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.

I Do Madoo

THERE’S NOT A BORING SPOT ANYWHERE at Madoo, artist Robert Dash’s garden, 46 years in the making, on two Sagaponack acres. Quirky, playful, and stuffed, in a good way, with ideas for plantings, hardscaping, and garden structures, I had ‘saved’ Madoo — put off a proper visit as I sometimes stall on finishing a book I’m savoring because I don’t want it to be over. I’ve lived on the East End of Long Island for more than three years now, but I wanted Madoo, which I knew I would love, to be something I still had to look forward to.

Finally, I did Madoo (I’ll do it again, of course, but the first time is special). My garden-designer friend Mary-Liz Campbell and I made a late-season visit yesterday, spending well over an hour wending our way through the multi-roomed garden, taking in the confident plantings, well-tended but not overly manicured, deployed in original, unusual ways. More than once I thought of Sissinghurst.

Madoo is open Fridays and Saturdays from noon to 4PM, May 15-September 15 only, so hurry. Admission is $10. The end-of-season cocktail party is Saturday, September 15, 5-7PM; no charge to Madoo members, non-members $30.

Please Please Me, Perennials

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ON SUNDAY, I WENT TO HEAR THE IRREPRESSIBLE GARDEN DESIGNER/WRITER DEAN RIDDLE speak at Madoo Conservancy in Sagaponack. I’ve been a fan of Dean’s since his ‘Dean’s Dirt’ column in Elle Decor some years ago. His 2002 book, Out in the Garden, about his creation of an exuberant planting scheme (and life, in the process) at his rented bungalow in the Catskills, has been on my night table since I moved here.

I’m writing about a glorious garden Dean designed near Woodstock, N.Y., above, for the July/August issue of Garden Design magazine. After his slide show, which ranged over several gardens he’d designed upstate and his recent trip to Japan, my head was swimming with visions of billowing perennials.

Dean’s a guy after my own heart: resourceful, down-to-earth, and budget-conscious. He’s encouraging and enthusiastic; he makes you feel you can do it. One of his trademarks is the extensive use of self-sowing plants like verbena bonariensis and echinacea, whose random appearances over time, he says, “weave everything together.” I also love his use of boxwood as a “rhythmic evergreen presence” (the boxwood ball at my front door has cheered me all winter long).

Dean began his talk with a “Garden in Four Days,” a 4-square plot he’d created for an upstate client who wanted to pretty things up in a hurry. Birch logs were used to edge the beds and Dean created a ‘cobblestone carpet’ (another of his signatures) with stones salvaged from a nearby stream. They planted 175 one-gallon perennials all at once — approximately 35 each of just 5 different plants.

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So naturally, when I visited Spielberg’s nursery in East Hampton on Monday for some composted manure to improve my still lacking-in-nutrients soil, and went out back “just to see what they had,” I couldn’t resist buying a bunch of last year’s leftover perennials at 50% off. I came away with 23 plants for my ‘curb appeal’ beds, above, on either side of the gravel walkway from my new parking court to the front door (with the 10 bags of compost, it all came to under $200).

The plants don’t look like much to an untrained eye – just brown sticks with a few baby green leaves among them. But I know from experience what they’ll look like – if not this year, then next, and bought pretty much all they had of mostly shade-tolerant, deer-resistant stuff:

– 5 blue-violet ‘May Night’ Salvia (Dean mentioned it, so I grabbed, and will put it in my sunniest spot)
– 5 Bronze Sedge, a reddish-brown foot-tall grass said to work in part-sun
– 5 Alchemilla Mollis ‘Auslese,’ chartreuse ladies mantle, one of my all-time favorite edging plants
– 3 Digitalis (foxgloves) of two different types, on the theory that if one surprised me by blooming in the woods last spring, they like it here
– 3 Ligularia ‘Osiris Cafe Noir,’ 20″ tall, dark-leaved, good for shade
– 2 Aquilegia (columbine) in ‘origami yellow,’ which I know self-seeds abundantly, works in shade, and is difficult to transplant (so even though I can take columbines from upstate when I go there next month, I figured I needed the insurance of already potted specimens)

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Now, of course, I have to put them all in. Started last night by dumping my 10 bags of compost and placing the plants more or less where I think they’ll flourish. Then I picked up my pointed shovel and found, once more, that my so-called soil is compacted and rockier than imagined. I didn’t get far before nightfall, and it’s raining hard today.

So I get a temporary reprieve from digging. But at least my dreams of perennial borders are underway.

Now, this shade-challenged area, below, is crying out for some foundation plantings:

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And here’s a barren spot, below, if ever there was one. The Roses of Sharon, which I “hard pruned” recently – just as the books say – is an unattractive bunch of sticks, and I believe it’s late to leaf out. Any suggestions as to what I can do in these areas? They’d be most welcome.

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Woodworks

Above: Alex Scott Porter, a New York architect, created this stacked log wall for a house in Amagansett.

I AM THINKING OF BUILDING AN OUTDOOR WALL out of something I have in abundance: cut logs. There are six or seven piles of them dotted around my property, left by the arborist who cut down several large trees last fall — oaks, mainly.

He took away the very largest pieces, but cut up the branches, about 6″ in diameter, into sections a foot or so long, thinking I could use them for firewood. I haven’t yet installed a fireplace (let’s not go into that again), but I sure have a lot of firewood.

Below: From :Duncan’s Flickr photostream


Meanwhile, I’ve seen pictures of interior and exterior walls made of stacked logs in various books and magazines (and websites) and love the way it looks. Generally, they’re made of very uniform logs, which mine are not. But it could be an interesting approach to creating a sound-insulating barrier along the road at the front of my property. I’ll need a wall fifty feet long and four feet high. Not sure I have quite enough logs to do that, but I’m planning to get started when the weather warms up a bit and see how far I get.

Below: From Hartp’s Flickr photostream

I’m a big believer in using free found materials. And if it doesn’t work out, and I do eventually get a fireplace, well, I’ll have the firewood.

Above: A path made of sectioned logs at Madoo, the two-acre garden of artist/writer Robert Dash in Sagaponack, another artful way to recycle cut-down trees.