Garden Envy in Amagansett

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Poolside cannas in bloom

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Stone steps lead to a free-form pool

And then there’s that piece de resistance, a pool pavilion in the form of a draped, circus-like IMGP9664tent — a festive bit of exoticism on Long Island’s often terribly-traditional East End.

Raking Leaves is a A Fool’s Errand

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THAT PHRASE POPPED INTO MY HEAD TODAY as I raked leaves. It’s an impossible task, because every night’s breezes bring a fresh layer. Yesterday I observed my next-door neighbor raking, raking, raking, making huge piles for the town pick-up. Today, I glanced into his yard and saw that they’d been replenished. But I happen to know he rakes for fun, so it’s OK.

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Daffodil bulbs ready to go in the ground at Bridge Gardens

Besides raking, I’ve been busy with other fall landscaping chores, inspired partly by a two-hour workshop I attended on Saturday at Bridge Gardens in Bridgehampton called “Putting Your Garden to Bed for the Winter.” At least half the discussion was about which hydrangeas bloom on old wood and which on new. I can’t have hydrangeas at all because of my deer friends, so I tuned out.

Below, transplanting clumps of hydrangea ‘Annabelle’ at Bridge Gardens
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I was reminded of how important it is to keep watering, especially after such a dry season as we’ve had. I’ve been moving hoses around from individual tree to tree so they get soaked in the root zone (particularly some of the big evergreens that look parched), pulling up spent annuals, planting three new aronia (chokeberries) as part of my ‘tapestry hedge’ in front, and moving other things from places where they’re not thriving to places where I hope they will.

Below, annual Japanese fountain grass, perennial geranium ‘Roxanne,’ and Saturday students at Bridge Gardens

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Just as I was coming to the end of today’s to-do list, the UPS truck pulled up with my bulb order from Scheeper’s. It’s not a big order — just 10 ‘Gladiator’ alliums, 10 gorgeous lilies I couldn’t resist, even though they need sun and deer like them (I’m going to plant them by the front deck and keep a spritz bottle of Deer-Off handy), and 100 Spanish bluebells for a wooded area in the backyard middle distance that I haven’t gotten around to doing anything with.

How Bridge Gardens deals with deer, below

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I’m feeling a bit of urgency, as I’m moving into my Brooklyn pied-a-terre next Monday. I won’t be around much in November, and I want to leave my East Hampton place in good shape — well-watered, nicely mulched, cozily tucked in for winter.

One of several unusual types of elephant ear at Bridge Gardens, below

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“It’s a Start”

SO I HAD THREE EVERGREENS planted in the front yard to screen the view of the road. Of course, they don’t screen the whole view of the road, just a bit of it. But as the guy from Whitmore’s, the tree farm, said, “It’s a start.”

I’m glad it’s warm and raining now. Two 8-foot trees (a thuja ‘Green Giant’ and a white pine) and a 4-foot-round holly bush that looks like a boxwood (ilex crennata) — in the photo below, it’s the three in the middle ground — went in December 10. Very late, I thought, but there hadn’t been a freeze. That night it went down to 22 degrees.

I wasn’t entirely happy with the way they put them in. I didn’t get the positioning advice I hoped for from the nursery (the boss showed up late), so I had to decide myself where to put them, while four guys with shovels waited. I’d been weighing the factors for two weeks (the need to obscure the commercial building across the street, relate to plants and trees already in place, get enough sun, have room to grow, etc.). It was a tad nerve-wracking, but I think it turned out OK. There seems to be some kind of balance there. And I feel less exposed already. $500 well spent.

I can’t imagine the roots, still in their burlap sacks (said to degrade) are very happy. The workers didn’t seem to dig holes as wide as “the books” say. It was cold, it was late, the guys were no doubt tired. They wouldn’t have watered at all if I hadn’t had several buckets (pots, wastebaskets) at the ready.

But when Brendan, the boss, showed up, he was all professional and confident about flying in the face of what the books say about planting season, depth of hole, width of hole, and need for water.

Oh, and the soil’s no good. I’ll do something about that in the spring.

Anyway, they’re guaranteed.

View from the road:

Still Planting…

Cotoneaster dammeri 'Coral Beauty'

HERE IT IS DECEMBER, and I thought I was done planting weeks ago. In mid-November, I put in two cotoneasters and four inkberries, in keeping with my new philosophy: skip the expensive, unsightly deer fence and plant only that which the deer won’t eat.

I always thought Thanksgiving was the very last possible date for planting, but apparently that’s not true here on the East End of Long Island, in balmy Zone 7.

It’s been mild, with no sign of frost, and the nurseries are still selling shrubs and trees at 50% off and guaranteeing them for a year — if they put them in, which I’m only too glad to have them do (my lower back is important to me).

Ilex glabra 'Shamrock'

So I’m not done yet.

Next week, I’m having three more shrubs/trees planted by Whitmores tree farm:

  • A Thuja ‘Green Giant,’ 8′ tall as we speak
  • A white pine, 6′ tall
  • My favorite, an Ilex crenata ‘Suspensum’ – a 4′ wide, perfectly round shrub resembling boxwood

I had to choose from what was left at this late date, so they’re all rather common and likely to get too big eventually (and they’re not entirely deer-resistant, either). But right now I’m anxious to get some evergreens in as a buffer between my house and the road. However quiet it is now compared to summer traffic levels, I still don’t want to see or hear motor vehicles of any sort if I can help it.

A Loose Schedule and a Tight Budget

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Above: Eric Ernst, Tree Man of Montauk, thinning out my overgrown forest so I stand a chance of growing something other than ferns

I’M ALL OVER THE PLACE HERE. I still have so much to do pull this house and garden together, I’ve hit another impasse of indecision. So I’m planting daffodils. (Though everywhere I dig, I hit inch-thick wisteria vine, and spend more time pulling and cutting wisteria than digging holes for the bulbs.)

I’ve accomplished a lot in the four months since I bought this cottage in May. But I have so much further to go. Not knowing whether this is a long-term home or a flipper makes it that much harder to proceed. If I knew for sure it was the former, I would take my time and spend more freely. But if it’s going to be a flipper, I just want to get it done.

Perhaps I should buy the Zen mindset my friend is trying to sell me. “You’re here now,” she says. “When you decide you don’t want to be here anymore, you’ll go somewhere else.” Yeah, but how exactly do I proceed with my renovation on that basis?

This I know: as soon as possible, I’d like to feel “Oh, how charming” pulling into my driveway, instead of “Eeewwww. Ugh.” That driveway — broken asphalt studded with weeds — is part of the problem. As is the house itself, with its discolored cedar shingles. And a front yard more brown than green. What’s the opposite of curb appeal?

The deer fence and patio have fallen off the top of my priorities list. I’m thinking of letting the deer have one last winter of ravaging the evergreens and rhododendrons, and spending that money indoors instead, on a fireplace, new bathroom, new kitchen counter, and a paint job. I also need a whole new roof. I’m gathering quotes from tradespeople: two roofers so far, two bathroom contractors, and a housepainter.

Viburnum plicatum tomentosum

In the meantime, I’ve been canvassing the nurseries for shrubs on sale. I’ve fallen for a viburnum tomentosa plicata, or doublefile viburnum, above, eight feet across and flaming red, at Spielberg’s in Amagansett (the picture shows it in spring). At 40% off, it’s under $100, plus another $100 to plant (it’s very heavy). Deer don’t like it, but it needs a good sunny spot, and those are still in short supply on my lot. I also want a river birch somewhere; I love the peeling bark and delicate leaves. And dogwoods.

The truth is, I’m not in that much of a rush. I keep reminding myself that this is not a HGTV project done in a weekend. It’s real life, on a loose schedule and a tight budget.