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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.
THE WINTER WAS LONG, filled with urban activity and a whole lot of waiting. Soon I’ll be purchasing — finally — that house I’ve been yammering about lo these many months. The house people have been inquiring after, as in “How’s your new house?” To which I’ve been replying, “Well, it isn’t exactly mine yet.”
The rhododendrons have suffered some deer damage this winter, but not too bad. Along with a few raggedy cedars, they’re the only evergreens on the property.
Next Wednesday, March 27, after a closing at the seller’s attorney’s office in Bridgehampton, N.Y., it will be. And then I’ll be embarking on another round of tree work, planting, painting, repairs. Joyfully.
View from the newly filled-in swimming pool toward the house. A path from the planned parking court to the house will traverse this area.
Just to bring things full circle for a moment, when I embarked on this blog in December 2008, my first post laid out the concept: to take readers along on my quest for the “perfect beach house.” As it happened, I found a house in only three months, but wanted to keep on blogging — and because it wasn’t the perfect house, I kept on looking.
This new property, a few hundred yards from Gardiner’s Bay on Eastern Long Island, is much closer, quite perfect in its quirky imperfection. It’s a one-of-a-kind modernist house – no architect’s name attached that I’ve been able to find — begun in the 1940s and added onto in the 1960s, on half an acre of wooded land. It’s unheated and uninsulated, though with two fireplaces, I’ll use it 6 or 7 months of the year.
It’s a unique house, and I should know. In the past four years, I haven’t ever stopped perusing the listings, just to make sure there isn’t anything more interesting out there (in my price range). There isn’t. This is it. In its undefinable style, its rough state, its Bohemian ambiance, it feels altogether like me.
This house will lend itself well to visits by friends and family. Twelve hundred square feet in an L-shaped configuration, it feels huge to me, with a separate outbuilding — now a workshop, above, soon a guest cottage (think new windows, door, deck). The Japanese garden theme I gave some study is now just a loose notion. It seems limiting. What do you mean I can’t have river birches?
Side door to kitchen area
I met with my friend Jifat Windmiller, an architect, who was so helpful in conceiving a plan for my previous deck and outdoor shower. We talked decks, and paths, and parking. We’re moving the parking to the present boatyard (the seller has two motorboats parked in a fenced area) so that one enters the property in the middle and walks toward, as Jifat put it, “the embracing arms of the house,” instead of parking in a narrow drive and approaching a short side of the house made of cinderblock. I’m mulling over ideas for entry gardens. Another of her brilliant thoughts: to work an existing brick platform, top, into the design of the new wood deck.
This will not be a renovation — not now, anyway, and not for the foreseeable future. I’m doing everything small and natural and inexpensive. Treading lightly on the land, making no major changes until I’m there a while (except for felling trees…TIMBER!!) When I talk path materials, for example, it’s either moss or wood chips for starters, with gravel and possibly dry-laid flagstone pieces to follow. Such interior renovation as there will be this year will consist of getting a working shower and replacing 30-year-old kitchen appliances, fixing broken windows, and a paint job.
I was out there this past week, staying at a friend’s nearby. I spent an hour at the property, walking into all its corners, assessing the topography, and trying to identify trees. Anyone recognize the bark below?
The property hasn’t been used or lived in much for probably 10 or 15 years, and hasn’t been raked in as long. It’s going to be practically archaeological in the beginning. I cannot wait to get out there with my tools and see what lies beneath.
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.
THERE’S NOT A BORING SPOT ANYWHERE at Madoo, artist Robert Dash’s garden, 46 years in the making, on two Sagaponack acres. Quirky, playful, and stuffed, in a good way, with ideas for plantings, hardscaping, and garden structures, I had ‘saved’ Madoo — put off a proper visit as I sometimes stall on finishing a book I’m savoring because I don’t want it to be over. I’ve lived on the East End of Long Island for more than three years now, but I wanted Madoo, which I knew I would love, to be something I still had to look forward to.
Finally, I did Madoo (I’ll do it again, of course, but the first time is special). My garden-designer friend Mary-Liz Campbell and I made a late-season visit yesterday, spending well over an hour wending our way through the multi-roomed garden, taking in the confident plantings, well-tended but not overly manicured, deployed in original, unusual ways. More than once I thought of Sissinghurst.
Madoo is open Fridays and Saturdays from noon to 4PM, May 15-September 15 only, so hurry. Admission is $10. The end-of-season cocktail party is Saturday, September 15, 5-7PM; no charge to Madoo members, non-members $30.