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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.
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.
My most astounding floriferous experience since Giverny last June!
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.
Entrance to driveway, above, with spirea in bloom.
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.
A favorite combo in island bed, above: yellow-flowered euphorbia, spiky purple speedwell, good old nepeta (catmint).
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.
There’s lamium, ferns, and hostas…
…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.
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.
Shade lovers along the front porch railing, below, include big-leaved ligularia and chocolate- colored cimicifuga. In the foreground: evening primrose in bloom.
Astilbe and ferns on the other side of the fence, below.
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.
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.
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.
View from the top of the property, below. That’s the Taghanic range in the distance.
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
JUST SPENT TWO DAYS in Albany, N.Y., underrated capital of the Empire State, enjoying its fanciful row house architecture and the unexpected beauty of Washington Park. I was there to visit my cousin Susan, who’s just moved there for a job. Her new apartment is huge and sunny, in a pre-war building right on that park. We spent a good part of our time together painting an Art Deco bar/bookcase whose brownness was depressing. Now it’s an infinitely more pleasing robin’s egg blue (the bottom photo shows it before its final coat and new gray trim).
The late 19th century Washington Park, an 81-acre landscape in the romantic style of Frederick Law Olmsted, is considered one of the finest urban parks in the country. It’s meticulously maintained, with Victorian-style bedding plants in abundance, and an extraordinary Mediterranean Revival lake house. The footbridge over the 5-acre lake, below, dates from 1875.
The 1929 brick and terracotta lake house faces the lake on one side and a 900-seat outdoor amphitheater on the other.
It replaced the original stick-style structure below.
Of the numerous statues in the park, the 1893 bronze figure of Moses on Mt. Horeb, below, is the most surprising, at least to me.
And the display of annual flowers, below, is the most extravagant I’ve seen in a public place outside of Paris or London.
There’s enormous variety in the cornices, lintels, and other woodwork on Albany’s row houses. I barely scratched the surface in my documentation. These are on Lark Street, a row of cafes, restaurants, and shops, in the Washington Park Historic District.
We managed to spend a little time hitting up antique stores. There aren’t many (most area dealers have removed themselves to Hudson, N.Y.), but they seem to have potential.
A lot remains for future visits: more antiquing, historic house museums, whole other neighborhoods (not to mention nearby Troy, a whole other city).
MY WASBAND LIVES on a steep hill (Turkey Hill, in fact) on a back road in northern Dutchess County, deep in the Hudson River Valley. I need to reach into my bag of travel-writer cliches to describe the property; it’s nothing short of spectacular. Breath-taking, even.
Long-ago owners planted Japanese maples, dogwoods, and several fruit trees, as well as privet, peony, and lilac hedges. When I gardened there in the early 2000s, I helped establish a few different perennial beds: an ‘island bed’ in the middle of the bowl-shaped front lawn, above, a shady bed, a square bed around a birdbath, and others.
The old hedges, probably dating from around the time the house was built in the 1930s, give the property structure: two 50+-foot-long privet hedges on either side of a long gravel driveway, rows of huge old lilacs (now in fragrant bloom), and peonies running alongside a mysterious concrete rectangle that may once have been a greenhouse foundation, now filled with gravel.
There’s an old outhouse by a stream, now used for storage, and two new sheds Jeff built in rustic style: an open lean-to for firewood, and a closed shed for his prized John Deere tractor. He has gone on to create other planting areas as well: a shady hill for dwarf Japanese maples, achieved by clearing an outcropping of rock (one of many on the property left by a retreating glacier at the end of the last Ice Age); another steeply sloping garden in a sunny area behind the cottage (called the Five Dollar Garden, because nothing in it cost more than that); and four raised beds in a flat open area at the top of the hill, where he experiments with veggies and flowers for cutting.
I’ve been documenting the evolution of this property for 10 years now. Here is the latest batch of photos, taken this past week.