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A SWITCH has been thrown somewhere — “Garden ON” — and spring is busting out all over. Everyone with a Facebook page has been deliriously posting pictures of daffodils and magnolia blossoms, but indulge me a few, if you will. These, taken about 10 days ago at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden, already seem a moment that has passed. Things are farther along now. To me (not being a bee), that’s the chief meaning and purpose of flowers: a reminder of how beautiful, and heartbreakingly ephemeral, it all is. And by “it,” I mean life.
On a lighter note, how funny is this sign, spotted in front of a Flatbush Avenue dive bar? “Spring is the time of plans and projects,” a quote from none other than Tolstoy, with whom I heartily concur — and also $4 drafts!
An odd thing happened with the onset of April, which always feels like real New Year’s to me. Two days ago, I signed a contract of sale on my cottage in East Hampton, the renovation and landscaping of which has been a recurring subject on this five-year-old blog. It was an emotional roller coaster to the end, with yet another near-deal falling through and a decisive buyer stepping up just last week. We’ll close on or before May 15. That is a great relief, of course — the house was officially on the market only six months, but it had begun to feel like forever.
But that’s not the odd thing. The odd thing is, now that the real-estate paralysis has lifted, I feel like blogging again. I have a backlog of drafts and posts to write. Fair warning! Meanwhile, consider the flowers.
IT’S SPRING, and I like my life again. Winter is my time for serious worry. With spring come more lighthearted concerns. Instead of How the hell am I going to pay my bills?, it’s Are you supposed to cut above the leaf node or below?
Yes, the Felco has come out of its sheath and, as long as I still own my cottage on the East End of Long Island, I am working it – transplanting things from here to there, raking leaves off the perennial beds, spreading new grass seed in bare spots, feeding the daffodil foliage that’s beginning to poke up. Only just beginning: after our brutal Northeast winter, the season is very slow to start this year. Mid-April already, and the only forsythia blooming is the forsythia I forced in a vase.
With spring comes optimism that I will sell my cottage soon and be able to turn the full force of my attention to the other house I own in the same bayside community. There’s been a price chop on the cottage, to 435K, which immediately attracted a new offer. A pattern is emerging: people (young people, as it happens) fall in love with the house’s considerable charms — really become infatuated with it. Soon fantasy turns to the reality of all that’s involved in owning and maintaining a house. It’s a big decision, and some become convinced (in one case by a father/financier who was “not feeling the vintage thing”) that some other house, a house built more recently than c.1940, would be easier.
Maybe so, maybe not, but this time I’ll keep my own excitement in check until a contract is signed. Meanwhile, I’m thoroughly enjoying staying in the cottage — recently redecorated with thrift shop furniture and exceedingly bright and pleasant — and country life in general. Sitting on the deck on a warm day. Walking down to the bay at sunset. Morning yoga at the Springs Presbyterian Church, a meadow view behind the window panes. A multigrain fruit and nut muffin from the Springs General Store. It’s the simple things, said a friend, and that’s my motto of the moment.
I moved three miscanthus – tall ornamental grasses – from the backyard up to the front of the property to screen the parking court, since the ilex I chose not to wrap in burlap last fall has been nibbled bare, rendered useless as screening, by the resident deer. As I tucked the grasses into their new spots, I talked to them. Don’t they say plants respond to our conversation, or perhaps just to the carbon dioxide we exhale as we lean over them, blabbing away?
“Now you guys have about 30 days before the maple leafs out, so take advantage of the sun now and do all the growing you can,” I told them. “Okay? Okay. Conditions may not be ideal, but you’re gonna be just fine.” I reassured them and myself at the same time.
BUYING PROPERTY IN WINTER takes a lot of creative visualization. It’s hard to imagine lush greenery and abundant flowers when the ground is covered with snow, or plants are fifty shades of brown.
View at rear of property into Town-owned, undeveloped woods, which seems to extend the backyard forever
That’s why I’m populating this blog post with inspiring springtime images — they inspire me, anyway, and hopefully, prospective buyers will feel the same — showing how things will look as the season progresses at my c.1940, cedar-shingled 2BR Springs (East Hampton, N.Y.) cottage.
The house is still on the market. I rejected a few lowball offers and had two near-deals fall through. I’m tired of riding the roller coaster, and hoping the winter of my real-estate discontent is made glorious summer (apologies to William Shakespeare) by a reasonable offer from mortgage-worthy applicants.
The official Corcoran listing is here. For photos of the interior, the deck, the outdoor shower, and more nitty-gritty info, like taxes (low!), go here. And feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org with any questions.
Meanwhile, please scroll down to see what things will look like as the world renews itself in months to come.
Magnolia, spring bulbs, sweet william, golden spirea
Gravel path from front of property to rear, lined with perennial beds (i.e. all this comes back, bigger and better from year to year).
Same path, looking back to front in early morning. Forsythia in bloom in background, boxwoods and Alberta spruce along property line at right.
Another view of main perennial bed, with lamium, perennial geranium, ferns, barberry, hakonechloa, iris, Alberta spruce and more
Found driftwood in a bed of lily-of-the-valley
Fragrant olive and other flowering shrubs at front of property
Euphorbia, above, with Korean box and golden spirea
Doublefile viburnum, 10 feet across
Below, a few photos showing what’s to come a little later on in the season.
Perennial geraniums and irises in flower…
Elephant ears (these are annuals) with Korean box, hakonechloa, Japanese painted fern
Accabonac Harbor in Springs (East Hampton, N.Y.)
THE NORTHEAST WINTER is long for us gardeners, hit with snowstorm after snowstorm when all we want to do is get out there and dig.
“The books” advise a season of assessment and planning (preferably with a hot toddy by the fire). It’s true, I realized last weekend up in New York’s Hudson Valley, on a property I know very well from gardening myself there in years past, it’s easy to see the big picture when there’s not all that green stuff in the way.
Above, the twisted canes of Harry Lauder’s Walking Stick, a plant that’s all about winter interest.
Fallen needles under the gigantic white pine count as brilliant color this time of year.
Plumes of zebra grass stand tall (most of them) ’til their early-spring cutback.
Hydrangea and yucca along the privet-lined driveway, above.
The little yellow outhouse, above, by the 3-season stream, below, was built in the 1930s when the house was really rustic.
Above: Ain’t much to look at in mid-winter, but this area pops with crocus and other early bulbs in April. Burlap coats protect boxwoods from windburn.
A section of stone wall, probably 19th century, from a time when these woods were grazing land. Such stacked stone walls lace through woods all over the Northeast, revealed in winter even as you drive along the Taconic State Parkway.
The remains of last season’s ornamental grasses line a steep path to the fenced vegetable garden. I’m reminded of what garden designer Piet Oudolf said: “Brown is a color.”
Tag-sale Buddha presides over a stone outcropping planted with small Japanese maples and other dwarf species.
The mysterious concrete rectangle that came with the property, above, perhaps the floor of a greenhouse or other farm building, now filled with gravel and known as the Zen litter box.
To see this same property in summer, go here.
I LOVE THIS BOOK, but not because I needed convincing that the American lawn habit is an environmental disaster — a $40 billion dollar industry, writes Pam Penick, an Austin, Texas-based garden designer and blogger in Lawn Gone! Low Maintenance, Sustainable, Attractive Alternatives for Your Yard (Ten Speed Press). American lawns consume 300 million gallons of gas annually, and 70 million pounds of chemicals that do no favors for our water supplies. And it’s pretty much all for “show” (who uses their lawns, especially front lawns, anyway?)
No, the main reason I love this book is that the projects in it look accessible. Most garden books are so ‘aspirational’ they cause me to despair, along the lines of ‘I could never do/afford that!‘ Not so here. Check out the home-made patchwork path, below. I see that photo and think, “Yeah! I could do something like that…this weekend!” It’s creative and casual, as are many of the gardens shown in the book.
Photo: Pam Penick
There are other, more personal reasons for my lawn aversion, and that’s the maintenance involved. I don’t have a mower, or a partner to wield one, and I’m not a fan of loud noise (memories of having to clap our hands over our ears while Dad mowed our quarter-acre on a Saturday afternoon). Also, I recently bought a property on Long Island where a lawn would never grow — it’s wooded and shady, filled with tree roots, and the terrain is uneven. So why bother? Not gonna.
Photo: Moss and Stone Gardens
Penick suggesting practical, easy-care plants to substitute for lawn in all parts of the country. Though many of the photos seem to be from Texas and California, the concepts travel — ornamental grasses, ground covers in various colors and textures, expanses of mulch and gravel in lieu of plantings. And there is a hefty section of regional plant recommendations. The book even suggests ways of dealing with homeowner’s association rules and skeptical neighbors, who still regard a greensward plus foundation plantings as the way to go.
Photo: Michelle Dervis
Yay for Lawn Gone!, a book for people who want more than a monoculture.
Photos reprinted with permission from Lawn Gone! Low-Maintenance, Sustainable, Attractive Alternatives for Your Yard by Pam Penick (Ten Speed Press, © 2013)