In this feature, we introduce you to private gardens of members of the Garden Club of Irvington. Here, you’ll read about local garden histories, challenges and solutions, and see interesting design elements, plant combinations, native plants, and features such as walls, paths, trellises, planters, and accessories.
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Beauty Beneath, On, and Over the Wall
Our current GCI Greenhouse Chair, an avid, meticulous gardener, has been designing and planting the long narrow space between her family’s house and a steep hill for 20 years. The result is a colorful, relaxing space she characterizes as “rather wild” and “always a work in progress.” It’s also an object lesson is what can be done with creative use of furnishings and containers.
“When we moved in, the stone wall with fireplace and the flagstone patio were here, but the hill was planted only with yew and juniper, which required little maintenance,” she says, “but it also afforded little variety and virtually no seasonal changes. In short, it was boring.
“The deer were becoming more prevalent and gobbling up the yews, so I decided to create a more dynamic garden with lots of color, variety, and seasonal interest that we could enjoy both outside and from the house. The plantings above the wall are in full view from our kitchen window and are actually our only garden view from indoors,” she explains. “Window boxes also bring color into the house.”
“Plant choices have been largely by trial and error. Many plants are the offspring of perennials donated by GCI members to our annual plant sale and via plant-sharing with each other. When I divide plants, I try to repeat the same plant at intervals to provide cohesion. Every spring I add annuals to provide consistent, season-long color to compensate for times when few perennials are in bloom. The result is a rather wild-looking informal arrangement of plants that will always be a work in progress.”
“The garden above the wall tends to be drier and sunnier than at ground level, where it’s shady and the soil is more moist,” she says. “There has been much moving around of plants as I learned their sun and water requirements. Taller plants sometimes blocked shorter ones; some were too tall or too aggressive to contain in a small border and had to be removed. To anchor the garden I’ve intermingled shrubs—blueberry, hydrangea, rosebushes and baptisia. A few years ago we put up deer fencing and moved plants from the front yard that needed protection.”
Since the recent burgeoning of interest in native plants and GCI’s promotion of native plantings, this active member has been incorporating more natives in the garden, such as native geranium (above), baptisia, and goldenrod, a keystone plant, an important food source for pollinators, including many species of birds and insects.
Her efforts have been so successful that during a recent garden tour everyone was asking questions like: “How did you get all those pops of color?” The answer: “Annuals! Especially impatiens and coleus, with its big range of leaf shapes and colorations.”
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Beauty in a Pot and on the Wall
It’s a fallacy that you have to live in a private house with front and back yards to have a beautiful garden. This Garden Club member lives in an Irvington condo development that, like most, has strict rules governing what and where residents can plant. She has created a private garden that makes clever use of her condo walls and deck railings, and that gives her and her husband great pleasure.
“My garden surrounds me as it sits on my railings and hangs from hooks,” she says. “It greets me as I enter our home. It soothes me always, but especially now, during this cocooning-at-home period. The riot of colors makes me smile. I especially love watching the butterflies, bees and occasional hummingbird.”
The plants include a range of colorful annuals including geraniums, petunias, pansies, kenilworth ivy (cymbalaria muralis), fanflower and verbena. Perennials coral bells (heuchera micracantha) and creeping jenny (lysimmachia nummularia) will come back every year.
“And I also love my herb garden—with basil, thyme, rosemary, tarragon and sage—which enhances all the cooking I’ve been doing,” this container gardener notes.
Upkeep is simple—only deadheading and watering—and choosing what next to buy, add and enjoy.
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Tuscany or the New York Suburbs?
Designed by a longtime club member in conjunction with fellow member Lou Zapata of Hartsdale Garden Design, this property evokes old-world delight from every view and in all seasons.
In the late summer, the hydrangeas and mandevillas are in full bloom. The spiral-cut evergreen, visible from the road, is a focal point in all seasons. In the fall, in different light, the eye is pleased by different leaf shapes and colors, even when no flowers are in bloom
In the fall, in different light, the eye is pleased by different leaf shapes and colors, even when no flowers are in bloom. Containers punctuate the patio and porches with beauty.
Even the fallen leaves make a pleasing pattern and texture.
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A Hillside Retreat in Ardsley
You are invited to experience the exquisite hillside garden this GCI member and her husband have been lovingly tending for more than 25 years.
Guests enter through a side garden and are greeted by a spectacular surprise: a terraced hillside that this former teacher and her husband began 25 years ago by “pulling out all the ivy” on the slope.
“I built this stone by stone,” she says modestly. “After hiring stonemasons to repair the wall at the base and add a few steps, I did a little every year, adding stones and dividing plants. Now I rarely buy anything. Even the red maples were grown from offshoots. You learn what works and doesn’t work, what you like and don’t like.”
The most striking feature among the trees — perhaps the only healthy hemlocks in the region — and the shade plants, alpines and succulents, is a composition of barnwood birdhouses purchased during one of the husband’s trips to the Stormville Flea Market — where many of the the other ornaments were found. If you get close to the center birdhouse today, you’ll see a mother sparrow feeding her hungry brood.
“I love tucking things into little corners and crevices,” admits this devoted gardener. “And I love doing troughs. My favorite plant? I love them all!”
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Asian Vegetables in Irvington
A member brings us a different kind of gardening tradition—from the People’s Republic of China: a garden for harvesting and eating.
The whole family participates in building structures, planting seedlings and growing vegetables and herbs. These structures are built in the spring and planted with seedlings purchased in Flushing, Queens.
By midsummer, many kinds of Chinese vegetables were ready for harvest. In addition to tomatoes, radishes, etc., the family grows hot peppers —apsicum annuum ‘Kung Pao’—yams used for medicinal purposes, bitter melon, bottle gourd, and Chinese medicinal herbs and greens.
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From Hastings-on-Hudson to the Smithsonian
This ‘New World Garden’ exemplifies the great surge of interest in native plants. It has been documented for the Smithsonian Institute’s Archives of American Gardens.
Plants featured include: Aesculus parviflora, Bottle Brush Buckeye; Amsonia hubrichtii Threadleaf Blue Star; Hydrangea arborescens ‘Invincibelle Spirit’ (for every plant sold $1 is donated to the Breast Cancer Research Foundation); Hystrix elymus Bottlebrush Grass; Lonicera sempervirens, Trumpet Honeysuckle. This vine is attractive to hummingbirds and is sometimes called Hummingbird Vine. It is said to have been grown at George Washington’s Mt. Vernon; Pontedaria cordata, Pickerelweed;Rhododendron viscosum, Swamp Azalea; Spigelia marylandica, Indian Pink; andWisteria frutescens ‘Amethyst Falls’ (American Wisteria).
“With rustic chairs and benches here and there, a stone circle under newly planted oaks, a round picnic table on a patio under an ancient Sweet Bay magnolia, there are plenty of places to stop and enjoy the views. The visitor can travel from the shady front lawns down and around a winding path and stone steps through the ‘remnant garden’ meadow planted with such old favorites as roses, peonies and iris, passing through the American wisteria-covered pergola to the ‘wild garden’ with its mix of paths through woodland and meadow, all leading eventually to a little pond with minnows, water lilies and pickerel weed.”
“My husband and I are very honored to be in the process having our ‘New World Garden’ documented by the Garden Club of Irvington in order to be registered in the Smithsonian Institute’s Archives of American Gardens,” adds the owner. “The Garden Club of America, recognizing the innate perishability of gardens, has made a project of visually recording ‘cultural, historic, and vernacular gardens’ that will form the nucleus of the Smithsonian collection of approximately 60,000 photographic images and records that will document historic and contemporary garden design styles, features, furniture and ornamentation across the United States from colonial times to the present.”
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Arts and Roses Enhance an Irvington Carriage Barn
“When my young family and I moved here more than 25 years ago, the only things growing, besides the beautiful old trees, were some junipers, English ivy claimed to have been planted by Washington Irving, and a few very old azaleas,” recalls the owner of this converted 19th-century carriage barn.
“As an artist and art teacher, I wanted to have a garden to provide subject matter for my art. I went to a local nursery and told them I wanted to plant roses. They were not encouraging, claiming that roses and one- and five-year-old boys did not belong together. They suggested tall, shade-loving rhododendrons for privacy and euonymus along a wall edging the house.
The rhododendrons were eaten by deer, and the euonymus got an awful disease. Frustrated but not ready to give up, I began planting. And gardening took on a life of its own. Every season I removed weeds and brush, had a new section terraced, had stairs and walls built and rebuilt, and planted, planted and planted. I even planted roses. I soon learned, after soil was removed to build a wall, that the most important thing in the garden is the soil. I visited nurseries and pored through catalogs. If a friend had an interesting or unusual shrub, I asked for a cutting. I want to always have something in bloom, choosing to invest in small shrubs and perennials. Little by little I removed the grass along the driveway, until one day my younger son said,” Mommy, that little bit of grass you have left looks silly.” Out came the rest of the grass. I visited gardens and tried to incorporate the things I saw that I loved.”
Here is this Club Horticulture co-chair’s advice for those who want to start a garden:
• Start small.
• Visit other gardens.
• Use the right plant for the right place.
• Plant what you love.
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A Garden for All Seasons in Hastings
“I love it with a light dusting of snow,” says the owner of this Hastings-on-Hudson garden. “The snow outlines everything. I love the patterns that it makes and how it articulates the shapes and textures.”
This longtime Garden Club member and her husband bought the house in the late 1950s after having lived there as renters for more than a decade. They transformed the home with additions, and transformed the property into a multilevel, parklike retreat for themselves and their three children. What was once a brick wall that supported a crumbling root cellar and greenhouse is now a multilevel, tiered stone wall (above), featuring Buxus sempervirens ‘Graham Blandy’ (boxwood), Taxus baccata ‘Repandens’ (yew), Thuja plicata (western arborvitae), Yucca filamentosa, Buddleia davidii (butterfly bush), Phalaris arundinacea ‘Picta’ (ribbon grass), Forsythia suspensa (weeping forsythia), and Cornus florida (flowering dogwood).
“There’s a lot going on in this small garden,” she explains. “My emphasis has always been on design and architectural structure and the different shapes and curving borders of the beds, as well as the variety of textures and colors. Views of the plantings from the windows, particularly the kitchen bay are all ‘pictures’ I’ve created to provide interest and pleasure in all seasons.”
“It’s an architectural garden,” she adds, “with the stone, brick, urns and topiary, and the box garden. Deer, which are so devastating, don’t like boxwood. There are a lot of treasures here,” she points out, including a unique six-sided stone fountain that her father brought from Ireland to the family summer home in Gloucester, MA. It is placed within a ring of Belgian blocks surrounded by bluestone pavers that reflect light to create a faux pool with clipped boxwood pyramids at the pool’s four corners. The column supports a birdbath and the arrangement also functions as a sundial.
“I love to sit in the kitchen and look out at the lower garden with the fountain and its little pool, especially in the spring, my favorite season. Because we spend the summer in Massachusetts, the height of color is planned for spring. First everything is yellow—the forsythia cascade down the three levels of the stone embankment. And then blue—in fact, we have three blue periods: first a drift of scilla, then grape hyacinths, then forget-me-nots. And then white—the dogwoods. In May, the horse chestnuts, dogwoods, lilacs, wisteria, daffodils, phlox and candytuft often all bloom at once.”
To a visitor, there are a lot of additional treasures and surprises. Still lives, intentional or not, of tools, sculpture, and sculptural plant elements, like corkscrew limbs and branches, delight the eye.
On this February morning, the owner goes out in the garden to inspect the hellebores, newly in bloom, yet sporting a coat of this morning’s light snow. And then she’s off for her daily 40-minute walk on the Aqueduct.
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Old and New in Tarrytown
More than ten years ago, this club member moved to the Tarry Hill area from another part of Tarrytown. “It was exciting to have a new garden to work in, but there were many challenges,” she recalls.
“The house had sustained a lot of structural damage and we had to put in a french drain all around. That meant three feet of gravel in which nothing could be planted. It also meant that the existing mature foundation plantings had to be ripped out.’
From challenges come creative solutions, so this member created raised beds, ornaments, and trellises. The side garden has cryptomaria, Northern Lights grass, and shasta daisies. which self-sow in the gravel. The weeping blue Atlas Cedar is on an old fireplace ornament found by the side of the road. It partners nicely with golden spirea and Stella d’Oro daylilies.
“I’ve been gardening my whole life,” she explains. “My parents were from Ireland, where the land is everything. We five kids were responsible for our own gardens, six-foot circles Dad plotted out for each of us in our back yard in the Bronx, not far from the New York Botanical Garden, where we’d go almost every weekend. I was the oldest, the big sister, which meant trampling feet of little brothers. But from age 7 or 8, I was growing sunflowers, dahlias, and four o’clocks from seed.”
An accountant who works part-time at a local landscape design company, this GCI member also designs gardens for family members, friends, and other clients. Her specialty is low-maintenance, deer-resistant plantings. New this year is a front sedum garden and a mixed border with andromeda, coneflowers and daylilies.
“When I go anywhere on a trip I treat myself to a new garden ornament, or I put them together with parts I find,” she explains. “The ornament in the front of the new garden above is a hose guard I found in Connecticut.”
Three years ago this industrious member built a bi-level, 900-square-foot deck to grow annuals and perennials in pots (and to spend some time relaxing).
“My handy husband built a raised lettuce table after I saw a similar one demonstrated on the Martha Stewart Show,” she says. “It was on the upper deck before we put in deer fencing (which does not keep out rabbits, groundhogs and other small critters who also like lettuce). Pot gardens on the deck are filled with with sedum, rockrose, and dichondra.”
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Color and Composition in Hartsdale
GCI members had the opportunity to tour this spectacular garden and enjoy its delightful details and hidden areas for relaxation and contemplation.
Built in 1832 as The First Methodist Church of Hartsdale, this Victorian home became an Inn in 1869 and a private residence at the turn of the 20th century. When the current owner bought the property in 1980, the interior and exterior had both suffered years of neglect. The roof leaked, water had damaged the walls and ceilings, windows didn’t open or close, the stairs were precarious, floors and doors were warped, and kitchen and bathrooms in need of immediate attention. “But I fell in love with the house as soon as I walked into the foyer,” he says. “My family, friends, and the attorney all said that I was crazy to buy such a white elephant.”
“The challenges outdoors were equal,” he admits. “I spent two years clearing invasive trees and shrubs from the half-acre-plus property, removing wild grapevines, transplanting, and building stone walls and paths. The design was dictated by my desire for privacy and serenity. My goal was to create an English cutting garden, a rose garden, herb garden, vegetable garden, and moss and shade garden. I especially wanted water features and plantings that would attract and feed birds and beneficial insects. Residents of my property now include hummingbirds, cardinals, bluebirds, scarlet tanigers, orioles, finches of all kinds, robins, nuthatches, and chicadees. Hooray! Hooray!”
“Every year, I experiment and make changes within the basic structure,” he continues. “You will always find an explosion of color somewhere. The spring features the light blue, pink and white that are especially beautiful at dusk. In late spring and early summer there are splashes of yellow, deep blue, violet, and shades of red, green, orange, and white. The late summer and early fall bring the burnt tones of color that prepare us for winter. I use sculpture and iron, and interesting pots and columns to create vignettes and garden rooms. These objects create, for me, an expectation of renewal.”
This personal joy has become this Garden Club Member’s profession. He started Hartsdale Garden Design in 1995. “Each property we work on is special to us. We stand behind everything we do,” he asserts. “My crew is wonderful. They have been with me for many years and are experienced in executing my design, planting, transplanting and pruning. We take great pride in our work and strive to achieve four seasons of color, structure, vignettes and plantings that attract and feed birds.”