Deed Done, Work Begins


THE DEED IS DONE! Signed, rather, along with the mortgage and a whole bunch of other papers. The house in Springs (East Hampton), Long Island, N.Y., that I have coveted for almost two years is mine, and I am filled with happy disbelief.


Side wall and current entry gate, an area that will become a side garden when the main entry and parking area are moved to the center of the property so the house can be approached from the front. The out-of-control English ivy on that wall got a crewcut, revealing Medieval-looking iron trim along the top (one of several decorative quirks) and the whole area a much-needed raking.

This is a house many would consider a teardown — a strange and unique 1940s fishing cabin (or so I was told), later expanded into an L-shaped, one-story structure with a bank of awning windows that don’t close, two non-functioning bathrooms, a kitchen with dated, unsalvageable appliances, below, not an iota of insulation, no central heating system, and a half-acre of neglected landscape. I adore it. I can see being here (in the warmer months, at any rate) for the rest of my life.


I’m planning to keep the hand-made pine upper cabinets.

What it’s all about, essentially, though the unusual architecture of the house itself is an enormous draw for me, is what’s at the end of the road, below: a wide sandy bay beach, one of the East End’s best-kept secrets.


Some might be overwhelmed by the amount of work ahead, the manifold looming decisions. Me, I enjoy this sort of thing. (Actually, I did feel a bit overwhelmed on Day 1, but I got over it.) The past three days of crisp air and blue skies, since a quick and trouble-free closing last Wednesday, have been days of major accomplishment. There’s nothing like those first steps in a new/old house for a tangible sense of achievement. There’s no question of setting priorities, almost, in the very beginning: anything you do is a quantum leap forward, and the satisfaction is immense.


Above: a wood bedroom floor, drip-painted in possible homage to local icon Jackson Pollock. Keeper!


Vintage bathroom sink drain destined to become an object for the mantel or garden ornament.

The following items have already been checked off my list in these first few days, thanks largely to a friend with pick-up truck, chainsaw, and most of all, enthusiasm for the tasks at hand.

  • Cleared out the previous owner’s leftover belongings. The place was left far from ‘broom clean,’ as stipulated in the contract, but I knew that would be the case. The seller had called me several days prior to the closing, wanting to postpone it because he hadn’t yet finished clearing out his stuff. It was my choice to go ahead and deal with what remained. A lot of garbage remained; nothing of value. Trips to the dump so far: at least five.
  • Mended stockade fencing, below, replacing missing or rotted 8’ panels (heavy!) in several places, so that the property is now safe from maurading deer. But it’s more than that; it’s the sense of serenity and enclosure a fence provides. Many of the panels had been compromised by my old nemesis, wisteria. Yes, it’s déjà vu all over again on one side of the property, where six-inch thick wisteria vine cries out for an application of undiluted Round-up.


  • Demolished a plywood hearth wall in the dining room (for lack of a better word; it’s also a sitting room/office/den) to expose a cinderblock wall beneath. There are piles of stones on the property which I may use to create a decorative masonry wall there instead.


  • Raked leaves off paths and into piles to expose as much moss as possible, which I want to encourage and train as a ground cover/lawn, to the complete exclusion of turf grass. I can’t deal with the mowing thing. Uncovering the existing paths, below, worn by use, was revelatory; even though I’ll be shifting them, I can see the beginnings of a landscape plan.


  • My friend (aka wasband) fired up the chainsaw and cut a couple of major fallen trees into firewood for the future fireplaces. Then he climbed up on the roof and hacked back years of invasive English ivy, below, that was towering in mid-air several feet above a side parapet wall.


  • Tore up nasty black carpeting to expose clean plywood subfloor in that dining/family/sitting room, below, which gets wonderful east light and will be my morning-coffee/work space. I’m going carpet-shopping next week. Maybe sisal, maybe… linoleum? Maybe paint the plywood floor for now and use area rugs? In the middle of the night, I even thought: stained concrete! I’m keeping an open mind. Money is an object. Laying a new wood floor is not an option; anyway, there’s already plenty of wood in the house.


  • Mused upon how to make the great room/living room, below, as inviting as that dining/family/sitting room, above (yes, need better nomenclature). It has a high beamed ceiling and gets afternoon light, but not enough. The previous owner left a double French door, exterior thickness, he never got around to installing. I’m thinking of cutting open an east-facing windowless wall in that room (that’s the short wall straight ahead in the photo below) and using the French door there. It would look out on a side yard that could become a sort of Japanese-inspired viewing garden with pretty plantings. I’m envisioning this room, with its large tiled fireplace, as the cocktail hour/evening entertaining area.


All this is just the beginning. My goal is to get the house livable by May 1, which means a functioning kitchen and bathroom (later there will be a second bathroom and outdoor shower); windows that close properly, lock, and have screens (there are some 24 windows in the house and right now I’m repairing, not replacing); some kind of new flooring in the two major rooms — oh, and an electrical upgrade. The electrical service coming into the house seems fairly modern, with a circuit breaker panel, but once inside, there are few outlets and most of them don’t work. Meanwhile, I have the use of a friend’s lovely cottage nearby.


Eight or ten windows along a hallway at the back of the house are lacking glass and/or screens. They’re covered with what I’ve been calling wood ‘hurricane battens’ that lift and could be secured under the eaves of the house, to be lowered when closing up the house for the season. Of course I have to install some kind of windows in all those probably-odd-size openings.

Call me crazy, but there is nothing this blogger would rather be doing right now.


New Home for the Parrish Art Museum


LAST FRIDAY, having spent a couple of days in my adopted community of Springs (East Hampton), N.Y., and filled with Long Island pride, I resolved to stop at the Parrish Art Museum on my way back to the city. I’d been sucking up a lot of received opinion (overwhelmingly positive) since the contemporary art museum opened in its long-awaited new digs last November, and I wanted to see for myself.

I liked it, too. The museum relocated from its former cramped quarters in a Victorian brick building in the Village of Southampton to a startlingly elongated shed-like structure with a double hipped roof, set in a vineyard off Montauk Highway in Water Mill. Just looking from the outside at the 34,000-square-foot museum, designed by the Swiss firm Herzog & de Meuron, was enough to give me “museum legs” (that tired feeling you sometimes get from schlepping around looking at art), but in fact, its galleries comprise only 12,000 square feet and are so stimulating and open that it wasn’t fatiguing at all.



I found the art bracing, including the many abstract works, though my conservative preference is for local landscapes and paintings by realist Fairfield Porter and American Impressionist William Merritt Chase. The Parrish has extensive holdings of both in its permanent collection, and each has a dedicated gallery.


Howard Kanovitz’s airbrushed 1974 Hamptons Drive-In is easy enough to appreciate.



Local artist April Gornick’s 1984 Light Before Heat puts me very much in mind of my beloved Louse Point and Accobonac Harbor.


Fairfield Porter’s depiction of rural Calverton, L.I., in the 1950s.


With a pleasant cafe overlooking the grape arbors and an easy-to-swallow admission fee of $10, the Parrish is well worth the stop, coming or going.

Ornamental Edibles


THE DREAMING CONTINUES…the stack of gardening books on my coffee table grows…the sketches of my garden-to-come (six days ’til closing!) proliferate. I’ve realized that the area I’m considering for a vegetable patch — the only cleared, and hence sunny, area on the property at the moment — and my front entry garden, just inside the future parking court, are one and the same. It’s also the spot — quite a large spot, roughly 1,000 square feet — that forms the front ‘yard’ and view from the future guest cottage, as well as being the central circulation core of the entire property (yes, all 1/2 acre of it).

So this space needs to function on many levels, including directing people toward the house, and not toward the compost heap, when they step out of the car. And of course, it needs to look good.


These musings led me to Google ‘ornamental edible garden’ (and order a couple more books on the subject). I’d read about how veggies/herbs, flowers, and other plants were combined at  Mount Vernon and Monticello (and before that, in the cottage gardens of European peasants). I’m a great admirer of the attractive edibles garden at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden, above, which seems to thrive into the winter with snazzy diagonal rows of spinach and kale and parsley going strong. And my Internet explorations revealed that ornamental edibles are a super-trendy trend in both urban and rural settings, with blogs aplenty devoted to them.

I’m a newbie at vegetable gardening. My only experience is a semi-successful tomato patch at my prior Brooklyn rental in Boerum Hill, where I planted way too many tomato starters in two 4’x8′ raised beds and spent much of the summer trying to keep them under control, but also got some very tasty tomatoes.

So I have a load of questions and concerns. First, what will such a garden look like in the off-season? Pretty uninspiring, I should think, covered mostly with mulch. It will need some evergreen structure. Second, vegetable gardens need a lot of water. How sustainable is that? Am I prepared to irrigate or hand-water intensively through the summer? Is my well? Third, how do vegetable beds jibe with my overarching concept of a Japanese-inspired garden? I’ve Googled ‘Japanese vegetable garden,’ you can be sure, but came up with not much more than how to grow Japanese vegetables.

Herewith, some photos from other sites, each with ideas I can glean for my purposes. As always, your thoughts are most welcome.


How gorgeous is this? Brick paths between wedge-shaped beds…there’s a massive pile of brick behind the house that I’ve wondered what to do with, but it’s labor-intensive to lay and perhaps not in keeping with the rustic materials palette (gravel, wood chips) I had in mind.

NEW_GARDEN+Opening+Photo+for+Blog_2_2011_013 This one rises out of the lawn (I’m not planning on any lawn — none), but I relate to how it’s surrounded by tall trees.




Variations on the wood-framed raised bed theme, separated by paths of gravel


Raised beds made of cinder blocks, cottage-y picket fence and twiggy arbor. I’m figuring, since the whole property is fenced, I won’t need to surround the veggies with any additional fencing. I’ve never had to deal with rabbits, woodchucks, etc. at my other East Hampton property — only deer.


Mix’n’match paving

10 Days ’til Closing


THE WINTER WAS LONG, filled with urban activity and a whole lot of waiting. Soon I’ll be purchasing — finally — that house I’ve been yammering about lo these many months. The house people have been inquiring after, as in “How’s your new house?” To which I’ve been replying, “Well, it isn’t exactly mine yet.”


The rhododendrons have suffered some deer damage this winter, but not too bad. Along with a few raggedy cedars, they’re the only evergreens on the property.

Next Wednesday, March 27, after a closing at the seller’s attorney’s office in Bridgehampton, N.Y., it will be. And then I’ll be embarking on another round of tree work, planting, painting, repairs. Joyfully.


View from the newly filled-in swimming pool toward the house. A path from the planned parking court to the house will traverse this area.

Just to bring things full circle for a moment, when I embarked on this blog in December 2008, my first post laid out the concept: to take readers along on my quest for the “perfect beach house.” As it happened, I found a house in only three months, but wanted to keep on blogging — and because it wasn’t the perfect house, I kept on looking.


This new property, a few hundred yards from Gardiner’s Bay on Eastern Long Island, is much closer, quite perfect in its quirky imperfection. It’s a one-of-a-kind modernist house — no architect’s name attached that I’ve been able to find — begun in the 1940s and added onto in the 1960s, on half an acre of wooded land. It’s unheated and uninsulated, though with two fireplaces, I’ll use it 6 or 7 months of the year.

It’s a unique house, and I should know. In the past four years, I haven’t ever stopped perusing the listings, just to make sure there isn’t anything more interesting out there (in my price range). There isn’t. This is it. In its undefinable style, its rough state, its Bohemian ambiance, it feels altogether like me.


This house will lend itself well to visits by friends and family. Twelve hundred square feet in an L-shaped configuration, it feels huge to me, with a separate outbuilding — now a workshop, above, soon a guest cottage (think new windows, door, deck). The Japanese garden theme I gave some study is now just a loose notion. It seems limiting. What do you mean I can’t have river birches?


Side door to kitchen area

I met with my friend Jifat Windmiller, an architect, who was so helpful in conceiving a plan for my previous deck and outdoor shower. We talked decks, and paths, and parking.  We’re moving the parking to the present boatyard (the seller has two motorboats parked in a fenced area) so that one enters the property in the middle and walks toward, as Jifat put it, “the embracing arms of the house,” instead of parking in a narrow drive and approaching a short side of the house made of cinderblock. I’m mulling over ideas for entry gardens. Another of her brilliant thoughts: to work an existing brick platform, top, into the design of the new wood deck.


This will not be a renovation — not now, anyway, and not for the foreseeable future. I’m doing everything small and natural and inexpensive. Treading lightly on the land, making no major changes until I’m there a while (except for felling trees…TIMBER!!) When I talk path materials, for example, it’s either moss or wood chips for starters, with gravel and possibly dry-laid flagstone pieces to follow. Such interior renovation as there will be this year will consist of getting a working shower and replacing 30-year-old kitchen appliances, fixing broken windows, and a paint job.

I was out there this past week, staying at a friend’s nearby. I spent an hour at the property, walking into all its corners, assessing the topography, and trying to identify trees. Anyone recognize the bark below?


The property hasn’t been used or lived in much for probably 10 or 15 years, and hasn’t been raked in as long. It’s going to be practically archaeological in the beginning. I cannot wait to get out there with my tools and see what lies beneath.

Hidcote, An American’s English Garden


ONE EVENING LAST WEEK, I attended the first-ever public lecture at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden’s new Visitor Center — a helix-shaped, mostly glass structure with a planted roof that I had been prepared to dislike for its modernity, but have actually found  welcoming. The talk was given by Glyn Jones, head gardener at England’s famed Hidcote Manor in the Cotswolds, a 10-acre Arts & Crafts-era garden with all the classic English-gardening tropes: blowsy borders, ancient hornbeam hedges, bird-shaped topiary, a white garden, everything off the all-important “central axis.”


Can you tell from my tone that I’m slightly disenchanted with the classic English garden, having steeped myself in Japanese-gardening books all winter? It’s also a result of my trying valiantly and never succeeding to emulate those colorful flower borders in my own sun- and deer-challenged gardens. Yes, there’s an element of sour grapes here. My tulips have always been eaten, either by deer or squirrels, while Hidcote has 18,000 of them, freshly planted each year in varying color schemes. But I did enjoy Mr. Jones’ gossipy talk, and the experience of sitting with a like-minded roomful of people who love gardens.


Hidcote was one of the first properties to become part of England’s National Trust in 1948, though Jones had little good to say about the National Trust. He thinks Hidcote should cut loose, save the annual dues, and publish its own guidebook and website (it can’t be worse than the National Trust’s Hidcote page, which inexplicably has no photos).

Once weedy and overgrown, Hidcote is now restored to perfection, with 12 full-time gardeners and close to 200,000 visitors a year. It was purchased in 1907 by a Mrs. Winthrop, an American born in — of all places — Brooklyn! She was a theater buff who bought the property because of its location 10 miles from Stratford-on-Avon. Her son, Lawrence, went on to develop the gardens, going on ‘botanizing expeditions’ in the 1930s to China, Burma, and South Africa, and bringing back hundreds of hitherto-unseen (in the Western world) species.


Always anxious to cull tips and ideas for my own gardening efforts, I listened attentively for such pronouncements as “We hate bare soil at Hidcote” (for aesthetic reasons and also because abundant perennial plantings suppress weeds). “We hate corners. Fill them up with pots.” I’m for that. “Soften hard architectural lines with a ‘jungly style’ of planting.” By mid-summer, abundant perennials obscure the edges of Hidcote’s grass and gravel paths, though I wouldn’t exactly calll Hidcote’s plantings ‘jungly.’

I perked up when Jones described Hidcote’s “natural or wilderness areas with a different style of planting,” including astilbes, ferns, skunk cabbage, irises, rogersia, and candelabra primulas — things that thrive in shade and damp. I can see those things working at my new property on Long Island (closing three weeks from today!)

Unfortunately, I don’t think Jones’s photos did full justice to the place and, as I mentioned, the National Trust is no help. The illustrations in this post are from UGArderner’s Flickr photostream. Thank you for sharing, UGA.