Montauk’s Second House


“SECOND HOUSE” IN MONTAUK, out at the tip of Long Island, is so called because it was — you guessed it — the second house built there, when Montauk’s 15,000 acres comprised America’s first cattle ranch. First House, built in 1744, burned down long ago. Second House, now a museum maintained by the Montauk Historical Society, went up in 1797 — the oldest parts of it, anyway.


It served as an inn for travelers, fishermen, and hunters, later as a summer home for a family named Kennedy. I’d driven past it many times but never found it open.


Today I went inside for the first time (it’s open every day but Wednesday in summer) and can report that Second House is filled with furnishings in styles ranging from Colonial to Victorian, along with displays of old tools and framed photographs of local scenes.


There’s also an array of Montauk-abilia, including an arresting portrait of Stephen Talkhouse, below, the legendary 19th century Montauk Indian and Civil War vet said to be able to walk from Montauk to Brooklyn (a distance of 100 miles) in a day.


There’s a fine cottage garden surrounded by a picket fence, and an interesting rockery/herb garden alongside one of the outbuildings.


For the $4 price of admission, it’s definitely something to keep in mind for a rainy day at the beach.

Garden Inspiration: Sissinghurst


My list of places to go before I die is very short. Nowhere near 1,000; maybe 3 or 4. Last spring I checked off one of them.

155_5538What gardener doesn’t consider the legendary Sissinghurst a must-see? Six acres around the remnants of a 15th century castle in the south of England, its ten ‘garden rooms’ (the White Garden, Rose Garden, Herb Garden, Cottage Garden, etc.), linked to each other by a series of paths and vistas, were a lifetime’s work for writer Vita Sackville-West and her husband Harold Nicholson, a historian and diplomat.155_5551

They were an unconventional couple to whom I can nevertheless relate. (When they finally threw a party for their neighbors to celebrate the end of WWII, they didn’t recognize a soul, having had their heads buried in the dirt of their glorious garden since buying the property in 1930.)


My friend Diana and I drove down from London the last week of March, when Sissinghurst had just opened for the season. I was afraid it might be too early for a garden tour. At home, things were still dormant and wintery, but in temperate Zone 8 England, spring was well underway.155_5558

At Sissinghurst, the orchard was underplanted with daffodils going down to the medieval moat, and the Lime Walk, top photo, and Nuttery, third photo down, were exploding with early bulbs.

Anyway, the structure of that extraordinary place, anchored by enormous topiary hedges, is such that it holds up in all seasons as a masterpiece of garden design.155_5535