GARDEN VOYEUR: The Barefoot Contessa’s Garden

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TAKE A PEEK behind the massive privet hedge at the Barefoot Contessa’s East Hampton garden. I did that on Wednesday. It was open to the public for a few hours as part of the Garden Conservancy’s Open Days program, to benefit the organization’s work in preserving exceptional private gardens (usually of people who have died) that would otherwise be lost.

I generally find these Open Days fairly intimate affairs. Rarely crowded, they often feature eccentric and highly original gardens. Many times the gardeners are older women who have earned their stooped backs, cracked hands, and vast horticultural knowledge by dint of years of effort. Usually the homeowner/gardener is present to greet visitors and answer questions.

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This garden is different. It’s the home of Ina Garten, the celebrity cookbook author and TV personality also known as the Barefoot Contessa. I’ve never seen the show or read her books, or even tasted her famous brownies, but I did enough research to discover that she was born in Brooklyn [applause] and is self-made, having worked up from modest beginnings to this impressive, sprawling estate. Her husband Jeffrey is the former dean of the Yale school of management.

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It is a striking example of what can be done when money is no object. Here’s the description from the Open Days directory:

This garden features design work by Edwina von Gal implemented about fifteen years ago at Ina’s house, and new garden areas designed by Joseph W. Tyree at the barn Ina designed and built on an adjoining piece of property two years ago. Edwina’s original design at the house is arranged in squares like a kitchen garden, but is planted with perennials, annuals, roses, vegetables, and herbs. It includes a crabapple orchard and rose and hydrangea gardens, and is designed to feel like a traditional East Hampton garden. Joseph’s work at the new barn is set up into three distinct areas: the lawn, a walled garden, and a Lagerstroemia walk. The lawn connects the house by a series of low, broad, stone steps to the barn’s main terrace which is bordered by a low hedge and shaded by two great Linden trees. The sun-filled walled garden is planted with beds of lavender and herbs and has fragrant roses trained on the walls. The lagerstroemia walk is planted with only the white ‘Natchez’ variety of Lagerstroemia, boxwood, hydrangeas, and perennials and wraps around the walled garden and barn.

A short distance off Main Street, the garden is so insulated by hedges and 40′ tall cypresses it could be somewhere in the Tuscan hills. It is undeniably beautiful, yet it feels somewhat impersonal and not particularly imaginative. Maybe I’m just being a grouch, or suffering a case of sour grapes, when you consider the dramatic contrast to my own humble weed patch.

Ina Garten is a fabulously successful entrepreneur, and by all accounts a delightful person, but she’s not a gardener. Even when you can hire the best to do it for you, somehow it’s not the same.

About cara

I blog for fun at https://casacara.wordpress.com, and write about architecture, interiors, gardens and travel for many national magazines and websites. My recently published posts and articles can be found here: https://casacara.wordpress.com/recent-articles/
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7 Responses to GARDEN VOYEUR: The Barefoot Contessa’s Garden

  1. BrooklynGreene says:

    …I’m not sure what part to comment on…or if any comment is necessary. In it’s own way, amusing as well taken with the previous entry.

  2. Tara Dillard says:

    I haven’t seen Ina Gartens landscape but your description is defined as a checkbook landscape.

    NYTimes did an article years ago about garden tours realizing the need to limit checkbook landscapes. People were complaining about them being pretty but not real.

    I used their guidlines for the American Hydrangea Society when I was president.

    Garden & Be Well, XO Tara

  3. cara says:

    http://travel.nytimes.com/2005/05/06/realestate/06landscape.html?_r=1&scp=3&sq=checkbook%20landscape&st=cse

    ha – I just Googled “checkbook landscape” and came up with the article above, written in 2005, about excessively expensive gardens in, guess where, the Hamptons. Don’t think that’s the one you’re referring to, but I was amused to read it. Of course, it’s a different world today – perhaps those people who once spent $20,000 on annuals each year and didn’t bother to water them are among the many whose McMansions are on the market.

  4. fran kaufman says:

    You should stop by and see what an EH garden looks like when money IS an object.
    We work hard at it, with the help of a local art teacher. And it’s got plenty of character. The house, by the way, is originally built in 1840, added to a couple of times, and the original smoke house (now my studio) and potting shed (the tool room) are still standing. The trees are magnificent, if I do say so myself (since I had nothing to do with putting them here, I feel free to boast.)

  5. joan says:

    I love Ina (I ‘do’ have all the cookbooks and have watched all her shows;) and have always swooned over her garden…. but I so appreciate your comment about it feeling somewhat impersonal- as any gardener knows it’s a labor of love, and if you hire it out that love just isn’t there. Because I adore Ina, I had just never thought of her garden without the love of a gardener…. beautiful but a bit soul-less. Thanks for your perspective!

  6. Diana Salsberg says:

    I think your observations are spot on. I have, for many years, worked in the fundraising arena, where the rich and famous love to show off ‘their’ gardens. Many of them may pick a few weeds – but there is no personality or randomness of spirit. Lovely ho hum.

    Dean Ritter’s upstate garden so inspired me many years ago – I wanted to have everything he had, especially a twig fence (settled for a gorgeous gate made by my dear late husband).

  7. Shannon Johnston says:

    I love the rocked area outside of her terrace and wonder if you could tell me what kind of stone it is? I want to do the same in my yard. Thanks!

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