Debby and Bart’s son Stuart crafted a sculpture that serves as a garden table.
“The garden allows me to be bolder. I don’t have to control myself as much as I do when painting a canvas.”–Debby Crane Jones

By Tovah Martin | Photography by Kindra Clineff