Helen Waite and John Feliciani: Black Hog Farm Bed and Breakfast in Lewes
Living High on the Hog: A couple puts down roots at a B&B and boutique farm near Lewes.
At a Glance
Who Helen Waite and John Feliciani
What Black Hog Farm Bed & Breakfast
Where Near Lewes
At Black Hog Farm, Mother Nature is a trusted decorator, painting the landscape with ruffled orange squash blossoms, verdant Atlantic cedar and waving stands of lavender.
The constant gardeners who tend the land are Helen Waite and John Feliciani, who exult in good soil, healthy plants and dreaming up new plots together.
“That love of the garden is something special that we share,” John says. “Even weeding isn’t as tedious when you have someone to share the load.”
Both spouses inherited their green thumbs. John, who retired in 2010 as Winterthur’s curator of horticulture, was the fourth generation of his family to care for the grounds at the iconic estate. Helen, a gifted and insightful designer of gardens, is the daughter of passionate gardeners.
“Both my parents were master gardeners,” she says.
They put down roots together when they married in 2009, blending families—each partner has two adult children—as well as shared interests and values. Together, they operate Black Hog Farm, a bed-and-breakfast inn and boutique farm offering such specialty products as heirloom veggies, hard-to-find ornamental plants and eggs laid by pasture-fed ducks.
“It’s a combination of things that appeal to us and the things we think will appeal to other people,” she says.
Helen and John married on the farm, tucked away along a rural route in Sussex County outside Lewes.
“Everyone gathered outside by the cutting garden,” she recalls. “We set up the bar under the trees.”
As part of the celebration, they planted a pair of bald cypresses as their bride and groom trees, a regional practice dating back to the 18th century that is symbolic of growing love and commitment.
“Soon after we planted them, one of them got knocked down and had to be replanted,” Helen says. “John and I went back and forth as to whether it was my tree or his that took the hit.”
HOME ON THE FARM
Sited at the end of a long, cypress-lined drive, the farmhouse was built in three parts. The first two, constructed around 1900, consist of two-story sections stacked side by side. The third single-story wing was added by previous owners in the mid-20th century.
Helen and John repurposed that section as a cozy bed-and-breakfast suite with a bath, sitting room and bedroom for visitors who want to get a taste of farm life.
The facade is very much classic farmhouse, clad in clapboards painted an earthy beige. A wide, welcoming front porch is lined with rocking chairs.
Inside, the largest space is a pleasant living room, which also serves as a library and music room. Helen’s father was an organist and she plays the upright piano. A quartet of recorders in varying ranges, passed down by her mother, is displayed on the wall above the piano.
One wall is devoted to books, many of them horticultural volumes. There’s a colorful, poster-sized photograph of John’s father immersed in flowers at Winterthur, where he nurtured plants for half a century. A black-and-white portrait of Helen’s father, a pipe clenched between his teeth, was taken when he served in the Royal Air Force.
TWO HEADS ARE BETTER THAN ONE
Helen isn’t especially fond of fussing with knickknacks. But the mantel on the fireplace in the living room needed some dressing up.
So she turned to a friend, Michelle Jennings, “who is quite good at arranging things so that they look planned and artistic.”
Michelle came up with a vignette that included a whimsical ceramic hog, brass candlesticks and other decorative pieces.
“Then I went in and made a few small adjustments,” Helen recalls. “Having Michelle’s design to work with was so much easier than starting from scratch.”
Gardens are more her style. A small ante room with a flagstone floor has French doors that open to a deck with a dazzling view of the artfully informal gardens she designed, balancing beds and plants in various shapes, heights and volumes. A broad expanse of emerald green flows through the beds, a corridor of sorts connecting open-air rooms.
The rustic trestle table crafted from European oak is well-traveled. Helen’s parents bought it in England and transported it to Canada, where she grew up. Today, the table is at home in an informal dining area between the living room and kitchen, where she makes quince jelly and asparagus quiche.
“I like that I have things that belonged to my parents,” she says. “Clearly, this table was built to last.”
A BLOOM BOOM
Their home is a jewel box of a farm, a scant 4.2 acres watered by the Black Hog Gut, a tiny tributary of Canary Creek. Among its gems are ruby red Brandywine heirloom tomatoes, amethyst stalks of Russian sage and the pearl-white blossoms of the magnifica rhododendron, known for its luxuriant perfume.
John grew the fig tree from cuttings from a tree grown by Henry Francis du Pont at Winterthur. He admires the paper bark maple for its exfoliating bark and sculptural shape. Six filbert saplings will serve up nuts in years to come.
The molded concrete garden bench Helen received on her 50th birthday is tucked away in a grove of shrubs, a secret pocket within the garden that is ideal for meditation or a child’s game of hide-and-seek. Spigelia marilandica, the wildflowers known as Indian pinks, erupt in scarlet blooms, a vivid contrast to green shade plants.
A vegetable garden covering three-fourths of an acre can easily produce enough food to feed 30 families. Helen views her vegetables as living, evolving art: “the feathery tops of the carrots, the chartreuse of the baby lettuces, the mottled leaves of the squash plants.”
The raised beds behind the barn keep tender greens out of reach of rascally rabbits. They also are easy on the back—and benefit gardeners intent on keeping the soil free of weeds in other ways.
“In the morning, you can sit on the ledge with your cup of coffee and weed the beds,” John says. “In the evening, you can bring your cocktail and finish the job.”
- Define your garden with outdoor “rooms,” each with its own purpose. A sunny patch of zinnias might be a cutting garden. A small bench in an enclave of shrubs becomes a secret hide-away.
- Develop your own signature. There aren’t any live swine at Black Hog Farm, but there are several artistic interpretations, including a logo designed by Helen’s daughter. In the living room, there’s a ceramic piggy on the mantel and a wrought iron pig doorstop.
- Turn symmetry on its head. Instead of straight lines and a formal layout, Helen balances her garden by varying the heights and shapes of plants and plots.
- Honor thy fathers. In the living room, there’s a large color photograph of John’s father amid the blooms at Winterthur. There is a black-and-white portrait of Helen’s father in his Royal Air Force uniform.
- Launch a collaborative effort. Helen asked a friend to arrange candlesticks and keepsakes on the mantel in the living room. She started with that base and then made a few tweaks to reflect her own artistic sensibilities.