Photographs by stacy bass
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At first stroll the garden on the ten-acre pastoral estate in New Canaan looks all prim-and-proper English, the sort of space where the stiff upper lip has the upper hand. The haughty hollyhocks hold their heady blooms high, the pretty primroses offer their bouquets like homecoming queens and the regal rhododendrons wear their blossoms like crowns.
A second peek behind the leaves of the magnificent copper beech and great ash trees reveals an unexpected Indian accent. It is heard, ever so softly, in the fragrant blossoms of the Madhumalti vine and is echoed in the sensuous evening perfume of the snow-white Mogra flower. It is picked up and repeated in the collection of antique bronze statues, including the good-luck god Ganesha, tucked into a niche near the loggia.
The exciting and exotic voice of the bucolic garden, which recently won a Palladio Award for excellence in traditional design, comes from architect Dinyar Wadia, of New Canaan–based Wadia Associates, and his wife, Gool, who have infused the garden’s English country roots with charming idioms from their enchanting native land, India.
“This estate was built by an English architect for an English family,” Gool says. “It feels like it’s in the Cotswolds. My husband and I love English gardens. The English were in India for 300 years, and, as Indians, we have learned to mix with all cultures, which is what we have done in this garden.”
The Indian influence is felt at the front gate, where the estate’s name, Gitanjali, sets the tone for the garden’s theme. Hindu for “Song Offerings,” it refers to the nature-themed epic poem of India’s 1913 Nobel laureate, Rabindranath Tagore. “I’m very traditional,” Gool says. “I miss India. This may be my country, but India is my motherland.”
Surrounded by a deer fence concealed by a mixed English border of trees, shrubs and flowering plants, the circa 1870 slate-roofed and stucco cottage, which is Edwardian style, has welcome written all over its vine-covered walls. “Indians are well known for their hospitality,” says Gool, who designed the garden. “It is natural for us to invite people — friends and clients — for dinner and to walk around the grounds.”
In addition to the 5,000-square-foot main house, which was the estate’s original guest house, visitors see a veritable Eden complete with an English-style potting shed, a stone gardener’s cottage, a pool house and swimming pool, two greenhouses, and a teahouse that has a stone hearth and a leaded-glass window.
“We keep up the tradition of serving tea in the English style,” Dinyar says. “I come home for lunch every day for tea. Tea drinking is part and parcel of our daily lives.”
And the teahouse, which is original to the property, makes the ritual extra special. “We brew our own tea, which is imported from India, and I make my own blends,” Gool says. “I use fresh lemongrass, mint and cardamom from the herb garden and add to it hot milk and a little sugar.”
When the Wadias bought Gitanjali eight years ago, the house and garden needed a lot of tender, loving care. They updated the interior of the house and restored the exterior and grounds to look much as they did in Victorian times. “We even rebuilt the bluebird house in cedar so that it will last 100 years, longer than we will,” Gool says. “We hear all the birds chirping at 5 a.m. every day, but we haven’t had any luck getting any bluebirds to move in.”