Life Lessons in the Garden with Bunny Williams

The design legend shares tips and stories in her beautiful new book

A woman in a button down sits in a garden

Photo: Annie Schlechter

Bunny Williams in her Connecticut garden.

Few tastemakers have so captivated Southerners as the interior designer and author Bunny Williams. And now she’s back with a gorgeous new photo-filled and personal gardening book, Life in the Garden.

Although her 1998 book, On Garden Style, established Williams as an outdoor-entertaining pro, this new release feels more like a lovely footnote to her 2005 work, An Affair with a House. That book followed the Virginia-raised Williams and her husband, the antiques dealer John Rosselli, as they brought back to life a neglected eighteenth-century Federal manor in Connecticut, where their epic outdoor plot—the very one featured in this book—now blooms across multiple garden rooms.

An airy room with a vase of sunflowers on the table; a bedroom with stacked paintings of dogs, flowers, and an abstract piece.

Photo: Annie Schlechter

The screened porch, a favorite lunch spot, overlooks the lawn with an undulated hedge inspired by Jacques Wirtz; branches and plants foraged from the garden decorate the bedrooms.


In a profile of Williams for G&G, the late, great writer Julia Reed described her friend’s work in a way that still feels fitting: “Though [her] books could certainly serve as manuals for fine decoration, the houses on view are clearly backdrops for guests and dogs and lots of dinners,” Reed wrote. “Photos might show perfectly scaled rooms and skillfully arranged collections of everything from blue-and-white porcelain to botanical prints, but there are also shots of a casually dressed Bunny setting one of her famous tables and of John napping … And everywhere there are the dogs.”

Inside a shed with wicker baskets and a watering can; A garden shed with garlic, freshly harvested, hanging from the roof.

Photo: Annie Schlechter

A potting shed; curing freshly harvested garlic.

Williams has never lost her sense of Southern hospitality and welcome—including to her furry family. “The dogs have gotten so spoiled,” she told me over the phone during the pandemic. “Of course, I’m with them all day long now, and we’ve got this new bond.” Over the last few years, Williams appeared in a new PBS documentary, shared hilariously relatable hosting tips with us (“Costco has the best pigs in a blanket I’ve ever seen!”), and spent many happy hours outside and at home, resulting in Life in the Garden, which feels dusted with her native Virginia’s red-clay soil. Williams digs into her love of plants, sharing outdoor hosting tips, design sketches, and photographs of her own garden through the seasons. She also shares the particular varieties of flowers, fruits, and veggies that she’s grown to love, such as this heirloom onion that hails from Scotland. 

As an always-learning gardener myself, I connected with the way Williams holds equal reverence for an unruly field of Queen Anne’s lace and an artfully arranged centerpiece of ivy, zinnias, or orchids. Here are three simple Life takeaways from which any garden lover can benefit:



You’re more likely to love your garden if you use it to evoke your favorite memories.



Williams grew up near the Blue Ridge Mountains, and in the book, she describes how the views of the Berkshires in the distance in Connecticut reminded her of her childhood home. She recalls how her mother would walk through the garden, trimming branches to bring in to plop in vases around the house. When Williams was planning her own garden, she planted redbud trees and dogwoods that reminded her of those most visceral moments of watching her mother. I think the lesson in this is simple: Plant what will continue to call you back outside.

A vase of large white hydrangea blooms; a set table with a pink cloth and cut flowers

Photo: Annie Schlechter

Hydrangeas are some of Williams‘s favorite fresh-cut blooms for decorating; for the designer, setting a table is an art: “I feel like this is my paint box, as I am mixing patterns and colors. It is as close as I can get to painting like Henri Matisse.”

We gardeners will always need teachers.



When she was a young but confident interior designer, planning her own first home’s garden, Williams quickly learned that interiors and nature do not play by the same rules. Despite her best-laid garden plans, trees and shrubs and flowers and bees were always doing their own things. She began building a garden library and studying the writings of Christopher Lloyd, Vita Sackville-West, and other notable plant people. 

A white house with trimmed boxwoods outside

Photo: Annie Schlechter

Trimmed boxwood outside Williams’s Federal house.

She also realized the importance of travel. “My first trip to England was like searching for the holy grail,” she writes. “It was while touring Sissinghurst that I really began to understand the importance of a plan that would create a ‘room’ for each garden space.” Over the years, she has continued to reach for her favorite books and memories of travels for inspiration. She also tried to plan a garden trip abroad every year, always popping into local botanical gardens.

Pink tulips in a garden surrounded by boxwoods.

Photo: Annie Schlechter

Williams plants tulips in the fall for a pink spring display. Green Gem boxwood surround each bed.

Think about the entire year at a glance.



Rather than a strict month-by-month schedule of maintenance, Williams thinks about garden tasks across the four seasons. Her lead gardener, Robert Reimer, and his wife, Tricia Van Oers, who maintains the vegetable and cutting garden, share in the book an approachable schedule: In spring, plant and maintain. In summer: Enjoy, entertain, and arrange flowers! In fall, plant spring bulbs, prepare beds, and cover plots with natural leaf mulch. And in winter, Williams walks the land, takes pictures of what she might want to change, builds paths, tends her indoor potted ferns and orchids, and dreams again about spring.


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