Ninth Year in East Hampton: Same Old is Damn Good

Follow me on Instagram @caramia447 where I post quirky one-off images of, among other things, tiny houses, retro storefronts, street art and the occasional sunset

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I’M BACK IN EAST HAMPTON for my ninth season and I don’t even care that it’s raining for the third straight day. I’m just glad to be here.

My show-stopping 15-foot-tall rhododendrons have already faded and are rapidly falling apart. Hours of tedious petal clean-up and deadheading await. Is it worth it, in exchange for the week or two of blossom explosion my friend characterized as “like an LSD trip”? You bet.

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The irises, too, are having their moment. It takes time, I’m learning, for irises to come into their own after planting, maybe three years. It’s a bumper crop and here I am, just taking them for granted.

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The garden has a thick new blanket of mulch, whose spreading I hired out this year, leaving me to wander my tidy-looking half-acre with an odd, displaced feeling of nothing to do.

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I’m here for just a few weeks, determined to make the most of June before renters arrive July 1 and stay through Labor Day.

May was cold in my unheated house, so fires in the fireplace, sweaters and scarves were the order of the day, and hot water bottles the order of the night.

Below, the golden hour: May at Maidstone Beach

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Memorial Day weekend brought friends to my deck for the first al fresco meal of the season, the traditional (round these parts) salad Niçoise, free-flowing rosé and a fire in the fire pit.

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A week into June and the house is still 54 degrees, fire crackling away, space heater turned up full blast, soup on the stove.

Arriving last Saturday evening, after a couple of days attending to business in the city, I couldn’t waste time in transition. I dropped my bags and ran down to the beach to catch the sunset, not knowing these were the last rays to be had for at least 72 hours.

It was close to a religious experience — fat clouds limned in gold against postcard blue, the bay shimmering, seagulls bobbing, sand glinting, horizon satisfyingly distant but not so far off as to be intimidating, evening air soft on my face. I picked up shells and driftwood and a gull feather and walked along the water as darkness fell, smiling goofily at people with dogs and fishing poles.

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I’m grateful to be out of the city, to be where nature can work its magic on my mood.

And now I can say it, loud and proud: I love East Hampton. Nine years ago, when I first moved here, I was embarrassed to tell people I had bought a house in “the Hamptons” (albeit the cheapest house on the South Fork).

All I really knew of East Hampton before I bought that first cottage (I’ve since sold it  and bought a different house nearby), were snooty, overpriced designer stores and the hassle of finding parking in high season.

Now I cherish the fabulous institutions with which the town is blessed, like the hushed, rambling mock-Tudor library with its Long Island research collection, a room devoted solely to garden books and brand new children’s wing; and Guild Hall, an art museum and theatre, with a circus-striped auditorium featuring ambitious programming all year long,

I’ve discovered exquisite local gardens like LongHouse Reserve and Madoo, and smaller gems like the beautifully tended kitchen garden at Mulford Farm, a cedar-shingled saltbox pre-dating the American Revolution by a long shot. Even the 200 ancient elms that line Main Street are a national treasure (and possibly endangered).

My time here will be truncated, so I’ve got to squeeze it all in: gardening, swimming in the bay, farmer’s markets, picnics at Louse Point, walks on Gerard Drive, sunsets at the jetty, art exhibitions, garden tours, yard sales.

Knowing I’ll soon have to tear myself away makes me appreciate all the more what my Hampton, prettiest of them all, has going for it.

Annuals to the Rescue

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forgotFOR SOME CRAZY REASON, this Roy Lichtenstein parody (once a popular T- shirt), right, popped into my head the other evening when I saw the vivid bed of annuals at LongHouse Reserve, Jack Lenor Larsen’s extraordinary East Hampton sculpture garden.

The explosion of color, designed by Dennis Schrader, owner of a North Fork nursery and co-author of Hot Plants for Cool Climates: Gardening with Tropical Plants in Temperate Zones (Timber Press), is made up entirely of plants that were seeds a few short months ago (or tubers in the case of the banana-leaf-like cannas), and will be compost (or dug up and stored away) by November.

So if right about now you’re saying, “I can’t believe I forgot to plant a garden,” take heart. You can have a midsummer floral fantasia with cannas, coleus, verbena, and other hot-colored annuals in three months — by next July, anyway, provided you start in April. In fact, with annuals on sale now, you can have one instantaneously.

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I also enjoyed the creative entries in LongHouse’s yearly container competition, below.

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Fish-shaped containers set in shells and blue glass…

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A mannequin as planter…

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Simple ferns and ivy in a hollowed-out tree stump…

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An abundance of succulents crammed into one pot.

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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LongHouse Redux

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ONCE A SEASON at LongHouse Reserve, the 16-acre ornamental and sculpture garden in East Hampton, N.Y., masterminded by textile designer/scholar/collector Jack Lenor Larsen, is not enough. (That’s Larsen’s Shinto temple-inspired house, above).

I visited LongHouse for the first time last May, when azaleas and roses were among the main attractions. I returned a couple of weeks ago, and found it less riotously colorful, perhaps, but still awe-inspiring. Late summer/early fall is the time to appreciate late-blooming hydrangeas, ornamental grasses in their prime, elephant ears and annual vines at maximum size and spread.

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Below, how the dry Mediterranean garden looks in late August. I love that LongHouse “allows” some of the lambs-ear-like plants I’ve been thinking of as weeds in these beds; it’s making me reconsider pulling them out where they’ve colonized a sunny section of my lawn.

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Here’s one of the monumental sculptures I neglected to photograph back in May. “Summer Bridge,” below, a 1983 work by Claus Bury, was created when the German artist was just 19 years old.

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Another of the many takeaways from LongHouse: lots of ideas for paving and paths, including slate pieces set in gravel, below, done so beautifully here.

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You have until October 9, when LongHouse closes for the season, to visit and be wowed. Hours are short: Wednesdays and Sundays only from 2-5PM. Admission is $10. So well worth it.

A Garden Bed, Literally

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HOW CLEVER IS THIS? Surely it gives new meaning to the term “flower bed.”

The creation of Geoffrey Nimmer and Jack de Lashmet of East End Garden Design, it was an entry in last month’s container-planting invitational competition at LongHouse Reserve, a 16-acre sculpture garden in East Hampton, N.Y.

Geoffrey told me it took a week to put together, using elements of green wall technology to get things to grow on the sides as well as the top of the “mattress.” A wood frame was packed with soil and covered with landscape fabric; then plants were inserted in holes cut in the fabric.

The dust ruffle is acorus ‘Ogon’ (golden sweet flag). The argyle bedspread is made up of lime-colored sagana subulata ‘Aurea’ (scotch moss) and thyme, with purple flowers. Pieces of stone pool tile make up the white criss-cross bands.

Talk about bedding plants (oh, it’s so easy to pun)!