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ONCE-MIGHTY TROY, N.Y., one of the nation’s wealthiest cities in the glory days of the Industrial Revolution (iron, steel, precision tools, shirts and collars), fell on hard times in the 20th century, but much of its impressive — in fact, gorgeous — architecture remains intact. Some of its brownstones are more stellar, even, than Brooklyn’s best, and its commercial buildings, in the uniformly antique downtown area, are great beauties.

There’s much for an architecture aficionada to explore, and explore I did last Saturday, in the company of my travelin’ cousin Susan and Brownstoner columnist Suzanne Spellen (aka Montrose Morris), a new Troy resident and now expert on the buildings of that city. (Her recent New York Daily News article on the revitalization of Troy is here.)

photoHere we are at Lucas Confectionery, a hip new wine bar/ restaurant/grocery that retains the name of the original 1863 store in this space, toasting the wonders of the city named after the ancient Troy, whose motto is “Ilium fuit, Troja est (Latin for “Ilium was, Troy is”) — and, young entrepreneurs and real estate developers hope, will be.

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Above, Suzanne with Lucas Confectionery owner Vic Christopher, formerly of…Brooklyn!

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The obvious place to begin a walking tour of vintage Troy is Monument Square, where a towering column topped by a figure of Liberty commemorates Civil War dead, and around which are a few thriving boutiques like Truly Rhe and a phenomenally unspoiled Victorian bar/cafe, Illium Cafe (photos below of the building that houses it and its wholly original interior). Try the strawberry mimosa.

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The elegant 1904 McCarthy building on Monument Square, of terra cotta with a proscenium-style arched window, below, just waiting for the right tenant.

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Angling off Monument Square toward the Hudson River — narrower here than in New York City, but the original source of Troy’s commercial success — is River Street, below. The spectacular wedge-shaped Rice Building, an 1871 High Gothic landmark at the corner of River at First, replaced an earlier structure wiped out in an 1820 fire that destroyed all the businesses and warehouses along River Street, which had been a busy commercial district since the 1790s.

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River Street is optimistically dubbed Antiques Row. More buildings are vacant than occupied at present, though the potential in its sturdy, attractive building stock, below, is evident. One of the best stores now open: Country Charm at #188, where painted cupboards and iron bedsteads similar to those found in Hudson, N.Y., shops are offered at a fraction of the price. Another goodie: Playing on the Furniture, a place to find cheerily repainted and refurbished secondhand pieces.

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Off Monument Square in the other direction, on River and Third Streets, are livelier boutiques, vintage clothing stores and flower shops (The Botanic Studio specializes in terrariums), and more fine commercial buildings in need of tenants.

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Above, Dang! That’s Cherry, a vintage clothing boutique that also sells mid-century kitsch and kitchenware.

Troy seems to have no shortage of fine public buildings. Below, the interior of the Troy Savings Bank Music Hall, an 1870s auditorium with original pipe organ, long famed for its acoustics, has a full calendar of important names in classical, jazz and popular music.

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Below, the Troy Public Library, remnant of proud bygone days, with magnificent iron sconces.

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Below, two early buildings at Russell Sage College, founded in 1916 in a public park in Downtown Troy.

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There are numerous blocks of well-preserved row houses — a few early Federal clapboards and many later homes of brick or stone, in Italianate, Romanesque Revival, and other fanciful late 19th century styles. The best of them seem to be along 2nd Street, which we wandered, admiring bay windows, cupolas, friezes, ironwork, cornices, and other details.

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Above: the Federal style Hart-Cluett House, built in 1827 with a marble facade, now the home of the Rensselaer County Historical Society.

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Eventually we came to Washington Park, below, established in 1840 and one of only two private ornamental parks in the state, open by key to residents of surrounding buildings (the other such park is Gramercy Park in NYC). Some of the homes are freestanding mansions, below; others are row houses.

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Above, one of the last remaining cobblestone streets in Troy.

We returned to Monument Square along 3rd Street, where the homes are more modest. There are two interesting houses of worship: the 1827 St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, below, whose 1890s interior is all Tiffany; stained glass windows, woodwork, metalwork and lighting. And a cute blue-painted 1870 synagogue, in continuous use for the past 144 years.

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Wherever you roam, there’s interesting stuff to see, like the leaded glass storefront and rusting Art Deco hotel sign, below.

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That’s Troy 101 for you. What do you make of it?

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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.

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Above, the twisted canes of Harry Lauder’s Walking Stick, a plant that’s all about winter interest.

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Fallen needles under the gigantic white pine count as brilliant color this time of year.

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Plumes of zebra grass stand tall (most of them) ’til their early-spring cutback.

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Hydrangea and yucca along the privet-lined driveway, above.

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The little yellow outhouse, above, by the 3-season stream, below, was built in the 1930s when the house was really rustic.

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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.

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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.

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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.”

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Tag-sale Buddha presides over a stone outcropping planted with small Japanese maples and other dwarf species.

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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.

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To see this same property in summer, go here.

photoOH, THE THINGS THAT CAN BE DONE — or that happen naturally — in “full sun”! Full sun has always proved elusive where I’ve gardened, certainly in Brooklyn backyards but even on woodsy Long Island.

Upstate in northern Dutchess County last weekend, I visited a tucked-away farm where Ethel and Tom Barone grow vegetables for their produce business, and on which Ethel’s mother Licia Sebok, from whom Ethel evidently gets her green thumb, tends a meadow full of flowers in peak, no-holds-barred mid-June bloom. I only had my iPhone with me for photos, but you’ll get the idea.

I don’t mean to minimize human involvement here. There would be no farm or meadow at all if Tom hadn’t first cleared the acreage of trees and rocks. And there’s a lot of knowledge involved. Licia helps things along by knowing when, where and how to collect and scatter seeds, and how to control invasives, but in large part, and to hear her tell it, it seems to do by itself.

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Among the flowers, wild and cultivated or perhaps a bit of both: poppies, daisies, black-eyed susan, gaillardia (blanketflower), potentilla, evening primrose, foxgloves, and something Licia calls ‘catch-fly,’ because it’s sticky. That’s the fuchsia-colored flower so dominant at the moment.

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My most astounding floriferous experience since Giverny last June!

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HERE’S WHERE I LEARNED WHAT I KNOW about country gardening: a hillside in northern Dutchess County, N.Y. My wasband and I bought the 20-acre property in 2002 and set about to create garden beds on a couple of those acres (the rest is virgin woods). Some of the existing plantings are as old as the house — late 1930s, according to newspaper insulation found in the mudroom wall: a 50’long row of peonies that does its exuberant thing every June, a stand of vigorous old lilacs, a long privet hedge that lines the driveway and glorious trees: flowering cherry, apple, and pear, dogwoods and Japanese maple.

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Entrance to driveway, above, with spirea in bloom.

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Close-up of the island bed in the middle of the lawn pictured at top. Hakonechloa (Japanese forest grass) in foreground, a shrub rose in middle, lamb’s ear and catmint and many other things beyond.

But most of what you see in this post is all us: designed from nothing and maintained with great effort, by both of us at first and now by Jeff, who continues to expand the gardens and with them, his never-ending labors (he has a John Deere tractor/mower/plow, which helps a lot).  I was there this past weekend, dividing a few perennials to take back to Long Island and doing what I could to help keep things in check. And taking pictures, of course.

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A favorite combo in island bed, above: yellow-flowered euphorbia, spiky purple speedwell, good old nepeta (catmint).

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Lady’s mantle, above, so successful here, such a flop in all my other gardens.

Around the back of the house is a mudroom, below, alongside which are a few concrete steps, now extended with slate steppingstones up the hill toward the vegetable garden.

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There’s lamium, ferns, and hostas…

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…more hakonechloa, lady’s mantle and spirea, to name a few.

This is called the $5 garden, because nothing in it cost more than $5, at farmstands and church sales.

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Below, one of many rocky outcroppings on the property, on which Jeff has planted a variety of dwarf species, overlooked by a yard-sale Buddha.

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Shade lovers along the front porch railing, below, include big-leaved ligularia and chocolate- colored cimicifuga. In the foreground: evening primrose in bloom.

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Astilbe and ferns on the other side of the fence, below.

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Totally out-of-control ‘square bed,’ below: the wild rose at left (multiflora rose, I believe, often found on lists of invasives), if not hacked radically back every year, grows like mad and has obscured one of four boxwoods in the corner of what’s meant to be a tidy little showpiece. It has agastache and flowering chives, and there’s a concrete birdbath with two or three different succulents set in gravel.

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Above: Japanese maples in pots and in the ground, and a variegated miscanthus (ornamental grass) in the raised box that struggled for years in too little light but finally triumphed. The log bench, made by Jeff, was suggested by those at LongHouse Reserve in East Hampton.

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Above, a mysterious concrete rectangle — possibly a greenhouse or garage foundation from years past — which we filled with low-maintenance gravel (after trying a water feature that was a disaster) and rimmed with pieces of slate. Sometimes referred to as the Zen Litter Box.

Up on the hill, below, the homemade vegetable garden fence is of a mixed metaphor: Fort Apache with a Toro gate.

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View from the top of the property, below. That’s the Taghanic range in the distance.

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Breathtaking, isn’t it? To see more photos of the same property in other years and seasons, go here and here.

THESE WHIMSICAL — OK, kitschy — mailboxes were photographed by my wasband (wubby?) in upstate New York.

I like to express my individuality indoors, but when it comes to something right out on the road for all passersby to see, I keep a low profile. My own mailbox is brown, to match the house, and that’s that. Though I suppose it would be convenient to say, “It’s the driveway with the rooster.”

If I were to do something creative, mailbox-wise, I think it would be funny to have one in the shape of a snail.

Photos: Jeff Greenberg

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