Secret Garden

Photographs by Stacy Bass

While its centerpiece remains the iconic country house that architect Philip Johnson built along Ponus Ridge in 1949, the campus of New Canaan’s Glass House is home to many other treasures, including a collection of buildings that are true to the aesthetic sensibilities of Johnson and his life partner, David Whitney.

Although the structures that visitors see were designed by Johnson, one building, located across the street, to the south of the main campus and constructed in the late 18th century, was purchased by David Whitney in 1990. This modest dwelling, which David called Grainger (his own middle name), became a hot-weather retreat for Whitney and Johnson, complete with air conditioning. As much enamored of spare architectural geometry as was his partner, Whitney removed the structure’s 19th- and 20th-century additions to reveal the home in its original state.

To individualize the landscape, Whitney indulged his passion for gardening. Using the stone-walled turnaround of Grainger’s old driveway as the perimeter for his installation, he planted a peony garden in 1991, and spent every growing season caring for it personally.

“The garden was David’s treasure,” says Irene Shum Allen, Glass House curator and collections manager. “He loved gardening since childhood.” He used a bed next to Calluna—another older home renovated by Johnson for Whitney on the south end of the grounds—as a tryout garden for the varieties that were bought or given to him by friends. To this day, because it is not contiguous to the main campus, Grainger is not open to the public, so the peony garden remains a beautiful secret spot, tended by Grounds Manager Brendan Tobin, who has been associated with the Glass House since he worked for Johnson and Whitney in high school.

Photographer Stacy Bass was given the run of the Peony Garden one morning, where some 50-plus varieties  have been tended for more than two decades.



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