Shelter Island Farmhouse 665K


THE OTHER NIGHT, I asked my friend Debre, who is a real estate agent on Shelter Island — that idyllic, reachable-only-by-ferry, Victorian-house-laden spot in between the North and South Forks of Long Island — to clue me in to the best old house on the market right now. She zeroed in on this cedar-shingled 1906 farmhouse on West Neck Road.


“It has almost all its original character, a beautifully renovated kitchen (10 years ago and still looking great), and a nice flow in the public space downstairs. It just needs a fence or hedge to give a sense of separation from the road, and it is golden.”


And, she added, “They’ve just dropped the price into the range of reason.”


There are 3 bedrooms, 1-1/2 baths; the property is close to three-quarters of an acre, and there’s a detached garage and storage shed.


Photos: Corcoran

For more information and/or a showing:

Re-connecting with my Garden


I WAS VERY CONTENT in my Prospect Heights pied-a-terre this past winter and felt I had made the right move in taking the Brooklyn apartment. But when I went out to Springs, which I did occasionally from November through March, though the house was cozy and the atmosphere relaxing, I wasn’t particularly inspired, and wondered why I had so badly wanted a country home. Now it’s spring, and I remember.


After six long months, I’m back at work in the garden. Things are popping up all over, and it’s like greeting old friends. Hakonechloa, right on schedule! Yay, brunnera, you made it through the winter! Irises, don’t you look nice! Good to see you…thing that begins with L!


I spent much of the past week adding compost to my beds (making two trips to the East Hampton dump to load up on free compost and mulch), holding my breath and cutting back things that ‘flower on new wood,’ like the books say (Rose of Sharon, now reduced to sticks, below), worrying over deer-devoured hollies that don’t seem to be regenerating, and attempting damage control by spraying, spraying, spraying Deer-Out in the absence, so far, of a fence.


Most of all, I’ve been appreciating the changes unfolding daily and just observing — the unfurling ferns, daffodils blooming even under the new deck, a hummingbird nest in a tree, below. I thought it was garbage, longtime NYC dweller that I am — forgive me, hummingbird — but a knowledgeable friend said it’s a hummingbird’s nest (and it may even be good luck).


I’m also taking in what’s happening locally: the creative window boxes at stores and restaurants in town, lawns filled with daffodils, the pink-purple plum trees flowering in my next-door neighbor’s backyard.

Below, the biggest, prettiest cherry tree on my road


Whitmore’s Nursery made good on its word and replaced an enormous round ilex crennata they planted for me in December ’09. It started to fail last year and by this spring was dead. Poof — it’s like getting a new car, same model as the one that was totaled.

New ilex, below


I thought my abelia ‘Little Richard’ was dead, too. In fact, I dug it up, put it in a bucket, and drove to Spielberg’s Nursery in Amagansett. I didn’t expect them to refund my money or replace it, just wanted to ask what they thought had gone wrong. The woman looked at me in horror. “It’s in your car? Let me have a look…” And don’t ya know, she said it wasn’t dead, just late to leaf out, and that I should hurry home and stick it back in the ground pronto with fertilizer and water. So I did; it was out of the ground less than an hour and I’ve coddled it since. But does this look right to you?


Somehow the question of how long I’m going to stay in this house, and consequently how much I should invest, has faded from consciousness. I’m here for as long as I’m here, and I’m gardening.

To Lawn or Not to Lawn?


THAT IS THE QUESTION uppermost in my landscaping mind right now. Last year my thinking was anti-lawn, pro-groundcover and other plantings. I’ve tried to minimize turfgrass up to now (I don’t own a mower, or want to), but found that, in many cases, sprinkling grass seed was the cheapest, quickest way to get green. But now, the second of two garden-professional friends (one a writer/editor, one a designer) has nixed the notion of an island bed in the middle of the yard. They’re both in favor of a continuous greensward with plantings around it.


A wider view of the yard as it looked in mid-April. The existing free-form island bed is an accidental central feature. The other brownish areas are where I’ve sprinkled wood chips to hold weeds down while I decide what else to do.

True, the existing island bed has virtually nothing growing in it at the moment. The spot is not as sunny as I originally thought and I haven’t focused on planting there. And design-wise, it never did make much sense. The free-form island bed in the center of my ‘shy’ half-acre is there only because previous occupants of my house, a cottage in Springs, Long Island, which I bought in May ’09, had created a huge compost heap in the middle of the yard for reasons known only to themselves.

That first fall, it seemed easier to re-shape it and re-conceive it as a flower bed than to move it entirely. The raised bed also served the purpose of concealing a concrete octagon about 3 feet wide — the cap over my septic tank — which is several inches above ground level.


This concrete octagon, which covers the opening to the septic tank, is now buried under a few inches of soil in the existing island bed.

My garden-designer friend suggested re-grading the property, so that the level of the entire lawn would match the level of the septic tank cover, which as it stands is not a desirable design feature. That would involve a truck with some cubic yards of topsoil, men with rakes and perhaps power tools, a proper re-seeding of the area, and money. It’s not a bad solution; I just wasn’t thinking of doing any significant earth-moving back there this season.

Then my neighbor from across the road, who has lived in this arty, woodsy hamlet full-time for 30+ years, came by and, as we sipped tea on the back deck, gave me her take on the re-grading idea. “That’s very south of the highway,” she said, the big, high-maintenance lawn being a feature of prime Hamptons real estate, which this is not.


I told her I had realized I could shovel and/or rake out the soil in the existing bed and deposit it along the western property line, above, an open, sunny area in which nothing is presently growing except some mullein, below. I could plant herbs there, and flowers (deer-resistant, of course). Maybe even tomatoes. But that leaves the problem of the concrete cap.


Perhaps the cap could be re-set to sit on level with the present lawn? If not, said my across-the-road, neighbor, how about using it as a pedestal for a birdbath, or a tub of annuals. That, she pointed out, would be “very Springs.”


Yard Sale Season


YARD SALE SEASON IS UPON US. Here in East Hampton, N.Y., it’s fertile picking ground. Actually, I’ve been checking out the East Hampton Star‘s yard sale ads all winter, whenever I’ve been here on a weekend, and I’ve scored a couple of items that make me unreasonably happy: the blue-and-white tin spackleware urn ($15), top, and a chunky green wood bench, below, probably home-made, that works perfectly at the foot of my bed ($10).


Yard-saling is an extremely popular weekend pastime around here. On Friday, there was a queue outside the door of a cedar-shingled cottage in Wainscott, below, which was billed as the moving sale of an “ex-Martha editor.” As it happens, I didn’t find anything — not being in need of white kitchenware or white linens bundled with white ribbons — but I liked the house, with its subdued green trim and angled bump-out to create a south-facing sun room. (This picture was taken as I exited, after the eager crowds had dissipated.)


This is my third spring on the East End of Long Island, and as I’ve done every April since living here (formerly full-time, now part-time), I planned my own yard sale to unload the stuff that tends to pile up in one’s basement when one is an aficionado of yard sales. I didn’t have all that much to dispose of — I’ve actually grown quite good at saying ‘No’ to new acquisitions — but a few friends wanted to join forces, using my 400 square foot gravel parking court as a staging area. So we placed our own ad in the Star for Saturday April 23 (“Years of accumulation”), which, as residents of the region know, was cold and foggy, with rain pelting down all day. A total washout.

View from my back door Saturday


We had advertised Sunday as a rain date, though, and two of us decided to proceed, though it was Easter and quiet, even on my busy road, and none too promising, weather-wise, in the morning. It was a long day: nine hours from the time I started bringing stuff up from the cellar to the time I put the ‘Free’ box of leftovers out on the roadside. We had a flurry of activity in the beginning, then sparse custom throughout the day, which ended with a few neighbors on lawn chairs drinking prosecco in brilliant sunshine.


The upshot: enough cash to keep me away from the ATM for a few days, and enough cleared-out space in the basement to hold the spoils of future yard sales.

Must-Go List: Weeksville and Onderdonk


THIS WEEK’S E-MAIL NEWSLETTER FROM Brooklyn Based reminded me that there are still some nearby historic houses in my “I keep meaning to get there” category.

I’ve seen the Lefferts homestead in Prospect Park (not its original location), the 1652 Wyckoff House, oldest in the city, and even went out in search of a obscure, privately owned Dutch colonial house in Flatlands, which I found and wrote about on this blog.

But I have yet to get to one of the most impressive restorations in the city — Weeksville in Crown Heights, a group of three 19th century houses on what was once called Hunterfly Road.


Established in 1838 by James Weeks, a free African American, a decade after the abolition of slavery in New York, Weeksville was a thriving community of laborers, entrepreneurs, and professionals, active in anti-slavery activities and with its own churches, benevolent associations, and even newspapers.


Over time, Weeksville was subsumed by the burgeoning city of Brooklyn and forgotten. In 1968, a few nineteenth century wooden structures, threatened imminently by urban renewal plans, were re-discovered.


Using archaeological evidence, local students, activists, historians, and archaeologists testified before the New York City Landmarks Commission and Weeksville was landmarked in 1971. Three houses, fully restored and decorated to represent different eras in the community’s history, were opened to the public in 2005.

For lots more on visiting Weeksville, and the educational center set to open next year, go here.


One historic house I’d never even heard of is the Onderdonk House, above, the oldest Dutch Colonial stone farmhouse in New York City, on the border between Bushwick, Brooklyn, and Ridgewood, Queens.

The foundations date back to 1660. Most of the stone structure is from the first decade of the 18th century, and there’s a frame addition from 1821. With its gambrel roof, Dutch doors, and central hallway, its architecture has much in common with the dozen or so Dutch colonial houses still extant in Brooklyn.

Again, a community effort in the 1970s saved the Onderdonk House from demolition and raised funds for its restoration. It opened to the public in 1982. Today, the house is on the National Register of Historic Places, and it’s been a city landmark since 1996.

For visitor info on the Onderdock House, go here, and to read a first-person account from a blogger who’s actually been there, go here.