Showtime in the Garden

IMG_0008THERE’S A SENSE AROUND HERE (in my head, that is) that my Long Island garden is already peaking at this early stage of the game. Memorial Day and the week following are spearheaded each year, I now know, by the pinkish-purple blooming of four massive, gasp-worthy rhododendron shrubs I inherited when I bought this place three years ago.

The rhodies were not in great shape when I arrived, but three years of mulching, extra watering and Hollytone-ing, along with some judicious pruning, made this year’s flower show the most profuse yet.

Up to fifteen feet tall, they surround my deck, are the main sight seen through the windows along the front of the house, and act as a magnet to draw people into the garden for a closer look. (My yard sale last Saturday, a non-spectacular affair mounted with three friends, became equally an unofficial Open Garden Day, with would-be yard sale customers meandering through my half-acre, and coming out praising my skills as a plantswoman, which was very satisfying.)

A week into June, however, helped along by a couple of hot days and a couple of pounding rainstorms, the rhodie’s blousey blossoms are already beginning to fade and fall apart, heralding a load of mushy-petal raking to come, and later in June, the chore of deadheading the finished flowers to make room for next year’s all-too-brief display.

Is it worth all the toil and trouble? No doubt. Will I be satisfied with the garden’s subtler pleasures to follow? I’ll try.

Sensational though they are, late May/early June is not all about rhodies. Check out the foxgloves I’ve got going this year. True, I took a shortcut. The property next door has been vacant for a year or more, and in a wrong-headed effort to make it look more “buildable,” the owner clear-cut dozens of mature trees. That was horrifying — the woods turned into a forest of tree stumps in a day — except that some dormant digitalis purpurea, a whole great stand of them in the sunny center of the lot, burst into bloom a couple weeks back. I stole a few and replanted them wholesale in my front beds.

Digitalis (foxgloves) are biennials, and they bloom in their second year, so whether they’ll reseed themselves and carry on, or whether this is just a one-shot pleasure, I have no idea. I certainly hope it’s the former.

My irises are nothing to sneeze at, either. I have several different kinds and know next to nothing about them. A few weeks ago, I was sure they didn’t like the soil, or I had planted them too deep — but lo, another brilliant showing. I’m postponing cutting off the faded flower stalks because I fear there’s nothing much coming to replace them.

There are still gaps and holes and huge areas of bare mulch in the beds, and even huger areas of wooded wilderness where I’d love to plant flowering shrubs and small flowering trees (magnolias, cherry) but haven’t committed the resources.

Anyway, it’s Open Garden Day on casaCARA. Take a look, and come away praising not my garden skills (which leave much to be desired), but the wonder of ephemeral nature.

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Posted in GARDENS & GARDENING, HAMPTONS, LONG ISLAND | 5 Comments

Ten Days in May

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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. 

 

 

 

 

Posted in GARDENS & GARDENING, HAMPTONS, LONG ISLAND | 5 Comments

Brooklyn the Beautiful: Clinton Avenue

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MY 2008 Honda Fit has nearly 100,000 miles on it and keeps on chugging. Its the best city car I’ve ever had. (You should see me wedge its 108″ into a 109″ parking space.) Occasionally it needs maintenance, however, and recently I brought it into the shop for new struts and springs.

Walking home, I took a route new to me, at least as a pedestrian. I’d driven along Clinton Avenue before and knew there were outstanding houses there, but there’s nothing like being on foot for really observing your surroundings.

There are probably more freestanding Victorian mansions here than anywhere else in Brooklyn — remnants of the robber-baron days when wealthy industrialists chose this area, near the East River and the ferries to Manhattan, to built their family homes.

Along a several-block stretch of Clinton Avenue from Fulton Street almost to the river, there are more-elegant-than-usual brownstones, detached Greek Revival houses with porches and lawns, and smaller freestanding houses in a variety of architectural styles, some quite playful.

The neighborhood is called Clinton Hill, and along with Columbia Street in Brooklyn Heights and Park Slope’s “Gold Coast” (Prospect Park West), it’s one of the best places to see how the 1% lived in 19th century Brooklyn.

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Posted in ARCHITECTURE, BROOKLYN, HISTORIC PRESERVATION | Tagged | 1 Comment

Brooklyn the Beautiful: Dogwood Town

THIS MAY DAY in Brooklyn is a drizzly one. Still, Brooklyn’s brownstone streets are exquisite in spring. Don’t tell anyone… they may decide to move here in droves.

Dogwoods have been in their prime these past couple of weeks, lighting up the fronts of dark-hued row houses with blossoms of pink and white.

P.S. It’s not just dogwoods. See below.

 

Posted in BROOKLYN, GARDENS & GARDENING | Tagged | 5 Comments

Vintage Cottage on 2/3 Acre, East Hampton, N.Y. 580K

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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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Posted in HAMPTONS, LONG ISLAND, MISCELLANEOUS, PROPERTIES FOR SALE, REAL ESTATE/INVESTING | Tagged , | 7 Comments

Sag Harbor After the Rain

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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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Posted in HAMPTONS, LONG ISLAND | Tagged , | 4 Comments

Best of Brownstoner’s “The Insider”

BROWNSTONER.COM, the behemoth Brooklyn-based real estate website for which I write a weekly interior design/renovation column, The Insider, has a new look.

The redesign brings larger images and easier-to-read typography, along with real-time discussions and other improvements, detailed here.

So I thought this would be a good time to catch up with a few of my favorite Insiders from weeks past. Click on any of the titles below to see the full posts in their new, wowie-kazowie incarnation.

The Insider: Narrow South Slope House Gets New Staircase, Extension and Lots of Light

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The Insider: This Light, Bright Williamsburg Row House Was Rebuilt From the Ground Up

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The Insider: Park Slope Brownstone Has Room for Bold Accents and Quirky Detail

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The Insider: Modest Fort Greene Reno Becomes a Total Gut, With Happy Results

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The Insider: Spare Modern Décor Enhances This Park Slope Limestone Beauty

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The Insider: Revamping a Sunset Park Row House for a Clean, Modern Look

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Posted in BROWNSTONE DECORATING, INTERIOR DESIGN, THE INSIDER - BROWNSTONER.COM | Leave a comment