Decisions, Decisions

THESE DAYS, I’M FACED WITH CHOICES I couldn’t have predicted a few months back, when I lived in a brownstone in Brooklyn.

They’re fun choices, not matters of life and death. Still, they are perplexing. For example:

  • Fencing: how high? I’d like it six feet high across the front of the property, for a feeling of seclusion, but East Hampton says no more than 4 feet, and I dare not break the rules – they’re pretty fascist around here when it comes to fencing. It will be cedar, to match the house. But what kind of design – plain or cute? mckinley

Above: The McKinley from Wayside Fence: Rather whimsical, with those little cut-outs, but they’re not really going to be seen (they’ll be hidden behind my ‘mixed hedgerow,’ which is in the pre-pre-planning stages), so do I want to bother with that little detail?

  • What kind of gate across the driveway-to-come? Big enough to drive through, or merely to walk through? When it comes to deer fencing on the other three sides of the lot, I *am* planning to break the rules. Nothing short of 8′ will keep those big bucks out. But that’s wire and in the woods, less likely to attract official attention (I hope no Town people read my blog). I’ve had two fencing guys here — both scoffed at the idea of applying for permits of any kind — and one estimate so far for the deer portion: $4,200 for 470 linear feet. Is that good or bad? To be determined.
  • Driveway: how big? What shape? I’m now thinking ‘parking court’ rather than driveway. I don’t absolutely need to drive up to the front door, so why not keep the car(s) tucked out of sight on the other side of my planned gate? I looked up standard driveway measurements: for two cars, a simple 25’x25′ square should do (got one estimate for about $2,000, including excavating 5″ deep and a layer of crushed concrete). I already know what kind of surface I want: gray/beige 3/4″ gravel — larger than pea gravel, which is squishy to walk on. Then there’s the edging question. I don’t want brick or cobblestone. Too urban. Steel would be functional, unobtrusive, and keep the stones from ‘migrating,’ but I could save a grand by skipping it. Would it be so terrible if a few stones migrated into the road or my forsythia hedge?
  • Fireplace. Since I’ve now decided to stay here in the boondocks for the winter, f_14344a fireplace has become a must. Not a wood burning stove; this will be strictly for atmosphere and a bit of extra warmth. I’m ordering a Malm Zircon freestanding fireplace in white, left, from Design Within Reach. The decisions here are size — 30″ or 34″ wide? — and location. Which of two corners in my living room? Also to be determined.
  • Tree removal is underway and going well. Decisions here have already been made (and these were life or death decisions, for the trees), with the wise counsel of Eric Ernst of Montauk, known as “Tree Man.” He and his son Ethan, 19, are out there buzzing their chainsaws as I type. Soon, my yard will be less five or six diseased, struggling, leaning, or unfortunately placed trees (and I will have lots of firewood and wood chips for mulch). A white oak that overhung the yard oppressively is gone already, as is a front-yard pine that got no light. Now its neighbor, a blue Atlas cedar, has a fighting chance.

GARDEN VOYEUR: Lushness on 1/8 Acre

1-frontMARY-LIZ CAMPBELL’S cottage-style house in Rye, N.Y., sits on a challenging site: wedge-shaped, steeply sloping, and not quite one-eighth of an acre.

A professional landscape designer, she has surrounded the house with exuberant perennial beds, shade gardens, a peaceful dining patio, attractive storage sheds, and garden ornaments reflecting time spent in the Far East.

When she bought the house 12 years ago, there was nothing but a few sad foundation plantings. Her first order of business was to screen views of the neighbors’ houses with fencing, trees and shrubs. From the first, she knew she didn’t want a lot of grass. “I wanted privacy all around — that drove the design.”

The pictures below illustrate a walk around the perimeter of the house, starting with the sunny beds next to the front door, descending to a stepping-stone path that runs along one side of the house, then onto the swath of lawn in the shady backyard, overlooked by the dining patio, and finally up through terraced planting beds to the gravel path and stone steps that lead back up to the front of the property.

The photos of the shady areas were taken in June, the rest in August, when there’s lots of floral color. Mary-Liz likes hot colors. Her favorite combination is chartreuse and burgundy: smoke tree with  flowering plum, or limelight hydrangea next to mellow yellow spirea.

At the bottom of the post, more notes on how Mary-Liz achieved her colorful, creative results.

We start at the sunny area next to the front door, where a square boxwood hedge, a concrete urn and ornament, and architectonic plants like big-leafed hostas and ornamental grasses provide structure…



Looking down into the property from the street…


Below, Mary-Liz on the stepping-stone path along one side of the house…24-side-path


Here’s the lawn and the shady backyard as it looks in June…


The lattice-fenced dining patio at the rear of the house overlooks the backyard…


Abundant container plantings on the patio, and a custom garden shed whose roof shingles match those on the house…


The concrete ball is a water feature…


Left and below, color from perennials in August…491


A serene Buddha, and an arbor, below, as we start to ascend on the other side of the lawn…24


A gravel path and more shade plantings lead back up to the front of the property.



In the very first season she owned the house, Mary-Liz did the following:

  • Took down eight existing trees, including three dead hemlocks; retained a locust and a spruce, as well as a dual-stem mulberry for screening, which she prunes back once a year to control its size
  • Moved inconvenient original parking from top of property near street to a gravel court in front of the house
  • Fenced and planted property for screening from the street and privacy around the perimeter, using broad-leaved evergreens, spring-flowering shrubs, tall rhodies, hollies, willow wood viburnums and double file viburnums
  • Built a garden shed on the back patio with a cupola and stained glass window (both found at tag sales)
  • Built lattice around existing concrete slab terrace at rear of house, and added a pergola on top for privacy from neighbors above

The following season, she recalls, “I started fooling around in the garden and nothing would grow. The soil was shallow and plants couldn’t anchor themselves” – so she brought in 18 yards of top soil.

“Then I went to Italy and decided the only way I could make this lot work was to terrace it” – so she found masons and, over the next couple of years, as finances permitted, built stone terraces for garden beds, then planted shrubs and perennials in the newly terraced areas.

Since then, the garden has evolved with changing conditions. There’s less and less sun, mostly because of the mulberry.

Mary-Liz swears she doesn’t spend a load of time gardening. “It’s not a high-maintenance garden. I have a lot of shrubs. But I’m always thinking what I’m going to do next – I’d like to put in a pond. Gardens are never finished.”