Raking Leaves is a A Fool’s Errand


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.


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

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


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


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


Rancho La Puerta: Ranch in Bloom


HERE AT RANCHO LA PUERTA in Tecate, Mexico — the only fitness resort I’ve ever been to, and the only one I ever care to go to — there’s no need to exercise that gratitude muscle I referred to in my last post. I’m exercising every other possible muscle, but the surroundings are so exceptionally beautiful that gratefulness for simply being here comes easy (that’s my casita, below).


This is my 10th visit to Rancho since 1989, but my first in spring. Now I wouldn’t know chapparal from sagebrush, but I do know that the hills surrounding the ranch, thoroughly explored on the early morning hikes that are the linchpin of the fitness program, have usually been dramatic but brown.


This time I am thrilled at the greenness and the abundance of wildflowers in the hills and the rustic outlying areas, as well as in the more central gardens surrounding the dining hall, gyms, pools, and guest cottages, most built from the 1980s onwards in vernacular Spanish Colonial style


I took it relatively easy the first day — only did four classes. I hiked, stretched, lifted, and tried Bar Method, which nearly did me in. It’s the hot thing in California, apparently (it promises you’ll become 5’9″, with the posture of a ballerina).


Aside from that, I’ve been mostly walking around open-mouthed, taking pictures of the monumental plantings: gargantuan agaves, entire beds of nothing but calla lilies, things we consider houseplants (geraniums, kalanchoe) and minor annuals (alyssum) used as bedding over vast areas, fragrant rosemary and sage as architectural shrubs, sheets of blanket flower and ice plant, pergolas laden with my formerly reviled wisteria, perfectly well-behaved and in its glory.


The current grand, sweeping design is mainly the work of Sarah Livia Brightwood, daughter of Deborah and Edmund Szekely, who founded the ranch in 1940 as a bring-your-own-tent operation. The gardens have matured a bit since I was here five years ago. The team of 22 gardeners is entirely on top of things, I’m glad to say: all is perfection to my eye.


Later in the week, after a Landscape Garden Walk and a Nature Walk, I’ll know more about what things are.


For now, I’m content to try to identify those things Baja California has in common with the Northeast. I even blew off Hula Hoop at 2:00 just to walk around and take it all in.


GARDEN VOYEUR: Same Designer, Different Styles in Park Slope

HERE’S AN ILLUMINATING EXAMPLE  of how a professional landscape architect, working to address clients’ unique needs and properties, comes up with totally individualized solutions.

The professional is Liz Farrell of Park Slope, who has degrees in environmental science and landscape architecture, and has been in business since 1994. The clients are, in the first case, a family with three teens, two dogs, and a small budget; in the second, an empty-nest couple with an 800 square foot, excessively shady backyard.


Sunny, tiny (18’x35’) and cost-conscious, this Park Slope garden was originally a rectangle of struggling lawn with a concrete perimeter.

Four years ago, the homeowners called Farrell to rethink it. They wanted an area for entertaining as well as space for their two yellow Labs to let off steam; they also had a desire for a cottage-style garden full of herbs and flowers.


Today, they have all that. Farrell divided the space into two functional areas: a paved half of Belgian block and a symmetrically planted garden centered on a circular area made of salvaged slate. To save money and raise the back and sides of the garden up a few inches, Farrell re-used the original concrete curb that rimmed the lawn. An arched trellis at the entrance to the planted area and a metal tuteur with clematis in the center provide vertical structure, along with two tall junipers at the back.



Bold primary colors on the house extension (a mud/utility room) provide cheer in all seasons.


Japanese holly divides the paved and planted areas. Summer-flowering shrubs (spirea, astilbe, honeysuckle, azaleas, climbing hydrangea, barberries) border the perimeter; perennials (geraniums, clematis, and more) and herbs are toward the center. Pink roses climb the fence on either side of the garden in early June.


11#2 ZEN

This 800 sq. ft. garden behind an elegant row house was a “real shade challenge,” in Farrell’s words. The homeowners wanted privacy while sitting on the deck and a focal element they could enjoy from the kitchen’s square bay window.


Farrell designed a spiral-shaped water feature of pebbles from Long Island Sound, with a simple, low fountain made by drilling a hole through natural rock. The stacked stone bench and bamboo fence, made from rolls of bamboo threaded with copper wire on a wood frame, give the garden a meditative, somewhat Asian feel.



Plantings include white paper birches, wood hyacinth, ferns, liriope, oak leaf and climbing hydrangeas and rhododendrons. The irregular paving stones have moss joints. A stand of bamboo under the metal deck and tall taxus in corners provide additional privacy from surrounding neighbors.