To everyone in town, an old Greek Revival home was known mainly for being inhabited by the Eldridge sisters, two somewhat unfriendly women who had moved back home in 1918. When Matt Larkin was a boy, the sisters’ big German shepherd liked to bite him as he biked by. Then he grew up, married, bought the place, and re-imagined the garden from scratch.
It has been 18 years since Larkin and his wife Lainie Grant, who are interior designers, moved into the rundown house that sits square in the middle of four overgrown acres in Richmond, Massachusetts. “It was April when we bought it, and there was a 1909 Glenwood cast iron stove, one bathroom—which didn’t work—a single light bulb hanging in the hall upstairs to light four bedrooms, and a wrecked greenhouse,” says Larkin. “So, basically, it was a blank canvas.”
Photographs by Paul Rocheleau.
Above: “When we started putting the garden together, I got really into topiary and found there was no place in America to buy really large scale topiary,” says Matt Larkin. He enrolled in an adult education class at a local high school to learn to weld. Soon after, he became making his own metal forms, planting them, and training the plants. A business was born. His company, Black Barn Farm Topiary, specializes in “big, really big” forms.
Above: The first part of the garden that Larkin and Grant designed was an allée of ‘Donald Wyman’ crabapple trees. In the distance, behind their boxer Portia, is the back door of the house. “The house has a center hall, front door to back, and the entire garden originates from that doorway,” says Larkin.
Above: A view looking into the parterre garden. The polished orbs ornamenting the clipped Chamaecyparis (common name: false cypress) are safety mirrors (like the kind people put at the end of driveways). In the background are clipped hydrangea standards.
Above: The garden of experimental topiary. This is where Larkin tries out new shapes on about 220 pieces of clipped boxwood. “It takes two or three of us a day and a half to clip all the small boxwoods,” he says. “The big yews take a couple of weeks.” To see another example of topiary, visit Topiary with a Softer Side.
Above: A little bird perches on top of a boxwood.
Above: The rustic pergola is built of black locust posts set 4 feet deep in the ground. “The Shaker expression about black locust is it lasts about a hundred years longer than stone,” says Larkin.
To learn more about Larkin’s magical garden, visit Gardenista.