The Red Door


ANOTHER RED DOOR! That was my first thought when I saw a recent post on Rural Intelligence, the home/food/culture blog of the Hudson Valley, about staging the 1760 Colonial, above, for sale.


Boerum Hill, Brooklyn

The post features the provocative James Mane, a Greene County real estate agent/hands-on stager, who prefers the term “editing” and who’ll take a project only with the understanding that he can do as he pleases. He really strips a place down to showcase “the house, not the furnishings” — which makes perfect sense when you have historic houses of enormous charm and character to sell (and clients with boring stuff).


Tivoli, Dutchess County, NY

Why the cliché red door on Mane’s latest project? “To warm it up,” of course (the paint is Benjamin Moore’s “Warm Comfort,” something close to persimmon).



Red doors seem to be everywhere lately, used as a quick and easy pick-me-up for a house, especially one on the market. A red door says ‘Welcome, please come in and love me — better yet, buy me.’


Park Slope, Brooklyn

Actually, I love red doors, though I’ve usually painted my own some version of turquoise, because an Israeli friend once told me it keeps evil spirits away.


Kinderhook, Columbia County, NY

Any thoughts on the meaning of the red door?



IT’S RAINING AND I’M GLAD. Rain is just what you want when you’ve been planting perennials. It “settles” them, helps their roots make close contact with the soil.


Yesterday I returned from Upstate New York with a Honda Fit-ful of plants — really quite a haul. I dug and divided some of them myself, from the 20-acre property where I learned about gardening in Zone 5 deer country. The others were bought from a local couple, Tom and Ethel, who sell potted evening primrose starts for 50 cents apiece, iris tubers and columbine for $2, small spirea for $6, astilbe, ligularia, foxglove, and more. (If you want to know how to find them, I’ll tell you. Get off the Taconic at Rt. 199 in Red Hook. Make a right on 199 and go east a mile or so. When you see a sign for honey and eggs, make a left onto North Road. Tom and Ethel are about a mile down on the left.)


Here’s the inventory of what I brought back to Long Island for my “instant” cottage garden.

  • 1 zebra grass
  • 2 big window boxes full of threadleaf coreopsis
  • 3 lambs ear (these are mostly 1 gal. pots)
  • 4 catmint
  • 3 turks cap lilies (that just happened to be mixed in with something else)
  • 2 rudbeckia
  • 1 Montauk daisy that never thrived upstate for some reason
  • 1 epimedium, already sampled by my deer last night while still in its pot on the ground
  • 2 pulmonaria (spotted leaves, pink flowers)
  • 2 cimicifuga
  • 3 yellow spirea
  • 2 obedient plant – never tried those before
  • 8 evening primrose
  • 12 iris
  • 4 columbine
  • 4 ligularia
  • 7 astilbe
  • 1 foxglove
  • a baby viburnum
  • a kerria japonica bush in a 5-gal. pot

Total cost: about $60.


I got about half of them planted today. I hope they like the soil. I added generous handfuls of Plantone, an organic fertilizer, to each planting hole. (That’s my next-door neighbors’ house, above, and a rather sparse privet hedge.)


Seriously, I know there’s no such thing as an “instant” garden. It should be fabulous — in about three years.

I’ll post pictures periodically as the garden progresses, in a series I’ll call “How Does My Garden Grow.” Your guess is as good as mine as to whether it’ll be a triumph, a flop, or something in between.

In the backyard, below, I’m not doing much right now, except enjoying the daffodils and watching the ferns un-furl.


Anomalous April


View of the Hudson River and Catskills from Montgomery Place

THIS APRIL IS A STRANGE ONE in the Hudson Valley. The forsythia is not quite finished, which is normal for the time of year, but the lilacs are already in full bloom; ordinarily that doesn’t happen until mid-May. Forsythia and lilacs simultaneously? Weird.

Things are generally much greener than they ought to be. Loomis Creek Nursery’s e-mail newsletter says  the growing season is at least two weeks ahead, due to unseasonably warm weather early in the month, and yesterday at Montgomery Place, the romantic Hudson River estate whose gardens I popped over to see, I overheard the woman who runs their farm stand saying this is the earliest spring since 1945. I believe it.


Montgomery Place, designed by A.J. Davis in the mid-19th century, is actually rather unpretentious, of modest size, with a grand open-air verandah


I just wonder what will happen from here on. Will the lilacs stay in bloom longer than usual while the calendar catches up, or fade and be gone by Mother’s Day? Will the peonies be out in May instead of June, and the day lilies in June rather than July? Remains to be seen, I guess.


Above and below, the gardens at Montgomery Place were designed in the 1920s and ’30s. The brick pathways between beds have delightful scalloped edges.


For my purposes, the season being a bit ahead is not a bad thing. I’m up here to divide perennials from the Dutchess County property where I gardened for several years. Dividing perennials has never been my favorite thing, but this year it’s imperative, both because I have lots of bare dirt to fill at my new place on Long Island, and because certain things, like threadleaf coreopsis and rudbeckia (black-eyed susans to lay folks) have been getting out of control and taking over the central island bed, below (as it looked last September).


I spent most of Saturday digging, and amassed a huge number of pots filled with catmint, lamb’s ear, coreopsis, astilbe, cimicifuga, mint, epimedium, and more. In the end, I took only a small amount of rudbeckia because it is very late to show, even this year, and I wasn’t sure what was what.

Add to that a bunch of stuff from a local couple who sell fresh eggs and potted-up plants from their own garden, for a relative pittance: a kerria japonica bush, a viburnum, bee balm, obedient plant, iris tubers, more astilbes.


Now the big question is, how much can I get in my car?

Bridge and Sagg


I’M STILL VERY MUCH IN THE DISCOVERY PHASE concerning the East End of Long Island, where I moved just under a year ago.


One of my favorite areas is Bridgehampton/Sagaponack. Between Montauk Highway and the ocean, there are quite a few Colonial houses on quiet lanes. It still has a rural, old-timey feel, with a windmill, farm stands, a classic general store on Sagg Main Street, greenhouses (that’s Liberty Farm Nursery, below), and tractors moving about.



Of course, all that rural charm, as well as unspoiled ocean beaches minutes away, attracted the newly rich in the 1980s and ’90s; there was a lot of building, which continues more slowly today. Thus there are some massive contemporary houses, a number of which qualify as ‘important’ modern architecture. Others are McMansions in ersatz Shingle Style. Happily, they are mostly set back in the fields, hidden at least partly by dune grasses.


The 17th century bridge that gave Bridgehampton its name is now a functional modern overpass, below, but the view is still exhilarating.


I was in the area the other day looking for a group of six houses known as Sam’s Creek, designed in the 1970s and ’80s by architect Norman Jaffe (I’m writing about Jaffe for Home Miami magazine). I found them; you’ll see pictures in an upcoming post. Though I was impressed by their design, siting, and modernist landscaping, my heart was definitely more moved by the houses and scenes in this post.


Garden Realities


SO, FROM THE FLORAL EXTRAVAGANZA OF RANCHO LA PUERTA to the bare dirt of my own garden-to-be in Springs, N.Y., above. It’s a tough transition, but I’m doing my best.

I spent yesterday afternoon moving things around. Early spring is the best time of year to do that for most perennials, before things get too far along and you’re dealing with floppy greenery.

My focus is on creating some curb appeal, so when I drive up to my house, I say “Wow!” instead of “Oy!” I’m slowly filling in the planting beds I carved out from the former driveway. Last fall, I sculpted the shapes I wanted with piles of oak leaves. In late winter, I had a truckload of topsoil (and a bit of compost – not nearly enough) delivered and spread by Whitmore’s Nursery. More recently, I schlepped and spread  an additional twenty-two 40-lb. bags of purchased compost myself.


Getting there…

I’m trying to create viable planting areas out of  completely useless, compacted soil. What’s alarming is I’ve seen exactly one worm so far this spring (worms being a sign of soil fertility). But when I dig down to plant, the soil looks reasonably rich and properly crumbly, at least on the surface and a few inches below. There are a still a lot of un-decomposed oak leaves, but I leave them in place to continue their cycle of decay.

This being tax month, I am trying to do what I can without spending a cent. That means, first of all, moving green things from the rear of the property to the front, and over the next few weeks, begging perennial divisions from gardening friends and relatives.

Here’s what I transplanted yesterday from back to front:

  • 5 Korean boxwoods bought last spring at Home Depot. I adore boxwoods – they’re tidy, evergreen, and deer-proof. These are small — just 1′ tall and 1′ wide, eventually to double in size. Can never have enough boxwoods.
  • In addition to a wonderful glade of foot-tall ferns in the backyard, there were two existing clumps of another, taller type. I dug up one longstanding clump of these three-footers — easier said than done, as the clump was a couple feet across, with several starting-to-unfurl fronds and a thick mass of roots — and sawed it into five sections. I transplated them around my small front deck and watered them in well with a fish emulsion fertilizer — for no particular reason, except that’s what I had in the cupboard.
  • Six astilbes that had been stuck in the back for temporary holding

Along with the half-price perennials I bought at Spielberg’s in East Hampton (I can’t say they’ve taken off yet, but they’re settling in) — including five each of lady’s mantle, blue ‘May Night’ salvia, an ornamental grass, some white creeping phlox, three ligularia — well, there’s still a whole lot of bare dirt, below. But I remember how quickly my garden at Dean Street in Boerum Hill, Brooklyn, came together once things got growing (“from nil to abundance in two seasons,” as my own blog post put it), and that gives me hope.


…but still quite a ways to go

My color scheme? Blue, purple, yellow, white, for the most part. This partly of necessity, as orange and red flowers seem to be mainly sun-lovers, and while it’s pretty bright around here at the moment, I expect things to become considerably shadier once the surrounding trees leaf out.

Note: I’ve been contributing blog posts to Garden Design magazine’s website. They mostly link back to this blog, so it’s all rather circular, but if you’d like to take a look, go here (there’s other stuff on the site besides my blog posts).