My First “Open Day” & A Brief Tour

LAST SUNDAY, nearly 200 friendly faces passed through my garden gate. The occasion? The first “Open Day” of the season. Open Days benefit The Garden Conservancy, whose mission is (among other things)  the preservation of historically significant gardens. If you are unable to visit the grounds here in person, perhaps I can offer you a brief “virtual” tour:

Open the garden gate, and you will find yourself in a rather formal rose garden. The roses are framed with 320 boxwood plants, most of which I grew from cuttings. Although the garden might look as old as the house (the house was built in 1826), it is in fact only 8 years old.  In a previous life, the garden was a parking lot, completely paved with asphalt.

Roses aren’t the only flowering subjects in the garden. Lately I’ve started to add clematis. Pictured up top is  ‘Anna Louise,’ a large-flowered hybrid with striking, violet-purple flowers and a deep red bar.

If you continue north to end of the brick path, you’ll find an ancient silver maple, just where the property begins to slope upward. I built a stone retaining wall around the tree, in order to plant a bed of pachysandra there. The stone came from an old foundation I found buried on the property.

To the right of the tree, and still continuing north, is a curving flight of steps. The steps are composed of blue-stone. Let’s climb it.

The steps terminate at a grove of white pines. Why? Because, 7 years ago when I built the path, I ran out of blue-stone. Furthermore, because I’d pinched out the candles of the pines each spring, they had grown so densely that you could not pass through them.

But recently, when I found throw-away stone for free, I decided it was time to continue that path through the pines.  Consequently I cut several branches, and formed an arch-way.  This provided an opening with the following view:

For me,  standing under the archway, with a view of a beckoning (and headless) Venus de Milo,  is a mystical experience.  Because I had only so many pieces of stone, I spaced them far enough apart just to reach the brick steps (between two urns) which climb to the statue.

The tall arborvitaes on the right help to screen out the in-ground swimming pool. The little staircase leads to the pool’s eastern gate.

The odd-shaped stones are set in stone-dust, and buried just deeply enough to be level with my so-called lawn. This way the mower can run right over them. I’ll plant actual grass seed around the stones when autumn arrives. Well, that is the plan, anyway.

If you hang a right just past the statue, you’ll come face-to-face with…

…the remains of a mulch-pile. Whoops. I tried to remove this eyesore before the Open Days tour. In fact, my partner and I awoke at 5:00 that morning with the sole mission of relocating the mulch to a holding place elsewhere on the property. But no sooner had I begun to shovel it into a wheelbarrow than I pulled my back out. So the mulch pile remained. Trust me, it will be gone in time for the next tour.

Anyway, to the left of the mulch is the Kitchen Garden, the gate flanked by a pair of Rosa ‘Gertrude Jekyll.’ I hope you have this David Austin-bred “English” rose on your property. Its honeyed breath is both intoxicating and far-reaching.

If you’re wondering, Ms. Jekyll was a late-19th-century gardener and landscape designer. I’ll wager that Gertrude saw (and smelled) far worse things in her day than my  innocent pile of not-yet-used mulch.

Here is the northern half of the  Kitchen Garden, in its early June stage. As you can see, I did not erect my usual  “Joan Crawford-Approved” tomato trellis this year. You see,  I don’t need a colossal amount of tomatoes, now that my partner has been informed by his doctor that he can no longer eat them. I recycled Ms. Crawford into three tripod-type structures, each of them approximately 7 feet tall. Two are for tomatoes; one is for cucumbers.

Opposite the vegetable patch is the Pool Garden, the outside framed with the tall arborvitae I showed you earlier, and the inside is edged with young Canadian hemlocks. The statue of a lecherous Satyr  watches over the pool. He seems to encourage skinny-dipping.  I’ll never tell.

Just north of the Pool- and Kitchen Gardens, and forming an approach to the Woodland Garden,  are two curved, boxwood-framed perennial borders. I should probably have my head examined for making these, as I certainly don’t need more room for plants. Or maybe I do. In any event, the one above is the newest of the two. I recently mulched it with newspaper and shredded leaves. It is planted, for the time being, with  Baptisia, peonies, and day-lilies.

Its mate is planted with the same three perennials, as well as foxglove and hollyhock. Blooming now is the French hollyhock ‘Zebrina,’ its light pink flowers brushed with purple. It is a magnet for butterflies.

Between the two perennial borders, and beneath an arbor covered with Rosa ‘New Dawn,’ is the entrance to the Woodland Garden. Shall we step inside?

Here, a white azalea, whose name has been lost, is in full bloom. The flowers are intensely fragrant.  I gave a slip of this  plant to a lovely lady who attended the tour. I hope it roots for her.

If you’d like to see the curving paths, the fish pond, the ferns, hostas and sweet woodruff in the Woodland Garden, then by all means visit my post “From Wild Patch to Woodland.”

Meanwhile, let’s work our way back to the house, via the Serpentine Garden.

I designed the Serpentine Garden 5 years ago. In April and May it is washed in colorful bulbs and flowering shrubs. But now, in early June, it has retreated into a mostly-green thing, shaded by a Yoshino Cherry tree and various crabapples. How I built this enchanting garden on the steepest hill on the property.

If you ever want a step-able groundcover that will keep weeds from growing in the cracks of your stone walkway, go with creeping thyme. I winter-sowed this herb one year, and it has flourished for me without any supplemental watering. It releases its legendary scent with every foot-fall.

At the base of the Serpentine Garden is the Herb Garden. A detailed account of this small but productive place can be found in this post. Meanwhile, let me show you a certain herb which is currently growing there, and drawing great attention to itself.

Say hello to my lovage plant, which, after 3 years, has become a towering skyscraper of not less than 7 feet. Dennis Rosenfeld, a reader who attended the tour here last Sunday, left with lots of lovage leaves — enough to make my Lettuce & Lovage Soup. (Dennis, did you make that soup — or did you use the leaves in some other delicious way?)

Lovage leaves taste like celery on steroids. They offer a hint of anise, too. I hope you’ll obtain this great plant!

A number of my houseplants enjoy summer vacation in the Herb Garden. Above is a gloriously-colored amaryllis whose name has been lost. If you have amaryllis outdoors, be sure to feed it generously over summer. This way the bulb will produce embryo flowers for next year’s show.

Well, I hope you enjoyed this brief tour. And I hope you’ll come visit during one of my future “Open Days.” The dates are listed here.

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  1. Kevin, Sorry to have missed this. We love visiting GC gardens, and have found when we do an open days event at ours, people come from far and wide and are really knowledgeable. I am sure it was stressful prepping, but glad to hear you enjoyed it.

  2. Louise A Brouillette says:

    Kevin, I so wish I could tour your beautiful gardens. Perhaps someday if I’m in your part of NY, I’ll arrange a tour with you. Thank you so much for sharing and inspiring!

  3. Lovely! Gosh, I enjoyed this tour so much! I really miss being able to tour gardens (disabled). Bloggers like you take me through your gardens visually and with the written word. Some of you do it very, very well. Thank you!.

  4. Paula – You are so right. Much work to prepare, but definitely worth the effort. It was a joy to meet so many enthusiastic gardeners.

    Louise – Well, I certainly hope you will visit one day.

    Erin – Thank you for your kind words. Isn’t it great that we get to “visit” so many places via the internet?

  5. Donna B. says:

    UNGH. I had an art show this just this past weekend, otherwise I would have gone in a heartbeat!!! And are you in the Albany area? If so, that’s not a terrible drive for me… [I had friends that resided in the Rensselaer area!]
    Wowowowow, I must plan on attending one of your open garden tours!
    I’d be the one person drifting off the group to have my own little tour… hee hee!
    [And: I would have been ecstactic to see your mulch pile! :D]

  6. Donna B. – hope your art show went well. Where do you live? I’m in Columbia County, which is approximately 30 minutes south of Albany, and 15 minutes south of Rensselaer. The next 2 “Open Days” are June 23 and August 18. Don’t beat yourself up if you can’t travel here — there are always “virtual” tours on-line!

  7. Kevin, it’s amazing! You’re a true botanical genius!

  8. Thank you for the lovely tour Kevin! How fortunate you are to have created such lovely grounds to live in.

  9. Donna B. says:

    Kevin – I’m in the northeastern region of NJ, Morris County – so I’m about two hours from Columbia County. It’s not far, not at all… and there’s probably good places to eat on the way/in the area. I’m a bit of a foodie. So garden-visits usually end up with me eating at a crazy local place. Mm… Any excuse to eat out is a good excuse for me! 😀

  10. Lee McLean says:

    Kevin, thank you for the virtual tour. People will just love you more because of such things as mulch piles – we all love the people who admit to occasional flops than the ones who are always perfect. I, too, have an incredible lovage plant that I point out to visitors as “celery on steroids”. Best of all, my discovery of your wonderfully warm site has encouraged me to get back in the game with my garden, so to speak. Ever since my stroke a few years ago, I’ve been discouraged and disinterested – you’ve made me beat a new path out to the toolshed. Thank you.

  11. Kelli Patton says:

    Everything is beautiful! But…..your partner can’t EAT TOMATOES!!!???? That is TRAGIC! Is it even summer if you can’t eat tomatoes? My condolences. Maybe you should plant blueberry, blackberry and raspberry bushes as a consolation!

  12. Well, that was a wonderful little getaway. You have created such beautiful gardens. Thank you for sharing.

  13. Kevin, I have frequently said “i envy no one for all my needs have been met….” then I see your pictures of your gorgeous grdens and have serious doubts about my thinking. Your home and gardens are off-scale in the WOW!-factor. You give a new defiition to the word beautiful. Thank you so much for sharing with us mere mortals.

  14. Amber Hall says:

    Your home and gardens are a joy. Thank you too for the great recipes. Who knew …. weedy portulaca? I have lots.

  15. in the picture , the little biscuits , where you broke it open, looked like popovers

  16. Sandy Hutchison says:

    Thanks for sharing your open day with the rest of us — this is just lovely.

    And yes, I love my lovage, too. It’s by far the most striking plant on the property at the moment.

    If you haven’t tried it yet, angelica can have a similar architectural effect. It’s not nearly as easy, though, since it’s a biennial and I find that lots of things (including a late freeze) enjoy eating the seedlings.

  17. Anna Lapping says:

    What a beautiful garden tour. I wish I could see it in person.

  18. Bonjour Kevin,

    What a beautiful garden, I love everything you have created!
    I took some notes as I “strolled” through. After seeing your beautiful lovage I am going to plant some in my garden. I’m also going to try the Zebrina hollyhocks, it looks so pretty.
    Thank you so much for the tour.

    Comme toujours, merci.

    PS: I hope your back is better and am sorry your partner can no longer eat tomatoes(hope it’s nothing serious) Take care, both of you.

  19. Loni Bandet-Barss says:

    I enjoyed this garden tour immensely! It was mesmerizing to say the least. I can’t imagine the amount of work that went into that project. Well done.

  20. Beverly says:

    I feel like I just took a mini-vacation!

    Superb steps and walls!

  21. Cathy in NZ says:

    Right now, I’m in Winter time (New Zealand) so it was nice to be able to take a virtual tour of your patch…

    One thing, I did notice that is a complete no-no here is the unfenced pool – here you have to fence it so no child will inadvertently take a fatal dip…but of course, there are some excellent fencing structures that mean that the garden is not hit by an ugly eyesore for the sake of safety. Does your country have a fencing protocol?

  22. Georgette says:

    I visited your gardens last Sunday and I have never been more inspired to build raised beds. I am going to put them in my garden this fall or next….anyway that is the plan. You have lovely gardens and the lovage plant is the largest I’ve seen.

  23. Erin – What sweet words to read this morning.

    Terry – Thanks. The grounds were created all from scratch!

    Donna B. – Lots of fine eateries in Hudson, NY, which is 20 minutes south of me. Hope you’ll visit during one of the next ‘Open Days’ — the dates are June 23 and August 18.

    Lee McLean – So glad you find this site inspiring. Proceed with your garden inch by inch, and you will accomplish much.

    Kelli – My partner has to avoid acidic foods — hence no tomatoes. Not sure (yet) about strawberries, etc.

    Pattie – Glad you enjoyed this little “walk-about.”

    Jingles – You are waaay too kind! Thank you.

    Amber Hall – Hope you’ll try the Portulca oleracea — delish with scrambled eggs!

    Norma Brooks – Popovers (the way I make them, anyway) are not hollow inside, as gougeres are.

    Sandi Hutchison – Yes, I must try my hand with Angelica.

    Anna Lapping – I wish you could visit, too!

    Orianne – Thanks for your concern. My back is better, after daily yoga sessions. As for my partner’s health — it’s nothing serious. He has to avoid acidic foods. Mercifully he can still enjoy a glass of wine every other day!

    Loni Bandet-Barss – Glad you enjoyed the little tour. Much work to produce the rose, serpentine and woodland gardens. The two edible gardens were relatively easy to make — and they are easy to care for, too.

    Beverly -Glad you like the steps and walls. These have enabled me to garden on this extremely hilly property!

    Cathy in NZ – There is a fence around the pool. Young hemlocks are inside the fence, tall arborviate outside.

    Georgette – Thanks so much for visiting in person. Glad you liked the raised beds and feel inspired to build some of your own. You will find with these beds that your labor is reduced, but your produce is multiplied!

  24. Dale Gasque says:

    Thanks so much for the virtual tour. You are so kind to take the time to share your gardens and projects. They’re providing lots of inspiration for our 1867 house and gardens in the Shenandoah Valley in Virginia. I’ve been planting like mad since we bought the place almost two years ago, but have a long way to go before I see more plant than mulch, I fear.

  25. Jo Ann Hofheimer says:

    Yours is the one blog I must read right away. Thank you so much for taking time to post and share.

  26. Kevin, I just love your posts!!!! And your property….. is soooo beautiful!!! Thank you so much for sharing it with everyone. The heat here in Florida has caused the few plants I have to throw their little leafy hands up and scream ” THATS IT! I’VE HAD ENOUGH!!” Of course, thats every Summer here. ha ha ha Only the hardy hang tough through it all. And lest I forget, your recipes…… oh my! What can I say? Another heartfelt THANK YOU is in order. Take care and I hope your back heals quickly. Enjoy the rest of the tours!

  27. badger gardener says:

    Thanks for the beautiful tour!

  28. Congratulations!!!

  29. secondhandlibrarian on Cape Cod says:

    Thank you for your tour. Your gardens are lovely. I appreciate how you have broken them down into specific gardens. I could imagine myself there as you described each turn and bend. Thank you! I have begun to make cuttings of my boxwood’s and am finally stopping the practice of – stop, drop and roll approach to gardening, meaning I am trying to place a plant not just stuff a plant.

  30. You are not a gardener. You are an artist. I felt like I took the tour from here in the central Illinois corn. P.S. My favorite picture was the mulch pile…you are human! (Even your mulch pile was pretty neat, mine contains weeds and discarded bark hunks). Love your web site! Gloria

  31. Kevin – I’ve been browsing through your blog for quite some time, and need to tell you how wonderful it is. I so enjoy your posts, recipes, ideas, and beautiful pictures – not to mention everything I’ve learned from you. A huge THANK YOU comes your way. I always look forward to browsing your blog and dream away! Thank you. Kay

  32. Kevin, You are indeed an artist, as has been said above. Thank you so much for the tour. What you have accomplished in such a short time is truly amazing. It makes me wonder if you have a full time job as well, because what you are creating in the garden and in the kitchen sounds like a full time job to me.

    What you are doing in your garden with its original wasteland parking lot, and its slope is what I have been trying to do here as well, with my very steep lot going down to the river through a small cedar bush, and LOTS of rock. You are truly an inspiration. I wish that I had some flat land like you do for raised kitchen gardens and herb gardens, but alas that is not my luck. Gardeners make do with what we have though.

    Thanks again for sharing. I truly love your rose garden with the box wood.

  33. John – Thanks for writing. Yes — we gardeners make do with what we have. But what determination it takes to create a “planted place” on a hilly property. Good luck with your own project — I know what you are dealing with!

  34. I don’t know what caused me to click on your garden tour this morning, but it was just the tonic I needed on a chilly Valentine’s Day morning. Thank you for the beauty you so generously share and for creating such special spaces in both “real” and virtual worlds.
    Happy Valentine’s Day,

  35. Alice – thanks for stopping by. And a happy Valentine’s Day to you, too. Spring — and tons of garden work — will be here before we know it!

  36. Kevin, I wish you were living nearer my neck of the woods so I could visit your garden. I am a member of the Garden Conservancy and I enjoy the sights in NY, CT and NJ every spring and summer but not as far as you are in NY State.

    A question: does your garden have a deer fence?

    Your site is very entertaining, enjoyable and artistic.


  37. Hi Huguette – I have a simple wire-mesh fence around the two food gardens. Otherwise, I welcome deer on the property. The only plants they have destroyed are some hostas that I didn’t particularly care for. They are extremely respectful deer.

  38. Melissa Horton says:

    Thank you for the lovely tour of your gardens! So refreshing!

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