Hamptons Garden Reno: Blank Slate


WAS IT REALLY LESS THAN A MONTH AGO that I was miserable about the cold? You know how I said, whatever temperature it is outside, that’s what it is inside my unheated house?

I’ve got the opposite problem now, only worse. When I got back to East Hampton yesterday after a few days away, the temperature outside was in the 80s… but the thermometer in the living room, where all the windows had been closed, read 92. By opening the kitchen skylight and a few windows, and turning my trusty Vornado on full blast, I got it down to 88. But the misery of such heat provoked yet another crisis of confidence. What have I gotten myself into??

Since this is the seventh older property I’ve owned, I console myself with the knowledge that in the past, I’ve had similar crises of confidence about at least four of them, and I’m pretty sure it will all work out in the end. Meanwhile, air conditioning and heating are a distant dream. My renovation funds, after plumbing, electrical, landscape cleanup, kitchen and bathroom reno, are down to zero. I can’t move forward right away. I’m forced to do nothing. Can we construe that to be a good thing? I’ll be forced to carefully contemplate my next move, forced to adopt the Zen mindset of Sylvia Boorstein, author of Don’t Just Do Something, Sit There. Forced to swim in the bay just to cool off (had my first swim of the season yesterday, and it was delicious).

And I think a little garden therapy is in order. See below for photos of how the property looked last week, after two days of three guys crawling over it with chainsaws, chainsaws on poles, weed whackers and leaf blowers. Essentially, it’s the same; I’ve still got a dappled, shady half-acre with plenty of tree cover. But now I have room to plant underneath the canopy of oaks, hickories, sassafras, red maples, and cedars. There are still some large piles of leaves about, which I would leave in place to compost but for fear they harbor Lone Star ticks, the season’s latest itchy scourge.

Compare these photos to how it looked last winter. There were no leaves on the tall trees then, so it seemed fairly sunny — but note how the saplings that were springing up everywhere are, for the most part, gone. I spared dogwoods, but I think I have enough in the way of everything else.

One new issue is that the enclosing stockade fence is more visible, and I now understand what the books say about hiding the perimeter of a property to make it look larger. With the fence so clearly in view, one sees exactly where the property ends, and it seems less impressively vast. I’ll be obscuring that fence with shrubs and conifers in months to come, and perhaps tweaking the fence itself. An architect friend suggested slicing a few inches off the tops of the pickets for a straight-across, more custom look, or even removing every other picket, or creating some other pattern, for greater openness. Intriguing concept, yes? (If anyone knows of photos of creative treatments of garden-variety stockade fence panels, please send them my way; I haven’t been able to find any. My email address is on my ‘About’ page.)


Immediate next step: improve soil in a couple of small areas, and start a small perennial bed with easy shade plants dug up and brought down from upstate this past weekend, above — hostas, ferns, epimedium, hakonechloa, and a few blue flag iris — all now reposing in pots and looking no worse for the travel, except for the Japanese anemones, which have sadly collapsed and which I fear may take a while to establish, if they survive at all.







A little garden blogging therapy is in order, too. I’ve got three “Garden Inspiration” posts ready to go, from my travels this past weekend. I’ll be laying them on you shortly, so stay tuned.

About cara

I blog (for fun) here at casaCARA, and write (for money) about architecture, interiors, gardens and travel for many national magazines and websites.
This entry was posted in GARDENS & GARDENING, HAMPTONS, LANDSCAPING, LONG ISLAND. Bookmark the permalink.

9 Responses to Hamptons Garden Reno: Blank Slate

  1. lula says:

    Cara, I say leave the leaf piles and make compost. If you dig a dish-shaped cavity, approximately the same size as the leaf pile, next to each pile, then sprinkle the excavated dirt on the leaves which you layer back into the excavation, you will eventually have good soil. be sure to leave the top concave and keep it wet to speed up the process.

  2. Julia Mack says:

    Perhaps consider taking the thermometer out of the house because not knowing is often better than knowing and double up on the swim lessons (you can practice at my place).

  3. cara says:

    Good advice, no doubt. I’m not sure I have the energy though. The piles are like 18 feet across and there are several of them.

  4. The first shot is really nice. It is much more cleared out than it was. You’ll work your magic.

  5. mud4fun says:

    How about putting some colour on that fence?

    My wife and I have always had the normal natural brown fencing until this year but we decided to brighten the garden up by adding colour to the fencing and workshop.

    The workshop is here:


    and the veg garden fence is here:


    It doesn’t suit everybody (and my eldest daughter hates it) but it is at least different! Ours is what we call a feather edge fence whith overlapping 4″ wide boards nailed to three horizontal rails. It looks similar to your fencing although we don’t have the pointed tops. The lighter colour makes the garden look bigger. We have tried a very pale green on another section of fencing: http://mud4fun.files.wordpress.com/2013/05/lawn_fence_20130505-5.jpg and that makes things feel even bigger.

    PS. Excuse the land rover parts littering the garden, I’m in the middle of a restoration.

  6. cara says:

    Wow, mud, that’s some seriously attractive piece of property you have there! I love the blue you chose, my only concern would be the maintenance of the paint job. I don’t know how much you have but I have approximately – very approximately – maybe 3000 linear feet of fence? It does make me even more resolved to slice the pointy tops off the pickets. Much friendlier without them. Thanks for sharing. Oh, and I am very impressed by your greenhouses as well.

  7. mud4fun says:

    Thanks Cara. Our fence is nowhere near as long as yours, just 240 feet long so fair point on the maintenance. That is a huge length of fencing!!

    I did test some using a sprayer which was quick and would be your only option with that length although I found I then had to do two coats. The bits I painted with a brush only really needed one coat although to get the deep colour on the workshop I did two as I was painting over a very dark brown.

    The veg garden and greenhouses are my wifes domain so all credit to her for that.

  8. cara says:

    Hey, mud, I totally miscalculated! Just got out the survey. It’s 650 feet. And I didn’t even think of spraying, all that sprang to mind was me going laboriously around the whole perimeter with a brush. Would have felt like 3000 feet for sure.

  9. mud4fun says:

    LOL, it took me about 10 hours to get one coat on 240′ of fence (one side) with a brush. Whereas it would have taken about 2 hours with a sprayer so it is feasible for your fence. Our sprayer was relatively inexpensive but they do tend to be made for the manufacturers own paint systems as I found when trying to use one with my own paint and it got blocked. Easily fixed but quite annoying.

    The blue and green in our photos is actually a stain rather than a paint so it soaks in. We bought it because it was non toxic so is safe to use on fence and raised beds next to vegetables. I reckon it will last a few years before needing another coat. In total for two coats it cost us approx £100 in paint including the cream for the workshop detailing.

    My wifes blogs has these photos which show the before and after shots which may be of interest as they show how much brighter the areas feel with the pastel shades (even allowing for different weather conditions between shots)

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