Gardens to Dream on
By Jana Seitz
I fell in love with rockeries the year we lived in Scotland. To be fair, I fell in love with everything…butter, ice, the sea, silence. Even familiar things took on a patina of newness and adventure, my favorite combination. Our town park was walled and gated, concealing the magic within. When the door swung inward you were greeted by a unique arrangement of terraced rough stones and low growing alpine plants, a garden type I learned was a “rockery.”
Rockeries became all the rage in Great Britain after the world wars as the desire for maintenance-free, inexpensive gardening grew. Alpines flourished in the harsh Scottish climate. Free draining, low fertility, undemanding plants that enjoy a hostile environment: the perfect thing for my non-green thumb. We have created a few of our own in the big rock in our backyard. There’s exquisite beauty in the juxtaposition of delicate flowers and relentless rock, a perfect yin/yang. Beauty and beast. Joy from hardship. A tree grows in Brooklyn.
We in Westchester are fortunate to have many glorious public gardens within a stone’s throw, old money invested well and tangibly for the enjoyment of future generations. The fertile Hudson Valley has always beckoned new patterns of landscape gardening. Anything can be imported and maintained when you have industrial fortunes paving the way (Vanderbilt, Rockefeller, Astor). Even the Taconic State Parkway was created as a celebration of the region’s natural beauty. Exquisite sculpted gardens abound, but the rockeries are my favorite.
<<Innisfree Garden>> (pronounced “innish-free”) in Millbrook is 150 acres of dreamy dreams. Named for the Yeats’ poem, “The Lake Isle of Innisfree,” it beckons as do his words:
“I will arise and go now, and go to Innisfree….
And I shall have some peace there, for peace comes dropping slow….”
I could pitch a yurt on the edge of its Lake Tyrrel and never leave (“The Lake Isle of Tyrell” doesn’t sound as romantic). It was started in the late 1920s by Walter and Marion Beck as their country estate and has since been a continual work-in- progress. Inspired by traditional Japanese and Chinese garden design, it employs “cup gardens” to delineate space and highlight features. As explained by Lester Collins in his book “Innisfree: An American Garden”:
“Western gardens are usually designed to embrace a view of the whole. Little is hidden. The garden, like a stage set, is there in its entirety, its overall design revealed in a glance. The traditional Chinese garden is usually designed so that a view of the whole is impossible. It requires a stroll over serpentine, seemingly aimless arteries. The observer walks into a series of episodes, like Alice through the looking glass.”
Translation: Western gardens are like men; Eastern, like women. Go stroll through this lovely lady.
Visit www.innisfreegarden.org or call 845-677-8000.
Closes for the season October 21.
<<Stonecrop Gardens>> in Cold Spring also began as a private home, that of Anne and Frank Cabot who founded The Garden Conservancy. The land was tamed and molded under the direction of Caroline Burgess whom Cabot brought from England to continue his mission: to save and share outstanding American gardens for the education and inspiration of the public. The 60-acre property was made public in 1992, so you can wander freely through woodland and water, rock and stone, field and flower. Their rockeries are my favorite, raised alpine stone beds spilling over their bounty.
Visit www.stonecrop.org or call 845-265-2000.
Closes for the season October 31.
<<Wave Hill>>, another former country estate in the Bronx, has its very own Alpine House overflowing with diminutive rock garden plants. Built in 1843 along the Hudson River, the 28-acre property boasts gorgeous views of the New Jersey Palisades. The gardens were developed by George Perkins, grandfather to Stonecrop’s Anne Cabot, and partner to (not partner at) J.P. Morgan. Perkins was also responsible, with the Harrimans and Rockefellers, for acquiring and preserving the New Jersey Palisades through the creation of Palisades Interstate Park. Word has it that construction on the Palisades disturbed his sleep at Wave Hill, so he bought them. (Necessity is the mother of invention, even in conservation).
A stroll through the gardens is pure joy, but the main house is a treat too, having been home, briefly, to Theodore Roosevelt, Mark Twain, and Arturo Toscanini. Wander through Armor Hall, a room once full of knights in shining armor, have a great lunch in the café, then buy some plants of your own in the gift shop.
Don’t miss the Abrons Woodland Trail to the far south corner of the conservatory and lie beneath its two huge old copper beeches.
Call 718-549-3200. Visit www.wavehill.org.
Lake Tyrrel at Innisfree
Wave Hill Rockeries
Paths of glory at Stonecrop Gardens
Copper beech at Wave Hill