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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.
HERE, TO MANY, IS WHAT THE HAMPTONS is really about — not the ocean beaches but the native oak woods and the gardening that is possible within them, with the help of a sturdy deer fence.
This green and lovely 1-1/3-acre spread belongs to Paula Diamond, a self-taught gardener who learned much of what she knows working at The Bayberry, a nursery in Amagansett. To my surprise, Paula only started gardening here in earnest in the late ’90s, which goes to show how much can be accomplished in a mere decade-and-a-half.
Paula’s garden, around a classic cedar-shingled cottage, is very much a shade garden, cool and romantic. I can imagine how spectacular it is in spring, when hundreds of rhododendrons and white irises around the pool are in bloom, but even in early September, it is lush and inviting.
The free-form pool was conceived as a water feature as much as a swimming hole. Paula tells how “the plan” presented by the pool company consisted of a workman with a can of spray paint, who outlined the pool’s shape in one big sweep, and that’s how it remained.
Come along and have a look…
All the hardscaping choices are simple and unpretentious, including pea gravel and river stones used for steps near the house, and bluestone in the pool area. Mulch paths, lined with branches and logs, wend through the woods at the rear of the long, narrow property.
One of two gates, below, leading to the backyard. The fragrant flowering shrub behind is clerodendron trichotomum fargesii.
Above, ligularia in several varieties can be counted on for late-season color.
Rear of the house, above…
The gunite pool, designed and installed by Rockwater, is surrounded by boulders and has a gray-toned interior.
Carex Morrowii ‘Ice Dance’ used as a groundcover, above.
Above, an existing six-foot stockade fence was topped with a couple feet of wire as reinforcement against hungry deer. (This is very interesting to me, as my property is surrounded by similar fencing. I especially love how the plantings have come to pretty much obscure it.)
Views back toward the house, above, showing shade perennials (hostas, ferns, hakonechloa) as well as hydrangeas and Japanese maple.
Much of the property remains wooded, with shrubs and perennials profusely planted in semi-cleared areas.
A fiberglass cow in a bed of liriope surveys the back of the property.
I DON’T OFTEN PICK UP those glossy real estate brochures you see piles of on Main Street in East Hampton. They feature mostly multi-million dollar properties, not the sad fixer-uppers I’m interested in.
However, I did grab one the other day, and there on a back page were two side-by-side cottages in a low-key area of Amagansett that I just love: Lazy Point, where the sky is big, the vegetation is scrubby and piney, and the lapping waters of Napeague Bay are right there.
One of them appealed more than the other — the cedar-shingled one with a deck that reminds me fondly of Fire Island (asking 425K), below — and I called about it right away. Naturally it’s gone to contract.
The property next door (owned by the same family), top three photos, is still available at 450K. That one has no curb appeal whatsoever; it’s shingled with the rigid asbestos tiles that were so popular in the ’50s, and is just a box.
Still, I made the field trip yesterday, when 8″ of weekend snow had melted and been washed away by Monday’s rains. I had to see if regret was in order on cottage #1, and whether cottage #2 had possibilities. The answers are no and maybe.
I loved the drive out there, about 20 minutes from my home in Springs (and 20 minutes further from NYC), dipping through pine woods and meadows. I turned onto Mulford Lane, and drove along it toward the bay, looking for the addresses. As I got closer and closer to the water, I got excited… this is really good! Then I realized that too close to the water is not a good thing on Mulford Lane. The last two houses, below, once inhabitable, are now in the water and boarded up, and the beach at the end of the road is sand-bagged against further encroachment. These are maybe 8 or 10 houses in, which seems far enough to be safe from flooding, for my lifetime at least.
#1 (the cedar-shingled one) is smaller than it looks in the brochure — quite tiny, at 500 square feet — and I put that out of my head. #2 (the nondescript white one) is slightly larger, 700 square feet. It has nothing — nothing — to recommend it architecturally. It’s hard to see how it could be charmed up, though I daresay the editors of the late Domino magazine could do it. I didn’t see the interiors, but as the listing agent, JF Kuneth of DevlinMcNiff put it, “It’s very Grandma.” As such, it only garners about $11,000 a season in rental income — potentially $15-18,000 after those Domino editors get through with it.
No add-on building is possible, because it’s a flood zone. Not even a deck. There’s a cute old shed at the back, large enough for a guest bed.
And of course, at a 450K price point, which must seem completely nuts to those in the heartland (anywhere except perhaps California, that is), it’s top o’ the market. But then, the one next door was snapped up quickly, assuming the sale goes through.
I’m going to pass and continue my search. If you feel differently, go here for the listing, and give JR a call (631/324-6100 x 354, firstname.lastname@example.org).
To read about my discovery of Lazy Point two summers ago, and see lots of cute beach cottages, go here.
LIVING THE COUNTRY LIFE, and loving it. I came out to my East Hampton cottage shortly after New Years, with an open return ticket back to New York City. Twelve days later, I’m still here. In my cottage in the woods, I feel relaxed and contented. As long as there’s this thing called the Internet, I’m productive too. What seems to surprise people is that I’m never bored or lonely.
I mean, who wouldn’t love a place where the police blotter, as reported in the East Hampton Star, includes the following items:
- A man driving a Toyota pickup filled with debris drove over the scales at the recycling center on Springs Fireplace Road but didn’t pay for dumping.
- A man asked to remove his boat from a slip at the dock at Gann Road told police he had permission to keep his boat there and “would not be removing it any time soon.”
- A woman told police her vehicle was scratched on its driver’s side while parked at the Circle.
- Police confiscated a mountain bike left on the sidewalk outside the EH Fire Department.
And my favorite by far:
- A swan was spotted running loose on Main Street near Buell Lane. By the time police arrived, the swan was on the village green and out of the road.
I’ve easily kept busy puttering around the house; raking leaves off the lawn just to “get my blood moving,” as my friend Lula would say; perfecting my winter soup recipes; watching MSNBC obsessively; and, on one annoying occasion, driving to Sag Harbor for an advertised estate sale, only to find this:
I kept up my local gym routine, went to Gurney’s Inn in Montauk for a facial and got a glimpse of the ocean (still there), and did a little bit of browsing the shops in Amagansett. My favorite antique store there has to be Nellie’s. If I was spending $2,500 on art right now, I would buy the group of 1940s family portraits in oil, below.
I also made plans for a new kitchen counter to be installed, replacing, at long last, the Formica one that was here when I bought this cottage in 2009. After considering and rejecting all the other options, I’ve settled on a new countertop of 6″x6″ white, matte ceramic tiles. That job begins tomorrow, and since I’ll be without a functioning kitchen for a few days, I am heading back tomorrow to the rough-and-tumble urban world (oh, how I’ve missed the Flatbush Avenue bus).
The heavenly tented pool pavilion
I COULD GO IN AND OUT of grand oceanfront estates all day long, then come back to my humble cottage and still be happy with the place. I can wander five hedged, manicured, topiaried, statued, fountained acres and admire them, but not care a whit that they don’t belong to me.
Anthropomorphic boxwoods greet you at the gravel parking court
But Sunday I visited an Amagansett garden newly added to the Garden Conservancy’s Open Days program and came away wanting to weep.
Perennial beds on a central axis of brick pathways near the property’s entrance
This one is a mere one-third of an acre, surrounding a cedar-shingled cottage with muted green trim.
Tall, columnar Leyland cypresses are dramatic punctuation marks
Yet it has so many nooks and aspects, separated by specimen evergreens and Japanese maples, and blooming profusely in mid-July with tropical-colored cannas, day lilies, fuchsias, and more, it seems much larger, and decidedly un-boring.
Poolside cannas in bloom
A shady back corner with Solomon’s seal, white hydrangeas
The design works such popular cottage-garden features as rustic arbors and a brick-paved entry patio centered on an iron urn, to magical effect.
Day lilies, a dwarf Japanese maple on the pool patio
Masterminded by Victoria Fensterer, a garden designer based in East Hampton, it is dense with plants, but with such a clear structure that it feels not overstuffed but simply abundant.
There’s a small, irregularly shaped lawn, surrounded by tall evergreens and old cedars, so that the edges of the property are blurred and seemingly non-existent.
Dense shrubbery visually expands the boundaries of the small lot
Steps made of massive slabs of stone lead to a naturalistic pool with river stones in place of the usual coping.
Stone steps lead to a free-form pool