Garden Inspiration: Hudson Valley Cottage


HERE’S WHERE I LEARNED WHAT I KNOW about country gardening: a hillside in northern Dutchess County, N.Y. My wasband and I bought the 20-acre property in 2002 and set about to create garden beds on a couple of those acres (the rest is virgin woods). Some of the existing plantings are as old as the house — late 1930s, according to newspaper insulation found in the mudroom wall: a 50’long row of peonies that does its exuberant thing every June, a stand of vigorous old lilacs, a long privet hedge that lines the driveway and glorious trees: flowering cherry, apple, and pear, dogwoods and Japanese maple.


Entrance to driveway, above, with spirea in bloom.


Close-up of the island bed in the middle of the lawn pictured at top. Hakonechloa (Japanese forest grass) in foreground, a shrub rose in middle, lamb’s ear and catmint and many other things beyond.

But most of what you see in this post is all us: designed from nothing and maintained with great effort, by both of us at first and now by Jeff, who continues to expand the gardens and with them, his never-ending labors (he has a John Deere tractor/mower/plow, which helps a lot).  I was there this past weekend, dividing a few perennials to take back to Long Island and doing what I could to help keep things in check. And taking pictures, of course.


A favorite combo in island bed, above: yellow-flowered euphorbia, spiky purple speedwell, good old nepeta (catmint).


Lady’s mantle, above, so successful here, such a flop in all my other gardens.

Around the back of the house is a mudroom, below, alongside which are a few concrete steps, now extended with slate steppingstones up the hill toward the vegetable garden.


There’s lamium, ferns, and hostas…



…more hakonechloa, lady’s mantle and spirea, to name a few.

This is called the $5 garden, because nothing in it cost more than $5, at farmstands and church sales.


Below, one of many rocky outcroppings on the property, on which Jeff has planted a variety of dwarf species, overlooked by a yard-sale Buddha.


Shade lovers along the front porch railing, below, include big-leaved ligularia and chocolate- colored cimicifuga. In the foreground: evening primrose in bloom.


Astilbe and ferns on the other side of the fence, below.


Totally out-of-control ‘square bed,’ below: the wild rose at left (multiflora rose, I believe, often found on lists of invasives), if not hacked radically back every year, grows like mad and has obscured one of four boxwoods in the corner of what’s meant to be a tidy little showpiece. It has agastache and flowering chives, and there’s a concrete birdbath with two or three different succulents set in gravel.

IMG_1950    IMG_1953

Above: Japanese maples in pots and in the ground, and a variegated miscanthus (ornamental grass) in the raised box that struggled for years in too little light but finally triumphed. The log bench, made by Jeff, was suggested by those at LongHouse Reserve in East Hampton.


Above, a mysterious concrete rectangle — possibly a greenhouse or garage foundation from years past — which we filled with low-maintenance gravel (after trying a water feature that was a disaster) and rimmed with pieces of slate. Sometimes referred to as the Zen Litter Box.

Up on the hill, below, the homemade vegetable garden fence is of a mixed metaphor: Fort Apache with a Toro gate.


View from the top of the property, below. That’s the Taghanic range in the distance.


Breathtaking, isn’t it? To see more photos of the same property in other years and seasons, go here and here.

6 thoughts on “Garden Inspiration: Hudson Valley Cottage

  1. Admittedly, maintaining the gardens would be nearly impossible without the John Deere (but what’s a home in the country without a J Deere). The trick however is to do just a little every day. And stop when it gets boring. Cara understates the amount of work she put in over the years, digging, designing and discovering. The kudos belong to her…

  2. Wow, what a lovely garden. My wife and I would love a bigger garden but considering how much time and effort is required just to maintain our little one I dread to think what it must be like to landscape and maintain such a large garden!

    I like Hostas but sadly in our damp climate here they tend to get devoured by slugs before they reach their full splendour.

  3. Wow. Looks like Prospect Park in the first shot. Like the Park, what looks so “natural” is actually well planned and carefully worked. Just beautiful.

  4. It magnificent, Cara. Must have been hard to give that up. I’m glad you get to still visit and to take home to LI, some of the treasures you establshed with hours of effort and hard work.

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