Wednesday, September 2, 2015

End of Summer Doings at Madoo

Robert Dash at work in his Sagaponack garden, Madoo. (Photo: Frank Polack).
by Wendy Moonan

Last Friday at noon, as traffic (typically) sputtered East along Route 27 heading for Bridgehampton at 5 MPH, 24 garden enthusiasts gathered for a serene, bucolic, end-of-summer ritual in a wooded glade seemingly a million miles away, a spot a quarter of a mile from the Ocean in Sagaponack.

It was the annual lunch for benefactors of the Madoo Conservancy, a nonprofit dedicated to the preservation of Madoo, a magical public garden established in 1967 by the poet-painter-pianist Robert Dash, who died two years ago. (Madoo means "My Dove" in a Old Scots.)

Robert Dash painting of a road by Madoo.
It was the perfect way to celebrate the end of a summer when Bob Dash's paintings were exhibited at the Parrish Art Museum in Southampton and featured in local gallery shows like one at the Drawing Room in East Hampton. (Several of his paintings have sold to collectors this year.)

Madoo has had a busy year. Under Director (and supreme horticulturalist) Alejandro Saralegui, Madoo sponsored a winter lecture series with garden experts from around the world, was the subject of the cover story of the April issue of The World of Interiors, is the site of weekly painting classes for adults and children, frequent horticultural tours, even a pop-up fair called "Much Ado about Madoo." It is open to the public in season every Friday and Saturday afternoon.

Last Friday the benefactors feasted on a pale pastel soup of chilled cantaloupe and honeydew, fresh corn salad from Pike's Farm (half mile away), kale salad, grilled shrimp and local berries with mascarpone – all supplied by Janet O'Brien Caterers. Amagansett Wines provided the rose and sparkling Prosecco. Sag Harbor Florist, which offers flower-arranging classes at Madoo, created the ravishing dahlia bouquets.
Having been given a tour of the garden, Madoo's benefactors sat down to lunch in the newly created Magnolia Bosque. 
The dahlia bouquets were by Sag Harbor Florist. Christofle provided the beautiful table settings.
Madoo appeals to a vast range of people: gardeners, writers, entrepreneurs, designers and musicians.

Last Friday's 30 guests, impeccable in their summer best, included Gillian Fuller, the Standard oil and Spreckles Sugar heiress, artist Annie Nickel Curtin and her friend Tom Brandenberger, Esprit founder and philanthropist Susie Tompkins Buell, Media Matters founder and CEO David Brock (close friend to the Clintons, who are vacationing nearby), new neighbor Deborah Buck (owner of Buck House gallery in Manhattan), Diana Elghanayan (board member of the Citizens Children's Committee of New York), horticulturalist Steve Kossack (former Asian art curator at the Met), and real estate entrepreneur Jeff Wolk.

Billy Squier, a handsome 1980s rock musician, and his gorgeous wife, Nicole, a former German soccer star, added local glamor. Squier, a dedicated arborist, has been an active volunteer for the Central Park Conservancy for 17 years, physically maintaining 20 acres near Strawberry Fields. He also supports the Group for the East End and its native planting programs on eastern Long Island.
Gillian Fuller, Alejandro Saralegui, David Brock, Susie Buell, and Paul Rogers.
Wendy Moonan, Tom Brandenberger, Annie Nickel Curtin, and Deborah Buck.
Jane Iselin with Barnsley.
Also in attendance: Helen Gifford, the custom lighting designer and owner of the firm Helenbilt. Gifford wore a stunning orange sheath from Michelle Farmer's Bridgehampton boutique, since she knew her friends Michelle and Peter Farmer would also be in attendance. (Michelle's boutique in Palm Beach is a popular destination there.)

Meagan Ouderkirk, the daughter of a landscape designer and Madoo supporter, was there as was Georgia Oetker, a German photographer based in London (and most attractive new Sag Harborite). Oetker wore bright yellow to match Dash's famously colorful chairs, which range from chartreuse to royal blue to peach.
Michelle Farmer and Helen Gifford. Billy and Nicole Squier.
Judith Prause and Meagan Oudekirk.
Georgia Oetker, Diana Elghanayan, and Alejandro Saralegui (Madoo Director).
Madoo is small, only two acres, but it is a world in itself, dotted with winding paths that lead you from gingko groves to rose rills, hornbeam bowers to laburnum arbors. As Dash himself wrote about the paths in his 2000 book, Notes from Madoo: Making a Garden in the Hamptons: "Ending up where you hadn't planned to is basic to the charm."

In no obvious pattern, the paths lead to a dozen garden rooms, including a potager, that have been carved into the property, which is close enough to the sea to often hear the surf. (Salt air of course provides a huge challenge to any gardener, but then Dash was a star.) Because of the cedars, firs, privet, rhododendron and magnolia, there is plenty of shade and benches are scattered throughout the property.
Many structures at Madoo are brightly painted. The blue gate separates the grounds of Dash's Winter Studio, built in 1855, from those of the Summer House, circa 1740, which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The tinkling Frog Fountain is seen through the grove of pruned Fastigiate ginkgos and sheared boxwood, a modernist composition for which Madoo is famous.
Madoo benefactors just installed a brand new greenhouse to replace the old decrepit one next to the Winter House.
One of Robert Dash's first projects at Madoo was the creation of a pond with a Chinese bridge that leads you from the garden path to his chartreuse studio. Last year Robert Storr, dean of the Yale School of Art, curated an exhibition of Dash paintings there titled "Rob Selects Bob." The garden is populated with seats where guests can perch to enjoy the views: these two yellow chairs sit in front of the Laburnum Arbor.
Luncheon guests leaving the Ginkgo Grove en route to the Magnolia Bosque passed an obelisk sitting in its own bed of variegated grasses.
A purple octagonal gazebo enjoys dappled light from tall chamaecyparis. "It was Manet who thought that the very color of the air was violet," Dash wrote in his book, "A Walk Through Madoo." He loved mauve.
Peekaboo flowers grow inside the knot garden by the Winter House, the only heated structure on the property, where, in 1985, Dash designed a staircase and twig bed from timbers that fell during Hurricane Gloria.
Madoo is a 100% organic garden, created without the use of pesticides or fertilizer, as is the adjacent Foster farm, a 200-year-old family property seen beyond the fence.
Many years ago Robert Dash created the Hornbeam Bower from six little hornbeam trees that he trained to grow into a bower in the Dutch manner. The Rose Rill is a 120-foot long walkway that narrows from 8 feet to six feet wide to exemplify the Renaissance rules of false perspective. It and the water course in the center terminate in a brick exedra with a mirrored interior that reflects it back.
A brick walkway surrounds the fenced potager garden, in which highly decorative vegetables, herbs and flowers are grown in an intricate pattern inspired by the potager at the Chateau de Villandry in France.
A section of the potager in front of a hedge of heavily pruned, giant privet trees. Earlier in the summer, this garden was groaning with eggplant, tomatoes, garlic, artichokes, red oak leaf lettuce and more.
A brand new replacement potting shed next to the Summer House has a window frame painted in Dash's signature chartreuse.
This clever bench is one of several that can be rolled around like a wheelbarrow, to accommodate seating to Madoo's ever-changing views.
The young, popular local painter Eric Dever gives painting classes in the garden every Saturday morning, spring to fall.

The view, of course, changes every week as the garden blooms and evolves, which keeps the subject fresh. Alejandro Saralegui's mother Titi is one of the most talented members of the class (I know because I attend it religiously).
The luncheon was set up inside the garden's newest feature (Bob's last initiative): the Magnolia Bosque, a woodland grove whose interior was carved out to make a secret circular courtyard. This was recently leveled and "paved" with crushed granite (like the paths of the Tuileries Gardens in Paris) by Landscape Details. The magnolias provided dappled shade for the dejeuner "sans l'herbe." Here Saralegui arranged round, linen-covered tables set with Christofle crystal, porcelain and silver in a circle surrounding a solid sculptural marble table designed by Australian industrial designer Marc Newson (creator of the aluminum-riveted Lockheed Lounge chaise, which sold for over $2 million at auction this year).
Madoo is unknown to most Hamptonites, but the right people do seem to find their way there. For more info, see

The Madoo Conservancy relies entirely on private donations for all operating costs. Admission is $10 per person. 618 Main Street in Sagaponack. Tel: 516-537-0802.

Photographs by Richard Lewin.