An avid gardener since childhood1 David Whitney’s influence is seen throughout the landscape at the Philip Johnson Glass House, especially in the Succulent and Peony Gardens.
Located in front of his New Canaan residence Calluna, the Succulent Garden was designed and constructed in 1989. Similar to Johnson, who cited Kazimir Malevich’s Suprematist Element – Circle (1913) as “the inspiration for the plan of the glass house,”2 the composition of the Succulent Garden was drawn from a small pencil drawing, Supremetist Composition (n.d.) by Malevich that Whitney acquired earlier in the year.
Rising from the sloping ground, a pink granite cube creates a level planting area. Sourced from Stony Creek Quarry in Branford, Connecticut, it is the same granite that Philip Johnson specified for the AT&T Building (1979-84) in New York. According to Port Draper of Louis E. Lee Company, the contractor of many of the structures on site, the granite slabs were left over from the building’s construction.3 A cross, made of large field-stone pavers, diagonally intersects the square, creating walkways into the garden. This composition is most clearly seen and best appreciated from Calluna’s Master Bedroom windows.
A year after purchasing and extensively restoring the Finch House to its original 1783 footprint, Whitney renamed the structure Grainger and designed its Peony Garden in 1991. Surrounded on three sides by a low stone wall, Whitney repurposed the border of the driveway turning area to create a semi-enclosed planting area. Whitney then transplanted his garden that had been located by Popestead (a timber frame farmhouse on the eastern boundary of the property along Ponus Ridge Road that is currently used as the site office) to Grainger. Carefully laid out, each varietal is staked with an engraved name plate. Alessandro Twombly’s bronze Nature Amassment #4 (1997) was added to the garden in 1998.
Charlotte Curtis captured Whitney’s passion for gardening and his well-known wry sense of humor in her New York Times article, “The Woes of Gardening,”4 in which Whitney recounted an interaction at White Flower Farm in Litchfield, Connecticut:
"A woman said, 'Something’s eating my hostas.' I said, 'Deer.' She asked what you do about them. I said, 'Shoot them,' She didn’t think it was a bit amusing."
Click here for Chapter 7: Donor, Patron, Design Enthusiast
2Philip Johnson, “House in New Canaan, Connecticut,” Architectural Review, Sept. 1950
3Port Draper in conversation with Author, Christy MacLear, and Wendy Cunney at the Glass House, April 2007; Meeting arranged by Christy MacLear, former Executive Director, Philip Johnson Glass House
4Charlotte Curtis, “The Woes of Gardening,” The New York Times, September 13, 1983