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THE DREAMING CONTINUES…the stack of gardening books on my coffee table grows…the sketches of my garden-to-come (six days ’til closing!) proliferate. I’ve realized that the area I’m considering for a vegetable patch — the only cleared, and hence sunny, area on the property at the moment — and my front entry garden, just inside the future parking court, are one and the same. It’s also the spot — quite a large spot, roughly 1,000 square feet — that forms the front ‘yard’ and view from the future guest cottage, as well as being the central circulation core of the entire property (yes, all 1/2 acre of it).
So this space needs to function on many levels, including directing people toward the house, and not toward the compost help, when they step out of the car. And of course, it needs to look good.
These musings led me to Google ‘ornamental edible garden’ (and order a couple more books on the subject). I’d read about how veggies/herbs, flowers, and other plants were combined at Mount Vernon and Monticello (and before that, in the cottage gardens of European peasants). I’m a great admirer of the attractive edibles garden at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden, above, which seems to thrive into the winter with snazzy diagonal rows of spinach and kale and parsley going strong. And my Internet explorations revealed that ornamental edibles are a super-trendy trend in both urban and rural settings, with blogs aplenty devoted to them.
I’m a newbie at vegetable gardening. My only experience is a semi-successful tomato patch at my prior Brooklyn rental in Boerum Hill, where I planted way too many tomato starters in two 4′x8′ raised beds and spent much of the summer trying to keep them under control, but also got some very tasty tomatoes.
So I have a load of questions and concerns. First, what will such a garden look like in the off-season? Pretty uninspiring, I should think, covered mostly with mulch. It will need some evergreen structure. Second, vegetable gardens need a lot of water. How sustainable is that? Am I prepared to irrigate or hand-water intensively through the summer? Is my well? Third, how do vegetable beds jibe with my overarching concept of a Japanese-inspired garden? I’ve Googled ‘Japanese vegetable garden,’ you can be sure, but came up with not much more than how to grow Japanese vegetables.
Herewith, some photos from other sites, each with ideas I can glean for my purposes. As always, your thoughts are most welcome.
How gorgeous is this? Brick paths between wedge-shaped beds…there’s a massive pile of brick behind the house that I’ve wondered what to do with, but it’s labor-intensive to lay and perhaps not in keeping with the rustic materials palette (gravel, wood chips) I had in mind.
Variations on the wood-framed raised bed theme, separated by paths of gravel
Raised beds made of cinder blocks, cottage-y picket fence and twiggy arbor. I’m figuring, since the whole property is fenced, I won’t need to surround the veggies with any additional fencing. I’ve never had to deal with rabbits, woodchucks, etc. at my other East Hampton property — only deer.
ONE EVENING LAST WEEK, I attended the first-ever public lecture at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden’s new Visitor Center — a helix-shaped, mostly glass structure with a planted roof that I had been prepared to dislike for its modernity, but have actually found welcoming. The talk was given by Glyn Jones, head gardener at England’s famed Hidcote Manor in the Cotswolds, a 10-acre Arts & Crafts-era garden with all the classic English-gardening tropes: blowsy borders, ancient hornbeam hedges, bird-shaped topiary, a white garden, everything off the all-important “central axis.”
Can you tell from my tone that I’m slightly disenchanted with the classic English garden, having steeped myself in Japanese-gardening books all winter? It’s also a result of my trying valiantly and never succeeding to emulate those colorful flower borders in my own sun- and deer-challenged gardens. Yes, there’s an element of sour grapes here. My tulips have always been eaten, either by deer or squirrels, while Hidcote has 18,000 of them, freshly planted each year in varying color schemes. But I did enjoy Mr. Jones’ gossipy talk, and the experience of sitting with a like-minded roomful of people who love gardens.
Hidcote was one of the first properties to become part of England’s National Trust in 1948, though Jones had little good to say about the National Trust. He thinks Hidcote should cut loose, save the annual dues, and publish its own guidebook and website (it can’t be worse than the National Trust’s Hidcote page, which inexplicably has no photos).
Once weedy and overgrown, Hidcote is now restored to perfection, with 12 full-time gardeners and close to 200,000 visitors a year. It was purchased in 1907 by a Mrs. Winthrop, an American born in — of all places — Brooklyn! She was a theater buff who bought the property because of its location 10 miles from Stratford-on-Avon. Her son, Lawrence, went on to develop the gardens, going on ‘botanizing expeditions’ in the 1930s to China, Burma, and South Africa, and bringing back hundreds of hitherto-unseen (in the Western world) species.
Always anxious to cull tips and ideas for my own gardening efforts, I listened attentively for such pronouncements as “We hate bare soil at Hidcote” (for aesthetic reasons and also because abundant perennial plantings suppress weeds). “We hate corners. Fill them up with pots.” I’m for that. “Soften hard architectural lines with a ‘jungly style’ of planting.” By mid-summer, abundant perennials obscure the edges of Hidcote’s grass and gravel paths, though I wouldn’t exactly calll Hidcote’s plantings ‘jungly.’
I perked up when Jones described Hidcote’s “natural or wilderness areas with a different style of planting,” including astilbes, ferns, skunk cabbage, irises, rogersia, and candelabra primulas — things that thrive in shade and damp. I can see those things working at my new property on Long Island (closing three weeks from today!)
Unfortunately, I don’t think Jones’s photos did full justice to the place and, as I mentioned, the National Trust is no help. The illustrations in this post are from UGArderner’s Flickr photostream. Thank you for sharing, UGA.
TWENTY FOUR DAYS ‘TIL CLOSING, and I’m deep into list-making, plan-drawing, and ‘Before’-photo-taking. I was out in Springs (East Hampton, N.Y.) for a couple of days this past week, checking on my existing property, currently rented out, and the one I’m three weeks away from owning, below. I’m jumping up and down inside. My first cottage, as comfortable and charming as it is, and as much as I loved living there for 3-1/2 years, was never my dream house. This one is. Or has the potential to be.
A stand of rhododendrons, above, is the only plus, plant-wise
My primary aim was to evaluate winter storm damage, but I also just wanted to wander and fantasize what I might do with my half-acre. Much of it is pretty flat and featureless, except for an excess of trees. Yes — too many trees. About 50 oaks, according to my rough count (they’re indicated by red dots on my hand-drawn plan, top) and half a dozen scraggly cedars. I don’t love cedars, but at least they’re evergreen.
The oaks are tall and spindly and turn dull brown in fall, not lovely specimens that flower in spring and blaze red or yellow in autumn. And many, many will have to go, at roughly $1,000 a pop. This is the thing that keeps me up at night — not when will I get around to insulating and re-siding the house and installing a heating system (admittedly, also an important consideration), but what the hell will I do about all those trees?! My first and only call so far has been to Eric the tree man of Montauk, who helped me out in the past with his wise counsel as to what can stay and what must go.
So part of my visit was about counting trees. Two fell this winter (hooray!) — that’s one of them, above — and neither on the house. Two fewer I’ll have to take down. The more fun part was dreaming of how I’ll create an entry courtyard where there’s presently a… nothing… and a raised-bed vegetable garden in the area where I recently arranged to have a derelict swimming pool back-filled, on order of the Town of East Hampton (as the contracted buyer, I had to do it in order to get a valid Certificate of Occupancy). It’s a good place for veggies, at least temporarily, since it’s the only area on the property where there’s open sky.
Future entry courtyard with rhododendron and double-trunked tree, which may be a keeper
Above, a huge fenced trash area that I didn’t even realize until recently was part of the property. The tangled hanging vine is wisteria, if I don’t miss my guess, but it seems to have been mostly vanquished
Clear and level, above, where once was a swimming pool. I see a few raised beds there this summer
Before I can do any gardening, there’s got to be some serious land-clearing. That seems as pressing as anything. Come March 28, with the help of Charles the plumber, Miguel the carpenter/painter, Tom the electrician, Eric the aforementioned tree man, Dong the landscaper, and Jeff, the wasband/demo expert/fence-mender/general handyperson, I’m gonna hit the ground running.
THE OTHER NIGHT I WENT TO A TALK by Sharon Salzberg, a meditation teacher who has just published a book called Real Happiness, at a yoga center near my Brooklyn apartment. One of her suggestions — you’ve heard this one before — is to keep a gratitude journal, to write down three things each day that you’re grateful for. The idea: to keep the focus on the positive and not on the griping.
As I sailed eastward on the Long Island Expressway yesterday morning at 6AM, I already had three things for the day, despite the early hour. One was a decent night’s rest so I woke refreshed and ready for the 2-1/2 hour drive. The other was that I’d see the sunrise for the first time in God knows how long. And the third, that I was on my way to Springs (East Hampton, N.Y.), to spend the day — sunny and not too cold — at the property I’m in the extended process of buying. I’d be spending many more hours there than I’d ever spent before.
Through the day, my gratitude list grew. Most important, and a great relief: I still love the place, even though it’s not quite mine yet. Another good thing: the job I was there to make sure was accomplished — the filling in of a derelict swimming pool, above, per the Town’s requirements for an updated Certificate of Occupancy — went fine. Added to my list: bulldozers, dump trucks, and the men who deploy them.
I’m feeling more proprietary about the house, even though I have yet to close, because this is the first big job I’ve done there. I’m paying for it; the seller is not obligated to cover upgrades to conform to C of O requirement under the terms of our contract of sale. So — another $4,000 invested. I don’t care! I’m glad to do it. Even if I decide to put in a pool in years to come, it would not likely be the exact same shape or in the exact same spot.
Pool no more, above
From 8:30AM until late afternoon, I really communed with the house and the land around it. After installing three smoke detectors and a carbon monoxide detector, per the Town’s guidelines, I hung out (fully coated, gloved, scarved — there’s no heat — and with occasional forays to the car to warm up). I opened doors to experience the extra bit of sunlight they admit, walked every corner of the .52 acres trying to determine where I might be able to plant a vegetable garden, and noticed that the property is not as pancake-flat as I thought, but gently undulates. I met the lovely next-door neighbor, who wandered over, quite naturally, to find out what that bulldozer was doing.
I spent time at the southwest corner of the house, above, where there’s an unfinished second bathroom. The window will be replaced with a door, and a deck built for an outdoor shower, similar to the one I have at my original house in Springs (now rented to a couple who signed their latest email “Your elated renters at Zen Gardens”).
I took stock of the oak tree population. Almost all the large trees are oaks. Some will stay, many will have to go. How many? A lot. More than a dozen. They are all over the place. There are few evergreens — scraggly cedars. They will be supplemented by other conifers. Above, southeast corner of the property.
Northwest corner, above (I know, it looks a lot like the southeast corner). Perhaps that’s the place for veggies? Depends how much sun it gets after trees are removed.
Above, a view back toward the house from the northwest corner. Neighbors on this side are rather close, but behind a 6′ stockade fence that completely encircles the property. That fence will also exclude those other neighbors, the cloven-hoofed kind.
Most exciting of all, speaking of Zen gardens, is my great epiphany about the landscaping. An abundance of moss, above, a great stand of existing rhododendrons, the sense of enclosure provided by the fencing, and the fact that the house is simple architecturally and the lot will never be entirely sunny no matter how many trees I take down, all suddenly pointed to one obvious thing: the landscaping will be inspired by Japanese garden tradition.
Never mind that I’ve not been to Japan; I’ve gotten a stack of library books on the subject and am planning an intensive course of self-study. I’ll be able to use many of the same plants I’ve been using all along, including ferns, pines, ilex, bush clover, dogwoods, bamboo (the non-invasive kind), pachysandra, irises, and all things Japanese. That incorporates some of our most popular local gardening material: Japanese maples! Japanese anemones! Japanese painted ferns! Azaleas! Cherry trees! And lovely non-deer-resistant things like lilies and hostas and Solomon’s seal that I had to avoid at my previous, un-fenced place. I’m not even thinking about koi ponds, bridges or lanterns. I see gravel, but I don’t see boulders; they’d have to be imported (maybe I’ll substitute driftwood). I’m trying to internalize the principles on a more subtle level, and take it from there.
The gratitude list is long, my friends. I drove back to Brooklyn dreaming of rounded mounds of boxwood and artfully sculpted pine trees, right into the sunset.
THE ROOF GUTTERS ARE CLEARED of leaves, the air conditioner is in its winter blanket, the grill and porch furniture are put away. I’ve spent the better part of this past week at my Long Island cottage raking thick layers of fallen oak leaves — there are more to come, I’m sure, but this is the bulk of them — off the paths and lawn and into piles in spots where I’m still trying to smother invasive weeds and ground cover. (I can’t believe that in my naive-gardener days two or three years ago, I used to bag them up and take them to the dump.)
All that remains to be done for my garden’s winter prep is to wrap some of the deer-vulnerable shrubs in burlap or plastic mesh (to see how I did that last year, go here), and give them one last anti-deer spray for good measure.
I came out here from the city last Sunday, after two weeks away and a superstorm named Sandy, to be greeted by leaves, leaves everywhere, and a goodly number of fallen branches. Sandy didn’t take down any trees, however — a testament, I like to think, to my good arborial management. I was also greeted, joyfully, by some good fall color, especially from a burning bush and Japanese maple that have been here a lot longer than my 3-1/2 years, and ornamental grasses in full plume.
I have not yet succeeded in renting my house year-round or for the winter season (click here for details), though my ad continues to run in the East Hampton Star. It’s a pretty soft rental market, and my efforts have been a bit soft too, as I still don’t have a closing date on the other, nearby house I’m in the process of buying. The good news there, though, is that I have a signed contract of sale with the seller, at long last :-) I expect it to happen before year’s end — perhaps not the most convenient time to buy an unheated, uninsulated house in the Northeast U.S., but so be it. The sooner the better.
My next post, I swear, will be the big reveal: interior photos of my new project, taken during an inspection a couple of months back, and some musings on what I might or might not do with it.