Gardening: A ‘design for living’ from Cynthia Corhan-Aitken
By PATRICIA CONOVER
For Montclair Local
Montclair is home to many magnificent gardens. You can visit some of them during the annual Roses to Rock Gardens Tour, sponsored by Van Vleck House & Gardens. That’s when I first saw Cynthia Corhan-Aitken’s exquisite garden.
Her garden is informal but well thought-out and discerning. There are roses, lavender, and allium bursting in a wealth of color and scent and a lovely pool set elegantly parallel to the back of the house. The original house was built in 1893, an extension was added in the 1920s, and previous owners added the kitchen extension in 1999.
A former bridal gown designer, Corhan-Aitken began designing gardens when she purchased a home in Montclair.
“It was our first house in Montclair,” Corhan-Aitken said. “I was gardening in my yard and realizing what a joy it was to see the fruit of my labor when friends began to ask me to help design their gardens. An old friend asked me to help her create a garden for a birthday party. I realized that this was something I wanted to do.”
Corhan-Aitken’s first daughter was 3 years old at the time.
“I’d studied fashion design at the Fashion Institute of Technology. I had a thriving bridal gown business in SoHo, Cynthia C. & Company, but our family had moved from Manhattan to Montclair. I spent many hours commuting and I realized that I wanted to spend that time with my child.”
It was difficult to walk away from her successful company, but Corhan-Aitken never looked back.
One of the most enchanting parts of the landscape is the “secret garden” brick wall that was there before Corhan-Aitken arrived. She created the graceful landscape that surrounds it. One can walk along the wall and glimpse small gem-like scenes of the pool or the flowers through glassless “windows” cut into the wall. Shape and variation take pride of place. There are many areas set aside for discreet seating, too, for those who wish to contemplate all the beauty in a shady spot.
“Design is translatable,” she said. “Creativity is transferable among disciplines. I realized that I could be close to home and not checking the train schedule every morning. I was already designing gardens. I decided to open a landscape design business.”
Corhan-Aitken enrolled in the School of Professional Horticulture at The New York Botanical Garden and earned a certificate in landscape design.
In the early days of her company, Twig & Vine Design, Corhan-Aitken did nearly everything herself.
“Now, I’m now doing bigger things, but I’m still creating residential gardens,” she said. “I partner with someone on some of the jobs and I use landscape garden crews. I also work with a local landscape construction firm.”
What does Corhan-Aitken love most about creating landscapes?
“I like parterres,” she said. (Parterres are the level space in a garden or yard occupied by an ornamental arrangement of flowerbeds.) “I love pruned hornbeam. My favorite flowers are peonies, roses, hydrangeas and plants that aren’t necessarily flowers, like hostas and heuchera.”
Now, Corhan-Aitken has two daughters. The 3-year-old she didn’t want to leave every morning to take the train into Manhattan — is now 18 years old and going off to college in a few weeks.
A younger daughter, still at home, has quite a few years to play in the garden before she leaves the nest, too.
Corhan-Aitken realizes that she has not only created a business. She has created a way of living her life that was important for her children in more ways than one.
“I wanted a family more than anything. But I also realized that, in creating my business, that I could do something I loved without taking away from my family life with my husband and children. I wanted to model for my two daughters that it is important to have something of one’s own. Do something that you love, something that you can do for your whole life and you have a good chance at being fulfilled,” she said.
Living in Montclair gives Corhan-Aitken plenty of inspiration.
“I’m the one pulling over to have a closer look at the beautiful gardens, taking a peek at your back yard,’” she said. “Please be patient with me!”
A few months ago, Corhan-Aitken told her daughter that their garden might be the perfect place for a wedding.
Her daughter replied, “Mom, that’s so weird!”
Her daughter may want to reconsider.