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HERE’S HOW MY LONG ISLAND, N.Y., GARDEN looks now, with the trees nearly all leafed out for the season, following a night and a day of blessed rain.

As recently as two weeks ago, it still felt like very early spring. Now we’re in it. A few warm days, and the rewards start coming.

The irises I thought were planted too deep, or didn’t like the acidic soil, suddenly shot up their flower stalks. The beds around the front deck — now a tad less shady, thanks to the removal of five or six more trees last March — are filling out, though plenty of bare spots remain.

I’ve been planting like a maniac, all in a spirit of experiment. I’m no longer making any attempt at design in the four raised beds in the sunny center of the property, where I’ve variously had dreams of starting flowers from seeds or growing edibles. Now it’s just a fertile place to hold the odd things picked up at nurseries in Philadelphia and Dutchess County, at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden’s annual plant sale, and at community garden sales here and there.

I’m making repeated trips to the local dump for free compost, mulch and wood chips, a scene that never fails to remind me of Monica Vitti in Antonioni’s Red Desert, walking through a post-apocalyptic landscape in a pencil skirt and stilettos.

See nature’s progression below:

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Back to front: an ilex ‘sky pencil,’pagoda dogwood, two ninebark ‘Coppertina,’ a couple of lavenders, an acanthus and some annuals in their Brooklyn staging area, awaiting transport.

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Variegated Solomon’s seal, planted last October and doing spectacularly well.

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Golden bleeding heart and ferns as they looked two weeks ago.

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An old azalea, here when I bought this property in 2013, thriving as a result of pruning and Hollytone. 

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Stuffing the raised beds with bulbs only worked for a year. My Costco alliums and even the daffs failed to come back. Only the Pheasant Eye daffodils from a catalogue company bloomed this season, weakly. 

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Still early times, as of two weeks ago, in the bed above. 

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A car full of compost.

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A few native dogwoods on the property blooming better now — must be the Hollytone.

Signs of growth abounding this week:

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Weeping spruce putting it forth.

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Purple violas, gift from a friend, in a gorgeous hunk of driftwood, gift from another friend, in a spot where I had to remove a failing boxwood.

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Watch this space…

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Silver ferns around three rocks, an attempt at artistry and restraint.

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Happy smoke tree.

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I have high hopes for my Pagoda dogwood from the BBG. May be 12 feet tall some day.

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Mystery plants appropriated from vacant lot nearby, where property was clear-cut for development. Digitalis? Remains to be seen.

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Rodgersia — a first for me — and lady’s mantle in front of a rhodie about to burst into bloom.

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Irises blooming after all.

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My only stab at agriculture this year: a single Sun Gold tomato plant in a whiskey barrel. 

 

 

 

 

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IF THIS HOUSE HAD COME UP when I was in the market a few years back, I would have seriously considered it, even though Sotheby’s is advertising it as a teardown. (The address is 110 Old Stone Highway, East Hampton, NY. You can Google it.)

The house needs work. So what else is new?

But what an upside this property could have: it’s a 1950s cedar-shingled cottage with great interior spaces (as seen in my through-the-window shots, below), on a flat, sunny .6 acre that would be terrific for gardening.

There are two outbuildings: a freestanding summerhouse (screened porch) that looks to be in good condition, and a guest house that reeks powerfully of mildew and needs to be gutted ASAP. That’s the one potential deal-breaker, as far as I can tell from my trespassing, if the house itself smells the same (only the guest house was unlocked).

It’s located on the historic Springs-Amagansett Turnpike, AKA Old Stone Highway, where a number of avid gardeners and high-profile people make their homes.

See the full listing here, with a photo of the pool in season.

It won’t last long. Don’t say I didn’t tell you!

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I’VE STARTED SPENDING TIME “OUT EAST” AGAIN. Though I can’t stay in my own un-winterized bungalow just yet, I’ve been able to bunk nearby and do a bit of garden clean-up on my half-acre property, and begin to catch up with friends I haven’t seen since last fall.

This past week was mostly sunny, but there was one all-day deluge. One evening I found myself in the back streets of Sag Harbor after the rains had let up, with a little time to spend before meeting a friend at the bar at Baron’s Cove, a new and very pleasant hang-out I’ve discovered (fireplace, great cocktails, nice happy hour menu).

Here’s some of what I saw in a 15-minute stroll: the delightful cottage, top, landscaped almost entirely with hinoki cypress; a Victorian farmhouse backlit by the clearing sky; cloud-reflecting puddles; and vistas of low-key properties that don’t scream Hamptons, but merely whisper spring in the country.

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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.

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….is maybe not such a great idea. It’s bigger than it looked on the not-to-scale map in the tourist brochure.

Pork-chop-shaped Block Island, Rhode Island, is about 15 miles off the easternmost tip of Long Island, where I live part of the year. I was bound and determined to get there on the last weekend of seasonal ferry service from Montauk. Unable to convince a friend to join me — admittedly, the night before — I went off solo, as I did last winter to Europe. I even wore the same trusty boots that saw me through Spain, France and Italy, and summoned up an echo of the old travel excitement as I drove the half-hour to catch the 10AM ferry on a perfect October Sunday, having done zero preliminary research. I had a vision of finding breakfast in a Victorian hotel, once I reached Block Island, on a porch overlooking the sea.

I had been to Block Island once before, in the early ’90s, and wasn’t wrong in assuming it would still be much the same — unspoiled and tranquil, with only 600 year-round residents and, by Columbus Day weekend, few vacationers left. I expected the ferry to dock in Old Harbor, immediately across from an old-fashioned high street with restaurants, bars and shops. All that’s still there, but that’s not where the new super-fast ferry from Montauk docks. It docks, after an hour-long crossing over pristine waters, in New Harbor, about two miles away from any hope of breakfast (or by now, lunch).

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Leaving Montauk, above

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First glimpses of Block Island, below

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There was a stand renting bicycles (mopeds too), but I passed it by. Block Island is hilly, and I thought I’d be better off hoofing it. So I walked and took photos, arriving at Old Harbor to discover the grande-dame hotel restaurants mostly closed for the reason, and ended up at the Topside Cafe, a hippie establishment where I had my first-ever acai berry bowl.

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Old walls made of huge stones, found throughout the island, are not why it’s called Block Island (it’s named after Adrian Block, an early Dutch settler).

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I wanted to see a bit of the island’s interior and perhaps some of the vaunted ocean beaches. My rudimentary map showed 25 miles of yellow hiking trails, and I chose the Fresh Swamp Trail as a goal — it was the closest and shortest. I passed old farmhouses as I walked to the trailhead, some now used as inns, on roads that became increasingly less paved. The trail took me through woods and open fields and was serene and lovely, if not dramatic. By the time I emerged on the road at the other end, it was mid-afternoon. I had walked a total of five miles and my legs were tired. To get back on foot to New Harbor in time for the 5PM return boat, I’d have to head straight there, on perhaps the island’s least scenic road, past the airport. As I contemplated that walk, a taxi came along the otherwise deserted road, and my hand went up so fast I wasn’t sure I had even made a decision to hail it.

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Because the driver had another pickup in that direction, we ended up on the unremarkable airport road, and I was now early for the return ferry. I had him drop me at Old Harbor again, thinking I’d do a bit of shopping and find a cocktail. Racks of cute, arty clothing at drastic end-of-season reductions lined the street, so I did that for a while, then found myself at Poor People’s Pub, crowded and cozy, eating the best pizza I’ve had since Naples — truffled mushrooms and goat cheese, and a Narragansett beer on draft. Then I had to move quickly to make that return ferry, or spend an extra 24 hours on the island (which wouldn’t have been the worst thing). By the time I’d hiked back to New Harbor, I was hobbling.

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I never saw the beaches, except for those that could be seen from the ferry, or much of the island, really. But I saw enough to know I’d like to return.

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