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‘GRANDEUR’ is not a word I pull out very often, but it certainly applies to Untermyer Park in Westchester County. Who knew? I didn’t know, until recently, that there’s a lavish, beautifully designed, meticulously maintained historic garden in Yonkers, on property once owned Samuel Untermyer, a prominent New York lawyer, and his wife Minnie. They bought a 99-room pile called Greystone, and the riverfront acreage surrounding it, from Samuel J. Tilden in 1899. The house is long gone and won’t be coming back, but the splendiferous gardens, happily, have.
In 1915, Untermyer hired William Welles Boswoth, a Beaux Arts-trained landscape designer, who proceeded to create a 3-1/2-acre walled garden based on the Indo-Persian ‘paradise garden’ model, with Neoclassical elements like a Corinthian temple with a mosaic floor, a dramatic flight of steps down to the river inspired by the Villa d’Este near Lake Como, and a Romantic folly, the Temple of Love, on a promontory overlooking the Hudson.
The park opened to the public about three years ago, after decades of neglect. The last weekend in October, I visited with my friend Mary-Liz Campbell, a Rye, NY-based landscape designer. Not only in trees, but in berry-full shrubs and bountiful container plantings, we found all the autumn color that seems to have gone missing in NYC this season.
A great deal has been accomplished in a few years, but there’s still lots of clearing and planting to be done in the outer reaches of the site. Go here, to Margaret Roach’s indispensable blog, A Way to Garden, for an in-depth interview with Timothy Tilghman, Untermyer’s first full-time gardener in 75 years (!)
Untermyer Park is open 7AM-sunset, year round.
IT BEGAN when my daughter moved into a Prospect Heights brownstone with a struggling pine tree in a barrel out front. Each time I visited, I eyed the dead branches, wishing I could take a pruner to the thing and tidy it up. One day, I couldn’t stand it anymore. I told her, “I’m going to prune that pine. If your landlord says anything, tell him your mother is an itinerant urban gardener who goes around pruning people’s shrubs unbidden.”
While my East Hampton house is rented out, I’ve been getting my gardening jollies catching up on maintenance in the yards of my buildings in Boerum Hill and Cobble Hill. I ride around with a wooden box of garden tools in the back of my car — a hand rake, lopper, pruner, shovel, gloves, trash bags. When the urge to garden strikes, I’m ready. But I can see how this could get out of hand. Last week, I was walking along a Park Slope sidewalk and saw a lovely Japanese maple in a cobalt pot in someone’s front yard. It was full of weeds. My fingers itched to reach over the iron fence and pull them out, but I restrained myself. One recent morning, in Philadelphia to visit my son, I went out in my pajamas at 7AM and pulled 2-foot-tall weeds out of cracks in the sidewalk in front of his building … and the building next door.
Soon, I’ll have my half-acre to play with. In the meantime, I stealth-garden on other people’s property and enjoy what they’re doing with their window boxes, tree pits and containers. They’re doing a lot; it’s an encouraging sign of the times.
Below: March of the pots, a trend I’ve spotted this year for the first time. This is good news. In decades past, they might well have been stolen.
Above: Window box explosion in Philadelphia’s Queen Village neighborhood. Below: Ivy and seasonal containers decorate a carriage house in Old Kensington.
Below: Orange cosmos and white gaura have burst through the iron fence around this apartment building in Prospect Heights, Brooklyn, seeding themselves in cracks in the sidewalk.
Below: A proudly tended Brooklyn tree pit with petunias and variegated hosta.
DON’T YOU JUST HATE when a blogger starts off a post by apologizing for a long silence, then runs down a list of excuses ranging from being busy with ‘real’ work to computer and/or camera troubles? I mean, like, who cares? Just get on with it.
This hypothetical blogger could have other issues as well. Sheer laziness, perhaps. Concern that people are sick of seeing photos of the same old place again and again (and who could blame them?) Or simply living life instead of blogging about it, which may be a good thing.
For the record: the month just passed was a productive one at The Hole (a friend’s suggestion for a name for my new house, borrowed partly from the name of the road it’s on, and in the absence of anything less pejorative, or anything else at all, I’m growing to like it). I busied myself with small improvements to house and garden, prepping for my July renters — installing a washer/dryer, planning for a new deck come August, hanging pictures on the walls.
The great room, below, is kind of great.
The living/sitting/dining room, below, looks pretty much the same…
as does the kitchen…
The master bedroom is shaping up.
The guest room is rather sweet (and extremely difficult to photograph).
Out in the yard, the vegetable beds remain unplanted, the shed unrenovated. Though I do have a spectacular weed…a verbascum taller than I am.
I’ve done a bit of planting, not a lot; that will come in the fall. I discovered a local couple who sells hosta and ferns — big healthy ones — for $3 and $5, out of their backyard. Who says the Hamptons is a rip-off? For me, being able to grow hostas at all, thanks to a 6′ tall stockade fence the deer have yet to breach, is a remarkable thing.
I’m in Brooklyn for July, with a planned return trip to Rancho La Puerta (my 12th, I think) mid-month. It’s all good, and I’ll make no excuses for that.
THE MONTH OF MAY hasn’t been so much merry as schizy (though there have been some undeniably merry moments). I spent the first two weeks of the month saying goodbye to my former home, a vintage cottage in East Hampton, N.Y., enjoying its deck and outdoor shower every chance I got. I gazed into the woods, wondering how I was going to survive without that particular view.
I had one last yard sale, then moved my remaining “staged for sale” furnishings from the cottage to the other house I bought last year — a mid-20th century L-shaped bungalow, below — a quarter-mile away. A few days later, I sold that beloved first cottage, five years and a day after buying it in 2009, and six months after putting it on the market.
It was the first time I ever sold a property (I still own a few; see my About page). Did it feel momentous? Nah. I had experienced all my emotion in anticipation, it turned out. Closings are non-events, I’ve realized. No ceremony, no festivity — just attorneys and a title company rep passing papers back and forth to be signed. No one says congratulations; you’re lucky if get hello and goodbye. Afterwards, I ran to the bank, and then — except for sharing a bottle of champagne with a friend — pretty much forgot about the whole thing. It’s out of my hands now. If the garden on which I worked so hard and long reverts to nature — well, so be it.
Below, views of my “new” house and landscape, as it looked earlier this month:
Now I’m all of a piece — all my things in one house, responsible for only one garden and one Town of East Hampton tax bill. Most significantly, my focus and attention is now in one place. I’ve furnished the rooms comfortably, and I’m doing the best I can to control the indoor climate in my unheated, un-cooled house, alternating space heater and fan as weather demands.
I made a conscious decision to make no decisions for a while — to call no contractors, no deck guys, no guys at all. There are big jobs ahead: replacing the deteriorating deck and installing windows in a long hallway where now there are boarded-up holes, to name two major priorities. But I’m not ready to move on anything quite yet.
Meanwhile, I’ve been enjoying my new borrowed view, of dogwoods in the neighboring yard, above, and the rhododendrons have come out, spectacularly, to greet me.
A RECENT THREE-HOUR WORKSHOP at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden, taught by renowned urban forager Leda Meredith, was a revelation. Among the startling things I learned is that one can actually eat some of the weeds I’ve been battling for years in my East Hampton garden. But “edible” is a subjective term. When I returned to find agepodium podagraria (goutweed) and garlic mustard in full spring resurrection, I immediately tried munching on them, and quickly spit them out.
Meredith, author of the new book Northeast Foraging: 120 Wild and Flavorful Edibles from Beach Plums to Wineberries(Timber Press) admits you can’t grow vegetables (except mushrooms) in deep shade, but she provided ideas for making the most of what sun you’ve got in hopes of getting a few tomatoes and cukes: use ‘cheats’ like foil-covered reflectors to increase light, and plant in lightweight containers you can move to follow the sun, though that seems like it could become a full-time job.
Useful rules of thumb: if we eat the seed-bearing part of a plant (e.g. cukes, green beans), it needs more light. If we eat roots or leaves (green leafy vegs, carrots, some herbs), you can get away with less. The most aromatic herbs (basil, oregano, thyme) are Mediterranean in origin and need abundant sunight. The likes of coriander and parsley, not so much.
Meredith, a former professional dancer who now leads foraging expeditions, teaches workshops, and blogs about food preservation, local eating, and foraging, reminded us that you can eat the leaves of beets and carrots, and eat wild edibles like field garlic, ramps (wild leeks), fiddleheads and May apples (I actually have the last two in my East Hampton garden as well).
But most of her presentation focused on things that are not going to supplant Greenmarket produce in my diet: hog peanut, a twining ornamental; wild angelica, hopniss, American spikenard, wild ginger, pink purslane, and even a narrow-leaved hosta (lancifolia), to name a few. “Saute the hosta like spinach,” she told us. You can eat the early chutes of Solomon’s Seal, and the leaves and flowers of violas and pansies, too.
All very interesting, and kudos to Meredith for pioneering the use of these plants as edibles. It’s good to know about things that won’t poison you if disaster strikes, or Whole Foods is closed.