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ALL GARDENING ALL THE TIME… that’s how I spent September and October at my beach-house property in Springs, N.Y., before cold nights forced me back to the big city.
I devoted last spring mostly to home improvements, while my garden ambitions lay fallow. I rented in July, and August was broken up by treks back and forth to Brooklyn, to oversee work at my townhouse in Cobble Hill (now rented, happily).
Besides which, though I had done a lot of clearing and planting by this third season at the house, I’m still somewhat lacking in the overall vision department.
But Labor Day weekend, I had a visit from a garden-designer friend who never fails to get me thinking, and things took a conceptual leap forward. I’d had this grand new deck built the summer before last, but hadn’t done much landscaping around it. Mary-Liz suggested that if I enlarged the existing beds, which began a few feet away from the deck, with an expanse of wood chips in between, and brought the beds right up to the edges, you’d feel, while lounging on the deck, as if you were sitting in the garden and not just looking at it.
While she was visiting, we swam in the bay and drank wine and, except for one trip to the dump for compost and some watering, didn’t lift a finger. It was Labor Day weekend, after all. As soon as her car pulled out of the driveway, though, I sprang into action. Over the next few days, I outlined new, expanded beds with some of the bricks from the three huge stacks I inherited when I bought the house two-and-a-half years ago. Then I had more compost delivered and piled in the newly defined areas, where there was only packed-down dirt.
This is all still very ad hoc; the bricks are mere suggestions, not yet dug into the soil, and they don’t quite end anywhere. Things may shift later, when more permanent paths are built. But it was enough to get me going, and on to my next challenge: what to plant in these new areas without spending a lot of money I didn’t have?
As it happened, my friend Stephanie, gardener extraordinaire, had recently sold her East Hampton house and could quite easily part with a couple of hydrangeas, some Japanese silver ferns, hostas and other random things that would never be missed from her intensively planted acre. I procured these donations in late September, along with some pieces of slate for stepping-stone paths.
Then, my dear next-door neighbors were planning to move, too, at the end of October. They had been renting for several years, had done a fair bit of planting, and didn’t want to leave their fabulous weeping spruce, an Alberta spruce, a couple of other evergreens, some irises, etc., to the new owners, nor could they take them along. So these were dug up and brought over the fence to my property, where I carefully chose spots for each.
Finally, around Columbus Day, I made a visit to Lynch’s Garden Center in Southampton, one of my favorite area nurseries — it’s medium-size, not overwhelming, and always has an interesting selection. Even at that late date, to my amazement, they had a table of robust-looking shade perennials, including Solomon’s seal, rodgersia, astelboides and ladies mantle, at the giveaway price of $3 apiece. I bought almost all they had.
I also moved things I’d planted in the outer reaches of my own half-acre to spots nearer the house and deck, where I can enjoy them on a daily basis and where they’ll get more watering. A crape myrtle that was unhappy in the woods is now in a prime sunny spot, and three leather-leafed mahonia that were lost back there now have pride of place in a V-shaped area where two paths meet.
Oh, and then there were several buckets of liriope from Brooklyn, a grasslike groundcover, that had been hastily dug up, thrown into plastic pots and left to sit all summer with an occasional spritz. It was a tangled mess, but alive, when I got to it in September, and I spent two days teasing it apart and painstakingly transplanting what I hope will one day be a glorious carpet on either side of a new path from my brick patio to the… what to call it… well, to the area that still needs conceptualizing.
Add to this my renewed commitment to watering, watering, watering, which I did diligently by hand for approximately an hour-and-a-half each day, with fancy new watering wands and nozzles to make the job easier, and I have every expectation of a great gardening season when I get back to my little Eden next spring.
THIS AUGUST I’VE BEEN in and out and roundabout and back and forth. I’ve spent more time on the Long Island Expressway, it sometimes seems, than in my much-loved house in Springs (East Hampton), N.Y. And I’ve fallen down the job of documenting my garden. For that I have a novel excuse besides the fact that I haven’t been here as much as I’d like: the weather’s been too good! Decent garden photography on a sunny day, in the dappled shade of tall oaks, is near impossible. But the other morning, I woke at 6, stepped outside into a misty morning, and ran to get my camera.
IT’S BEEN CALLED the ‘crown jewel’ of New York City’s public gardens: see why. The plantings at the Conservatory Garden at Fifth Avenue and 105th Street — different every year — are exuberant. Their unrestrained color combos feel like the tropics; the attention to textural variation makes nearly every spot an arresting visual. High summer is the time to go, though this garden — made up largely of annual plantings, with a backbone of hedges and perennials playing a supporting role — will be fabulous through frost. Combine with a visit to the Folk City and Paul Rand exhibitions at the Museum of the City of New York across the street for an ideal midsummer outing.
THE MONTH OF LONGEST DAYS is drawing to a close, and I feel compelled to celebrate it with a blog post before it fleets by. The alliums, lush purple just two weeks ago, are already browned on their stalks. Those are not my alliums, above, though I have a few, or my lily pool; they are attached to an East Hampton oceanfront estate I toured as part of the Garden Conservancy’s Open Days program on June 21.
Young men in straw hats were stationed to direct mortals like myself through this sensational south-of-the-highway estate, pointing the way to wildflower meadow, cottage garden, woodland walk, vegetable garden, parterre and croquet green (pool and tennis court go without saying). Have a small look:
It was a month of yoga on the beach, lobster in Montauk, sunsets from the jetty, and the humble satisfactions of my own half-acre compound shaping up (as I type, two men are working by night to finish the transformation of shed to guest cottage; photos to follow).
I introduced two friends to one of the oddest and most photogenic places I know of on the East End: Multi Aquaculture Systems, an Amagansett fish farm, below, the last on Long Island. Besides tanks of striped bass and other fish, it has ducks and dogs and a cafe selling Provencal pottery and picturesque decaying buildings and wildflowers in abundance by the bay.
I swam a couple of times at my local beach, below. It was exhilarating, and that’s how I know it’s really summer.
LAST MONTH’S ‘OLD STONE STROLL’ in Springs (East Hampton), Long Island, to benefit the renovation of tiny, unassuming 1881 St. Peter’s Church, below, was a revelation to me, even though I’ve had a home here for six years now. The self-guided tour of eight gardens, all located along what was once an unpaved road called the Springs-Amagansett Turnpike and is now Old Stone Highway, reminded me of the hamlet’s artistry and celebrity — not least because Springs’ best-known resident was abstract expressionist painter Jackson Pollock, who inspired a wave of artists moving to the area in the 1950s and ’60s.
One of the properties on the tour (the most modest of them) was musician/performance artist Laurie Anderson’s; she was outside planting vegetables and chatting with visitors. Another was the 18th century farmhouse of the late sculptor Constantino Nivola, one of whose house guests painted a mural on the dining room wall (the guest happened to be the monumentally important architect Le Corbusier, and it’s the only Corbu mural in the U.S.). A couple were places I’d already been wowed by on Garden Conservancy Open Days; you can see one of them here.
Everywhere, it seemed, there were vignettes of great charm, even (perhaps especially) where gardens were not manicured to a fault.
Below, the home of Charles Savage, who has put together three properties over a couple of acres with garden room after garden room, including arbors, statues, urns, a stone courtyard, etc. But I liked the backwoods “hills and dales” areas the best, and the driveway/breezeway. Why don’t more people do that? It’s like a picture frame for your backyard.
Below and top, a glimpse of the 7-acre estate of handbag designer Judith Leiber and her husband Gus , a painter.
Below, the onetime home of Constantino and Ruth Nivola. He was a sculptor known for his sand-casting technique; she made Etruscan-style jewelry in a little wisteria-covered cottage on the grounds. We peeked in the windows of the house (which was not open to the public) for a view of the Corbu mural. Wouldn’t I like one of those in my place…
Finally (for purposes of this blog post), the most evocative spot at “The Landing,” below, a 12-acre property on Accabonac Harbor owned by a member of the Bacardi rum family.