Outdoor Shower of My Dreams & Other Home Improvements

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AS THE SUMMER OF ’16 fades into memory (say it isn’t so!), I’m taking stock of what I’ve accomplished and trying to savor those accomplishments, instead of feeling, as usual, that I haven’t done enough.

By far the best and most ambitious thing I have to show for the season is a fabulous 5’x5′ outdoor shower designed and built by Max Greenberg of Works Progress, a young Philadelphia craftsman I happen to have given birth to.

I had had a generous platform built earlier in the summer, below, right outside my back door, and the shower plumbed against the outside back wall of the house, with a big rainhead showerhead, before construction of the enclosure began. (Yes, yes, I know… now that there’s a reason to go out back, I have to paint that side of the house. It’s never-ending.)

We went wood-shopping here in East Hampton for clear red cedar (cost a fortune, worth every penny). Then Max and his friend Curtis, working partly under a tent in pouring rain, constructed the shower, with slatted segments for ventilation and a fitted interior, in just two days.

An outdoor shower enhances the beach-house experience like nothing else.

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Earlier in the summer, a friend helped me insert some cedar logs and railroad tiles into a sloping wood-chip path, below, to make climbing easier and prevent all the wood chips from ending up at the bottom of the hill when it rains hard — a definite functional improvement.

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I also had a Suffolk County water line run from the road to the house, so I’m no longer dependent on my private well, wondering the water is really OK to drink.

That was a disruptive day-and-a-half, involving the invasion of a backhoe (remarkably, they maneuvered skillfully around all my plantings) and the digging of three enormous deep holes, two within the property line and one outside, to snake the new water line to my pump under the deck.

The water pressure is great, but now I’ll have to pay for water, something I didn’t think of before (duh).

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I then had to repair the damage made to the soil, as the backhoe had turned over massive piles of orange-y dirt in three places. (Not that the quality of my soil is so great. In fact, when I realized I have only a few inches of decent topsoil over driest sand, I’m amazed I’m able to grow as much as I can).

02Outside the fence, stretching along about 150′ of roadside, I decided to plant a 6′-wide swath of evergreen ground cover called purple wintercreeper, at the suggestion of Brooklyn-based landscape architect Kim Hoyt.

(Those are not my initials on the photo at left; it stands for Classy Groundcovers, the name of the Georgia mail-order company they came from.)

I ordered 500 bare-root plants and spent two days in early September putting in 350 of them, using a combination of bulb digger, trowel and Japanese hori hori knife to dig the holes. Then, in severe pain from two days of crouching and kneeling, I called in reinforcements to plant the last 150.

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To address the damage to the area just inside my entry gate, which had been a natural path through soft gray beach sand, I decided to avail myself of the free scallop shells some seafood operation had piled at the local dump, a wonderful resource where compost, mulch and wood chips are also available to residents.

I’d used scallop shells whole as a decorative mulch in one small area, but now I decided to use them in lieu of gravel, crushed, as the early Americans did (you can see them at Williamsburg, Virginia, used as path material between raised planting beds).

Dumping about 10 buckets of lightweight scallop shells, then stomping on them, was simple and rather fun, but whether it was a solution to anything, or whether I’ll be able to live with the look of it, remains to be seen. The jury is still out on the aesthetics of that one.

Hopefully they’ll bleach in the sun and mellow over the winter to look more organic, and I ought to plant something along the sides, perhaps. Right now, “It’s… crunchy,” is the best one friend could come up with upon seeing my new scallop shell path. That it is.

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Summer of Sunsets

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LIVING A SIX-MINUTE WALK from a west-facing bay beach on the East End of Long Island, N.Y., I’ve become something of a professional sunset chaser, often with wine glass in hand.

The sunsets here are particularly gratifying. I’ve learned you can’t tell beforehand how spectacular a sunset will be, and that the colors only grow more vivid after the sun dips below the horizon, reaching peak saturation about 20 minutes later, and then beginning to fade.

Since last May, I’ve missed very few sunsets, from the fair-to-middling to the wowie-kazowie. Here, a few of the latter.

May 15

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June 10

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June 15

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June 16

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July 10

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July 26

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August 26

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September 2

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September 11 (Montauk)

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September 20 & 21

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Two Days in Vermont

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IT TOOK ME A WHILE to get this blog post up, mainly because I’ve been annoyed at myself for all the images I did not capture on a recent two-day trip to Vermont.

Where are the über-charming farmhouses with their gaudy cottage gardens, the spectacular barn architecture, all the square-ish Italianate Victorians? In my head, but not in my camera.

It’s hard to keep stopping on a road trip, especially when you’re not the driver. You’d never get anywhere, and we had just two days for this pilgrimage from the small state’s southwestern-most corner, up through Bennington to Burlington, on the shore of Lake Champlain, then back down through national forest and dairy lands dotted with cows.

But enough with the apologia. Here is some of what I did see of midsummer Vermont.

Top: Hummingbird wall in surprisingly urban Burlington, Vermont’s largest city

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A 19th century commercial building in Bennington, housing the South Street Cafe & Bakery (“Coffee – Community – Culture”), a perfectly timed lunch stop.

Vermont’s college towns, of which there are many, are good places to find hip (but not too hip) cafés, with house-made bread and desserts, and really good local cheese.

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Storefronts on Bennington’s Main Street retain their vintage character.

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Ye olde covered bridge, one of several 19th c. lattice-truss bridges over the Waloomsac River in Bennington, where there was once a paper mill.

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The first gun shop I saw, above, was shocking. Then you get used to them.

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Vermont’s roads are in tiptop shape. They’re constantly working on them. We were stopped four times in two days for periods of up to 15 minutes to accommodate road work.

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Though I’m no longer interested in stopping at every antique shop or barn sale, there are some that look intriguing.

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A fine, faded Greek Revival outside Bennington.

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No interstates for us.

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The 19th c. brick commercial architecture of Burlington rivals that of Boston and New York, on a smaller scale.

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Sparkling Lake Champlain at close of day, seen from Burlington’s waterfront. Credit longtime mayor Bernie Sanders for the exquisite mile-long recreational development of the waterfront, including parks, bike lanes, marinas.

We found a terrific dinner at a farm-to-table restaurant called Hen of the Wood.

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A detour in search of scenery took us through the minuscule town of Wallingford, where we stumbled on Handmade in Vermont, a shop worth a half hour’s browsing, in a two-century-old stone building that once housed a pitchfork factory.

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Scenery found.

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My Friends’ Gardens

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FROM THE SUNNY SANDS of Far Rockaway in eastern Queens to the backyards of Brooklyn and the Upper West Side, from the Connecticut shore to the Long Island beachfront, many of my friends are enthusiastic amateur gardeners, and often share photos with me. It’s a varied lot, to be sure, but there’s a common denominator: we are all nurturers who delight in wresting beauty from sometimes-unlikely places.

Susan in Connecticut turned her driveway, below — the sunniest available spot — into a tidy and productive vegetable garden, with gravel pathways separating the raised beds.

Barbara created an appealing oasis in a Manhattan backyard with virtually NO direct sunlight, making the most of it with a wood deck and filling in with shade-loving container plants.

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Nancy’s 30-year-old Boerum Hill garden, though north-facing, receives lots of sunlight. The climbing roses and hydrangea, along with stands of wood hyacinth and irises, do their thing year after year with a minimum of attention. The dark-leaved shrub with pinkish flowers is a lacy elderberry planted last fall, after a tree peony in that spot gave up the ghost.

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On Long Island’s South Shore, Irvina created what she calls her ‘Giverny-inspired’ stoop. Yellow and purple flowers in blue and terracotta containers bringing abundant summer color to her gray-shingled house and cedar steps.

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And a view of Marlene’s sun-drenched Far Rockaway beach cottage garden in its exuberant summer prime, along with one from last May when irises were exploding…

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Finally, on Shelter Island between Long Island’s North and South Forks, Debre’s envy-inducing profusion of recent blooms included lilies, echinacea and dianthus. She’s worked hard to improve the rocky soil, and it seems the flowers have responded. (The photo at the top of this post, of the bee on the echinacea, is also from Debre’s garden.)

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Behold the Lilies

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CONSIDER THE LILIES of the field, and let’s not forget the hydrangeas, ladies’ mantel, astilbe, verbena and other things… July here at Green Half-Acre is turning out OK after all.

Lilies — whether fancy ones from a catalogue, yard sale buckets of roadside orange day lilies, hybrids passed on by a friend, bulbs picked up last summer at the Long Island Daylily  Society show and sale in Farmingdale — all seem to do well here, and they’re so EASY. More lilies, I say!

Above: Showstoppers alongside my front walk (Netty’s Pride, and mine too.)

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The purple things are verbena bonariensis, said to be a self-seeding annual, and I hope it is in years to come. That backdrop of greenery is sweet-smelling native bayberry, which was here on my arrival three-plus years ago.

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Your classic Hamptons blue hydrangea. True, I don’t have many such, but even a few are spectacular.

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More rhodies! These a later-blooming native type, of which I have inherited some two major stands. I  missed seeing them last July and the one before (when the house was rented) and am thoroughly enjoying them now.

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The long-blooming yellow ladies’ mantel in the foreground is a treat; I’ve tried it before, elsewhere, without success. Here it’s become a standout.

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In the wooded part of the property, still largely ‘undeveloped,’ a profusion of white hydrangea blossoms from a bush bought for $5 from a local couple who have a nursery of sorts in their modest backyard.

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I am pleased with my scallop shell mulch on one side of the front walk. The shells are available at the local recycling center, i.e. dump, where some commercial fishing operation evidently dumped them for the taking. The grasses are chasmanthium (sea oats) and, if I remember correctly, Prairie Fire grass that isn’t getting enough sun to turn red.

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Things to come: Turk’s cap lily buds in abundance.

Posted in GARDENS & GARDENING, HAMPTONS, LONG ISLAND, MISCELLANEOUS | Tagged , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Hamptons August Rental, Walk to Water

IMG_8098SPEND A WEEK OR FOUR this August living the beachy life in my idyllic modern rustic/Bohemian chic summer house in East Hampton (Springs), N.Y.

Built in the 1940s as a fishing bungalow, with a c.1970 addition, the house is 1,400 square feet on half a landscaped acre. Share with friends or another family — it’s ideal for two couples with a total of two or maybe three kids.

  • Swim in Gardiner’s Bay, at unspoiled, never-crowded Maidstone Beach, a 5 minute stroll from the house
  • Walk the scenic ‘loop’ through Maidstone Park, or along nearby Gerard Drive with Gardiner’s Bay to one side and Accabonac Harbor to the other
  • See egrets and ospreys, wild turkey and deer (not on my property, however; I’m fenced:-)
  • Nap on the deck, watch the sun set over the jetty, picnic at Louse Point, make bonfires on the beach or in my fire pit, shower outdoors, grill on the brick patio, hang out on the porch at the Springs General Store
  • Paddleboard or kayak in the bay
  • Do yoga at one of several nearby studios
  • Surf or swim in the ocean at Amagansett (10 minutes by car) or Montauk (25 mins.)
  • Farm stands, greenmarkets, nurseries
  • Yard sales, antiquing, shopping
  • Art shows and galleries, live performance at Guild Hall, music at Stephen Talkhouse, historic house tours
  • Garden tours + garden visits at LongHouse Reserve, Madoo, Bridge Gardens
  • Restaurants and bars galore
  • Explore nearby Sag Harbor (20 minutes), Shelter Island (30), North Fork, Block Island (day trip)

The house sleeps 6, officially — there’s a master bedroom with comfortable queen bed; guest room with two twins; as well as a separate 14’x17′ guest cabin with double bed and space for additional cot or crib (bathroom is in main house). There are also sofas comfy enough for overnight guests and a queen-size air mattress.

There are two showers, one indoors and one out, and plenty of room to spread out — there’s a dining/sitting room with sofa, chairs and fireplace, in addition to a great room with three sofas, and a home office with a partner desk, if you must work.

Live like Jackson Pollack and Lee Krasner in (whose home and studio is a mile away) in the 1940s… no TV, no air conditioning, no dishwasher.. but good Wi-Fi and fans in each room. (*TV and DVD player on request)

Flexible rental schedule, August through Labor Day, $3,000/week.

Contact me for more pics and info: caramia447 [at] gmail [dot] com

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Showtime in the Garden

IMG_0008THERE’S A SENSE AROUND HERE (in my head, that is) that my Long Island garden is already peaking at this early stage of the game. Memorial Day and the week following are spearheaded each year, I now know, by the pinkish-purple blooming of four massive, gasp-worthy rhododendron shrubs I inherited when I bought this place three years ago.

The rhodies were not in great shape when I arrived, but three years of mulching, extra watering and Hollytone-ing, along with some judicious pruning, made this year’s flower show the most profuse yet.

Up to fifteen feet tall, they surround my deck, are the main sight seen through the windows along the front of the house, and act as a magnet to draw people into the garden for a closer look. (My yard sale last Saturday, a non-spectacular affair mounted with three friends, became equally an unofficial Open Garden Day, with would-be yard sale customers meandering through my half-acre, and coming out praising my skills as a plantswoman, which was very satisfying.)

A week into June, however, helped along by a couple of hot days and a couple of pounding rainstorms, the rhodie’s blousey blossoms are already beginning to fade and fall apart, heralding a load of mushy-petal raking to come, and later in June, the chore of deadheading the finished flowers to make room for next year’s all-too-brief display.

Is it worth all the toil and trouble? No doubt. Will I be satisfied with the garden’s subtler pleasures to follow? I’ll try.

Sensational though they are, late May/early June is not all about rhodies. Check out the foxgloves I’ve got going this year. True, I took a shortcut. The property next door has been vacant for a year or more, and in a wrong-headed effort to make it look more “buildable,” the owner clear-cut dozens of mature trees. That was horrifying — the woods turned into a forest of tree stumps in a day — except that some dormant digitalis purpurea, a whole great stand of them in the sunny center of the lot, burst into bloom a couple weeks back. I stole a few and replanted them wholesale in my front beds.

Digitalis (foxgloves) are biennials, and they bloom in their second year, so whether they’ll reseed themselves and carry on, or whether this is just a one-shot pleasure, I have no idea. I certainly hope it’s the former.

My irises are nothing to sneeze at, either. I have several different kinds and know next to nothing about them. A few weeks ago, I was sure they didn’t like the soil, or I had planted them too deep — but lo, another brilliant showing. I’m postponing cutting off the faded flower stalks because I fear there’s nothing much coming to replace them.

There are still gaps and holes and huge areas of bare mulch in the beds, and even huger areas of wooded wilderness where I’d love to plant flowering shrubs and small flowering trees (magnolias, cherry) but haven’t committed the resources.

Anyway, it’s Open Garden Day on casaCARA. Take a look, and come away praising not my garden skills (which leave much to be desired), but the wonder of ephemeral nature.

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Posted in GARDENS & GARDENING, HAMPTONS, LONG ISLAND | 5 Comments