East Hampton’s Garden Guru

dirt3TODAY I WANT TO CALL YOUR ATTENTION to the multi-talented Dianne Benson, a former fashion designer and retailer (I still have a fab dress from the ’80s with her label that I can’t bring myself to let go of). She is the author of Dirt, a book full of unconventional gardening wisdom and humor. She also blogs and writes a monthly column for Hamptons Cottages & Gardens magazine that never fails to inspire me.

This month, in a column titled “The Shapely Garden,” Dianne writes about end-of-season pruning in a way that makes me want to grab my Felco, and with just a touch of wistfulness. The fleetingness of the seasons — and of life, by extension — is never far from a true gardener’s consciousness.

She gardens locally and has an online business, the Best of Dianne B., on which she sells a selection of gardening implements that are beautifully designed and reasonably priced. Because she’s that as well: practical.


Here’s an excerpt from her currrent column:

Even though this summer has been particularly slug-infested, rain-drenched and deer-ravaged, the looming end of the season always comes as a shock. The best part of the end, though, is that it puts us right back at the beginning. The ever-hopeful gardening cycle thrives on renewal. I always consider autumn the instigation of spring because there will be nothing to look forward to then if you don’t think and act now. Fall is the perfect time to reshape your garden. That can mean anything from carving new paths to bringing in fresh light by climbing up trees and turning an ordinary, if not dismal, woodsy-looking shrub into a thing that at least approaches beauty….

…Whether it’s deer-ravaging that needs to be camouflaged, some tired old trees to rejuvenate or an overgrown herb garden (especially rosemary and thyme) to re-imagine, don’t be afraid. Most anything you cut off grows back, anyway, and those missing branches will suddenly become such an enhancement that you will begin to see your whole garden differently…

Go here to read the whole thing.

Garden Tips and Ticks

NOW THAT THINGS ARE BEGINNING to look less jungle-like around here — you can almost see the beginnings of a landscape, below — I’m turning my thoughts to what comes next.

That consists mainly of keeping my eyes open as I go about my rounds, observing what others in the area are growing, and visiting nurseries (though many of the things I like best, like climbing roses and lavender, won’t work at all in my shady conditions).

Below, often seen in the Hamptons: roses on a picket fence


Above: Lavender at the Amagansett Farmers Market

I’m inspired by Dianne Benson‘s exuberant, idiosyncratic early ’90s gardening book, Dirt. She’s a onetime fashion designer/entrepreneur (I still have one of her fabulous dresses) and local gardening legend.

Her house, beautifully and unconventionally landscaped, with unusual color combos (lots of purple) and dramatic, huge-leaved astilboides rimming the picket fence, is in the center of the Village of East Hampton. Her previous property, about which she wrote extensively in Dirt, was on a wooded site like mine, and the book is full of plant suggestions and, more importantly, infectious enthusiasm for gardening.

Dig that crazy conifer, above

At the moment, though, I could use a little less infectious. I’ve just returned from the walk-in medical clinic in Amagansett after finding two engorged deer ticks on my body in the past couple of days. They gave me two doxycycline pills and sent me on my way.

I’ve decided not to hate deer. They’re beautiful, and it’s not their fault. It’s annoying to have to suit up in bio-hazard gear to work in my own backyard, but shorts and flip-flops just won’t cut it.