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I AM INCREASINGLY FOND of Japanese gardens, and quite unreasonably proud (as if I had something to do with it), of the Brooklyn Botanic Garden‘s Japanese garden, constructed 100 years ago and opened to the public in June 1915. It’s a masterpiece of Japanese garden design — the premier work of its creator, Takeo Shiota (1881-1943), who came to the U.S. in 1907.

The garden is a combination of two Japanese garden traditions: hill-and-pond style (self-explanatory), and the ‘stroll’ garden, in which different vistas are gradually revealed as you meander along winding paths.

Japanese gardens are floriferous when cherry trees, azaleas and irises are in springtime bloom. These photos were taken in high summer, when I found the garden green and shapely, its evergreen structure at the fore, conveying the intended sense of permanence.

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Compare the century-old historical photos, above, with the much greater lushness of the present day. Seventy years after its creator’s death, the garden’s beauty and integrity remain. It’s nothing short of a national treasure, IMO, and I feel fortunate to live nearby, where I can pop over on a weekday morning and have it practically to myself.

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THE LADY IS VERY HAPPY with her new deck. What the contractors didn’t know, as they worked for four days right outside my windows, is that I could hear every word they said, and even understand the ones in English. I’m the Lady, as in “Did the lady see it yet?” and “What did the lady say?”

See the happy lady, below.

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See the new deck in all its fresh-smelling cedar glory.

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See the new storage shed for beach chairs, grill, etc.. I’ll need more, for garden tools and whatnot, but it’s a good start.

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Time now to start planting around the deck, to integrate this large new feature — probably 500-600 square feet — into the landscape.

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Yesterday I drove to my favorite nursery, Fort Pond Native Plants in Montauk — it’s not really all natives, but it’s got an interesting, healthy selection — and bought some ornamental grasses (Panicum ‘Shenandoah’ and a very cool-looking plant called Purple Love Grass, or Eragrostis spectabilis), and interplanted them along the walkway, below, with Amsonia hubrichtii (blue milkweed), Heuchera ‘Palace Purple’ and bloody sorrel. Got a purple/chartreuse thing going.

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I’m coveting some new shrubs and trees, including a hinoki cypress and perhaps a magnolia. For that, I await the post-Labor Day sales.

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THE FIRST THING I DID when I got to my casita at Rancho La Puerta last month was take off my clothes. All of them. Outside. That’s how private the patio was at my villa-for-a-week, below, at the 70+-year-old wellness resort in Baja California. I lowered a chaise and stretched out flat on my back, staring into the cloud-swirled blue sky like the kid in the opening shot of Boyhood. I smelled bougainvillea, heard distant traffic on the Tecate-Tijuana Highway. My long day of travel, and my real life in New York City, receded. A formation of turkey vultures soared above, scouting for carrion. “Hey, don’t look at me, guys,” I said. “I’m alive.”

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In fact. I rarely feel so alive as at Rancho La Puerta, which explains why I’ve been 11 times and am looking forward to making that an even dozen at my next opportunity. The lynchpin of their program is daily hiking in the Sierra Juarez mountains, a 3-5 mile group exercise that’s the best way I know to start a day off right. Yep, the hikes are scheduled before breakfast, partly because it’s cooler then, and partly because, as the Ranch’s 92-year-old founder Deborah Szekely said in a talk she gave one evening, “We know we wouldn’t get you out for a mountain hike at 4 in the afternoon.”

Certainly not after a day such as the ones I scheduled for myself, which typically included — after a fortifying breakfast in a brick courtyard — Sculpt and Strengthen at 9, Abs and Cycle at 10, Wave (water aerobics, no laughing matter) at 11, then lunch and perhaps a mini-siesta or soak in a hot tub. Then on to dance (Zumba, Hooping, Cardio Drum) at 2, and a stretch or yoga class thereafter. These were some of my choices, of at least five options offered every hour at a dozen gyms and studios.

I tried a few things I’d not done before, including Foam Roller and Crystal Bowls Sound Healing (which I could do without). I didn’t make it to Design Your Own Jewelry or Sketch the Landscape, as I had in previous years, or Feldenkrais, or cooking classes, and I can never be bothered with meditation while I’m there. Too much else to do! I even missed Popcorn Bingo, though I attended a travel-photography talk, an astrology workshop, and wouldn’t dream of skipping the ever-popular Organic Garden Breakfast Hike, a 4-miler to and from Tres Estrellas, the Ranch’s 6-acre organic farm, where the buffet is as spectacular as the scenery. (A few images from that hike, below.)

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At Rancho, you’re never without a view of Mt. Kuchuuma, top, sacred to native peoples and Ranch guests alike, and 32 acres of exuberant gardens, which blend at the property’s edges into the surrounding scrubby chaparral. The exquisite surroundings are, for me, one of the chief pleasures of the place. As always, I enjoyed the Landscape Garden Walk with botanist Enrique Ceballos, who is responsible for the management of the gardens, and the Chaparral Walk, with the Ranch’s resident naturalist. I missed the Arroyo Walk, however — it probably conflicted with a massage or facial.

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At Rancho, people walk around looking at their schedules instead of their cell phones. I met nice people and made new friends, though Rancho La Puerta is an excellent place to visit solo. You’re seated at dinner, served in the grand Spanish Colonial dining hall or on one of two glorious patios, at a different group table every night, so there’s little chance of feeling lonely. Of my 11 visits, this was the third on my own, and I don’t mind not having conversations like one I overheard: “So we’re both gonna do Foam Roller at 4?” “No, I was thinking of trying Kettlebells… if I’m not too tired.” (For that very reason — late-day fatigue — the Stretch and Relax instructor got a big laugh, after a shocked pause, when he arrived at 4PM to find his class already laid out on their rubber mats in Montana gym, practically snoring, and announced in a loud, cheery voice, “Welcome to Cardio Muscle Blast!”)

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Every time I go to Rancho, there are new classes, new buildings, maybe a new swimming pool. Rancho La Puerta is not a place that rests on its considerable laurels (it’s often been voted #1 spa in America by major travel magazines). This time, there was something new, surprising, and very much to my liking: a wine bar. Since I first visited Rancho in the mid-1980s, the only wine available was a glass at the festive farewell dinner, bottom, on the final night. But guests often brought their own wine or went into town for it. Against the wishes of Deborah Szekely, who wanted to keep the Rancho booze-free, employees (and presumably Board members) prevailed to convert a casita near the edge of the property, one with a particularly stunning mountain view, below, to an indoor/outdoor gift shop/bar serving wines local to the Valle de Guadalupe, Baja’s wine region. Every night at 6PM then, it was off to the Bazar del Sol with new friends to taste every white, red and rose they had. All were good, and I enjoyed this new aspect of the Ranch immensely.

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IMG_4830The wine didn’t wreck my fitness goals. I got back to Brooklyn on a Saturday night, and Sunday morning I was at my usual Y for a reputedly brutal class I’d always hesitated to take. I’m here to report I sailed through it.

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To read about my previous visit to Rancho La Puerta, with more photos of the gardens and the grounds, go here.

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THE MONTH OF MAY hasn’t been so much merry as schizy (though there have been some undeniably merry moments). I spent the first two weeks of the month saying goodbye to my former home, a vintage cottage in East Hampton, N.Y., enjoying its deck and outdoor shower every chance I got. I gazed into the woods, wondering how I was going to survive without that particular view.

I had one last yard sale, then moved my remaining “staged for sale” furnishings from the cottage to the other house I bought last year — a mid-20th century L-shaped bungalow, below — a quarter-mile away. A few days later, I sold that beloved first cottage, five years and a day after buying it in 2009, and six months after putting it on the market.

It was the first time I ever sold a property (I still own a few; see my About page). Did it feel momentous? Nah. I had experienced all my emotion in anticipation, it turned out. Closings are non-events, I’ve realized. No ceremony, no festivity — just attorneys and a title company rep passing papers back and forth to be signed. No one says congratulations; you’re lucky if get hello and goodbye. Afterwards, I ran to the bank, and then — except for sharing a bottle of champagne with a friend — pretty much forgot about the whole thing. It’s out of my hands now. If the garden on which I worked so hard and long reverts to nature — well, so be it.

Below, views of my “new” house and landscape, as it looked earlier this month:

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Now I’m all of a piece — all my things in one house, responsible for only one garden and one Town of East Hampton tax bill. Most significantly, my focus and attention is now in one place. I’ve furnished the rooms comfortably, and I’m doing the best I can to control the indoor climate in my unheated, un-cooled house, alternating space heater and fan as weather demands.

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I made a conscious decision to make no decisions for a while — to call no contractors, no deck guys, no guys at all. There are big jobs ahead: replacing the deteriorating deck and installing windows in a long hallway where now there are boarded-up holes, to name two major priorities. But I’m not ready to move on anything quite yet.

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Meanwhile, I’ve been enjoying my new borrowed view, of dogwoods in the neighboring yard, above, and the rhododendrons have come out, spectacularly, to greet me.

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GRAVEL, ROCKS, PALMS AND TOPIARY, that’s what Las Vegas landscaping is made of. My wasband just got back from a visit there with these images in his pocket, taken in Paradise Palms, a neighborhood of mid-century houses by architects Palmer and Krisel, best known for their Palm Springs developments, that are pretty swell in their own right. (The houses, by the way, are real bargain by East and West Coast standards. One in fairly good condition might go for around $230,000. Others need a complete makeover.)

Something about these freewheeling front yards makes me want to laugh. Is it the anthropomorphic look of the pruned hedges, the casual strewing of boulders, the symmetrical line-up of mini-cacti in gray gravel? It’s so different from what we call a garden here in the East. Scroll down for a look at what can be done under pretty arid circumstances.

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Photos: Jeff Greenberg

 

 

 

 

 

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