Monday, August 14, 2017

Setting sail

A small power boat in Mecox Bay. 7:00 PM. Photo: JH.
Monday, August 14, 2017.  Yesterday — the whole weekend actually — we had beautiful weather in New York. There was the slightest touch of rain early Saturday evening, but for a few minutes. Even the humidity wasn’t throwing a blanket over it, and it was lovely. I emphasize the “lovely” and the “beauty” because the world out there (everywhere you look or listen) or rather everywhere you’re taken to look by the media — is ugly. Not to mention terrifying if you have the slightest imagination.

The city seemed exceptionally quiet. Out to dinner on Saturday night, the avenues were empty, and the restaurants had business but not a lot.
Yachts docked along the Long Wharf in Sag Harbor. Photo: JH.
When the weekends are quiet around here and Sunday comes around to thinking about Monday’s Diary, I’m not infrequently blank. Furthermore, the issue over here is: what can we leave you with after a beautiful weekend in New York?

You don’t need tragedy; that’s for sure. And gossip is the old technology. Sitting here on a late Sunday afternoon, with my terrace door open and my coveted store-bought garden, with hardly a sound except the occasionally passing of a car to break the calm, it’s a relief; gratitude urged.
My humble garden on East End Avenue.
Fresh cosmos over at the 79th Street Greenmarket on Columbus Avenue.
As far as the Diary is concerned, the universe responded with a couple of emails received from friends, all of which had not the same theme but similar sensibilities, and all of which served to inspire the idea of a lovely day in memory, or to be imagined. A perfect Sunday afternoon to remind and to remember.

By the sea, by the sea, by the beautiful sea ... JH took the pictures of the boats out on the East End.  Then Friday we received these photos from Joe Pugliese about a trip he took to Tangier with our friend Joy Ingham when they stayed at the Villa Josephine, which we first saw last week on a Diary about another friend’s visit to the same spot. Joe and Joy  were there a couple of years ago and Joe got a more detailed look with his camera. That's Joy looking quite pretty in the study.
Then yesterday morning, I got an email from Sheila York who is in the UK touring around. Sheila previously sent me several photos of places she had visited and labeled nothing so I didn’t know what I was looking at. I reminded her of that, and she thoughtfully sent me the following of her visit to Kingston Lacey in Dorset.

Built in 1665. It was the seat of a family called Bankes. Sir John Bankes had been attorney general for Charles II. The property was occupied by the family from the 17th to the 20th century. The current interiors which Sheila photographed on her trip, are Edwardian. The gardens and the park were laid out when the house was built, with many of the trees dating back to that time.
Walking the grounds of Kingston Lacey in Dorset.
The house itself was completely refurbished in the 19th century with many of its antiquities collected by William John Bankes in his extensive travels to the Middle East and to the Orient. During World War II, a large military encampment was built. In 1981 when Ralph Bankes, the seven times great-grandson of the original owner died, the property was bequeathed to the National Trust.
Then we also got an email from Debra Blair, an interior designer whom we’d previously interviewed for HOUSE. She was writing about her “Garden of Shame” in northwestern Connecticut. It all started when she and her husband bought a house up there, and it came with gardens long since neglected. The new owner couldn’t resist reviving the idea, turning it into a treasure to the eye. Here's Debra's "inspiration" ...

The Garden of Shame.
Fourteen years ago, I inherited a garden. In the late summer of 2003, my husband and I bought a classic 1930's Georgian Revival in Northwestern CT. Along with the house also came a few gardens. We were lucky that the prior owners had a plan and some hardscape in stone and brick existed. At first glance, the gardens looked impressive and I figured that minimal work would be all that was needed to bring them back to their former glory. However, things tend to look different when you actually take a closer look, and in the same way that new owners renovate their interiors to make them more to their liking, we started tweaking here and there.

Debra Blair.
You all know how that goes and what came next. Over the past 14 years, our initial tweaks have turned into extensive work. It's interesting how one's perception can change. Once I sipped a few morning coffees staring at the garden behind the kitchen, all of its flaws rose up like the Jolly Green Giant. The plantings that I thought were so perfect, really were not. They have all been redone or at least in some way modified. We removed and/or expanded perennial beds, took down trees, widened paths, built new brick walls, replaced the gazebo, planted boxwood hedgerows and shored up the existing hardscape.

It is easy to overreach with gardens. Unlike interiors that get a little tired looking, gardens need constant attention or they quickly become unmanageable. For a tired interior, you can add a few new throw pillows, splurge on some new lamp shades, and if you really want to be a madcap, a coat or two of a new paint color will do the trick. Plants on the other hand, need replacing, separating, feeding, deadheading and weeding or they quickly turn into a tangled mess and go to seed. That is a lot of maintenance. Once you have that garden, like having children, you are in for the long haul.

Before moving to Linden Hill Farm, our home was a converted General Store, circa 1847. The prior owners were retired and had an extensive vegetable garden, as well as several very large perennial beds. Our children were very young and I had no gardening help. The first thing I did was to remove the vegetable garden so the boys had a yard in which to play. I thought that would also free me up to focus on the two 50+ feet of perennial beds. I was clueless as to the work that was involved tending two such gardens. I spent every weekend weeding. One weekend I would get one section "weed free" only to return the following weekend to find that the weeds were back again. I became frustrated, exhausted, and a very grumpy mother. By the end of the summer I was a stressed out wreck and my family suffered for it. I learned my lesson, Keep It Simple.

When we moved to the new house, I didn't want to spend all of my time working in the garden so I was more realistic. I actually removed gardens around the pool area, happy enough with large planters of annuals.  Of the remaining gardens, the piece d' resistance was a formal garden that surrounded a hexagonal room. It was a garden room that was created by overgrown yew hedges repeating the hexagonal shape. Inside the yew walls, four brick paths converged in the center of the garden and created a "roundabout." In each of the four quadrants, roses were planted.

The first time we saw the garden it was August and no roses were in bloom. I had no idea what species of roses were planted there, but judging from the sizes and shape of the plants, there seemed to be many different types. I couldn't believe my luck! I had inherited a large rose garden!

The following spring, roses of all colors, species and sizes appeared. Sounds good but it was very disappointing. There seemed to be no apparent thought or reason given to color compatibility, height placement, or climate zone. Adding insult to injury, the plants were swimming in a sea of mulch that was extremely unattractive. It was a hodgepodge seemingly with no thought in mind. To whomever laid out that garden, what were you thinking?

The rose bushes were filled with dead wood, diseased leaves, and infested with insects. July came and the Japanese beetles swarmed in with a vengeance, decimating everything in its sight. The garden was simply a mess. We soon started calling it The Garden of Shame.

For five years, I stubbornly gave it my best try. I planted new roses to fill in areas that needed it and removed rose bushes that were diseased or dead. Then, in total frustration and defeat, I just gave up. I had not heeded professional advice that roses don't do well in Northwestern Connecticut, thinking that I could and would prove them wrong. The British gardener that clipped our boxwoods sniffed that "only Mrs. Kissinger was able to grow roses in this climate" ... and who knows roses better than the Brits? Obviously, not me.

I reluctantly decided to cut my losses and start over. That fall, I personally ripped out every single rose from the garden and spent the winter sketching new ideas. My inspiration was Edith Wharton's Sunken Italian Garden at The Mount, her home in Lenox Massachusetts. I saw that we could create the same effect in a more miniature version. There would be boxwood parterres with plantings surrounded by grass sod. It would give the formality I wanted and be low maintenance as well — no more constant weeding.
The Sunken Italian Garden at The Mount.
After the roses had been removed, I sketched out the garden. The math wasn't working. For some reason, I couldn't get the symmetry to work. I played around with it a few times and then I decided to actually measure the garden.  Once I drew it to scale, I immediately saw the problem ... it was not symmetrical ... (hello!). In order to create symmetry, I needed somehow separate a section of the larger half of the garden so that it matched the dimensions of the other side. But how?
Our British gardener (the same guy who warned me about growing roses), came up with the idea of creating a small, low boxwood hedge clipped in an undulated wave to even out the four quadrants. It turned out to be, as the British would say, "Brilliant." It was the perfect solution and soon the garden was on its way.

I always wanted a "White or Moon Garden" so we planted white flowers to bloom from early spring with lupines, alba foxgloves, white bleeding hearts. In summer, white echinachia, white clematis and white alliums take over and when the summer wanes, Clematis "Sweet Autumn" climbs up the tutors.
The Garden of Shame quickly shed its ugly duckling appearance.  We tried for a while to call it the Garden of Fame, but to us it will always be known as the name we used for the first 5 years. Some names just stick.

There is nothing like admiring your hard work when the results are better than you ever imagined. In the early morning, when the sun floods in from the East, the garden is bright and full of promise. In the late afternoon and early evening, when the setting sun creates shadows and the mourning doves are cooing, it is magic. I look at it and am thankful to all of the hands that took part. That, to me, is what design is all about. Collaboration, vision, determination and ending up with something that is beautiful and true.
The Garden of Shame.

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