Three Gardens, Three Gifts
David Arshram's "Venus De Milo" at Longhouse Reserve, Photo by Bill Grathwohl
With our azaleas, peonies and hydrangea, there is always color in our East End gardens. But there are three public gardens on the South Fork that far exceed our own flower beds. Madoo Conservancy, Bridge Gardens, and LongHouse Reserve each began as someone’s home and have become vibrant gifts to our community. They are well worth leaving your backyard.
Madoo is a lush warren with a surprise at every turn. At 1.91 acres just off Sagg Main Street in Sagaponack, it is the creation of artist Robert Dash. He bought the property when he noticed the 1740 hay barn from the road. Mr. Dash claimed, “It winked at me.”
Mr. Dash cleaned out the barn, moved in, and set up his studio. The garden began as a meadow. He mowed paths through the grasses and plunked benches down where he thought the view was pretty.
Today, Madoo — the old Scots word for “my dove” — looks nothing like those early meadows. It is a verdant gem. There are several rare specimen trees, two ginkgo groves, and 40-foot-high beeches and magnolias. Alejandro Saralegui, Madoo Conservancy’s director, pointed out that the mature trees “feel like they’ve been there forever, and it’s true, many of the trees have been here a lifetime.”
In the 1980s, Mr. Dash shifted the meadows to a more formal garden. He learned from English garden designer Rosemary Verey, famous for her own gardens at Barnsley House in Gloucestershire, England. Mr. Dash and Ms. Verey were close; he named one of his dogs Barnsley.
Madoo’s formal features are whimsical. A ginkgo grove is a sculpture with the trunks serving as columns and boxwood sculpted into balls. The gazebo, a formal garden staple, is painted purple. A stern bust of Beethoven watches over the sunken garden, like a musical scarecrow.
Madoo opened to the public in 1993, and since Mr. Dash’s death in 2013, it continues to flourish and evolve. As Mr. Saralegui makes changes, he considers Mr. Dash’s vision. “My job is to edit and enhance the garden, not preserve it. But I try to do it using Bob’s vocabulary. It is a living entity.”
When Mr. Dash was alive, friends such as poet James Schulyer and painter Fairfield Porter visited often. Madoo became an artists’ salon. Mr. Dash’s vision was to have the garden interact with the arts.
To that end, a number of art exhibitions are planned. “Nick Howey: The Color of Science” is on until June 26. “Billy Sullivan, Still-Lifes” runs from July 2 to August 14. And the works of Spencer Finch will be displayed from August 20 to September 24. “The ‘I’ Is in the Mind of an Object,” featuring works by Mr. Dash and his circle, curated by Eric Brown, will be exhibited from October 1 to December 31.
Madoo also connects with the community. “Monday Morning at Madoo” is a children’s storytelling hour held in conjunction with Bridgehampton’s Hampton Library. In September, Madoo will present a performance of Shakespeare’s “All’s Well that Ends Well.” This Saturday, May 29, Madoo will have a flower arranging class taught by Anastasia Casale of Sag Harbor Florist.
Madoo is located at 618 Sagg Main Street in Sagaponack. Open by appointment only, Mondays to Fridays, 11 a.m. to 5 p.m., and Saturdays, noon to 5 p.m. Book appointments online at madoo.org. Admission is free.
Bridge Gardens, tucked in behind the railroad tracks in Bridgehampton, is under the stewardship of the Peconic Land Trust. Its mission is to serve as an outdoor classroom and community resource to demonstrate sustainable lawn and gardening practices.
In 1990 Harry Neyens and Jim Kilpatric bought the former potato farm in order to create a beautiful garden. They designed a modern home that evoked the potato barns built in the area. In 2008, Neyens and Kilpatric donated the house and garden to the Peconic Land Trust to be a public garden enjoyed by future generations.
A remnant of oak and hickory forest and American beech grows along Mitchell Lane giving the garden an air of mystery before entering. Once inside, it opens up to show an expanse of sky. At just over 5 acres, there is a feeling that a child could run forever.
The house, where garden manager Rick Borgusch lives, sits above the large vegetable garden. Right now, everything grown in this garden — asparagus, peas, cabbage, cauliflower, leeks, onion, arugula, cilantro and more, is donated to the Sag Harbor Food Pantry. Borgusch will plant tomatoes, peppers, zucchini and eggplants when it gets warmer. The garden produces into November.
Near the vegetable garden is the four-quadrant herb garden with culinary, ornamental, medicinal, and textile/dye herbs. There are placards with scannable QR codes so visitors can learn more about the plants.
The rose garden has over 100 varieties. Borgusch explains, “Five years ago, we decided to embark on a new plant collection policy that will include more native plants to eastern North America, particularly coastal plants and edible landscaping too.”
Eventually, the area around the rose garden will have less lawn as Atlantic white cedars and beach plums are planted. It will be a three-level landscape of trees, bushes, plants and grasses. “We want it to be more habitat, less landscape,” Borgusch said.
The orchard is a new addition. Dwarf and semi-dwarf apple and pear trees are surrounded by daffodils, planted to keep out the voles. Borgusch will plant thornless blackberries in the orchard and there are blackberries, raspberries and blueberries growing along the roadside perimeter of the property. Edible landscaping indeed.
Bridge Gardens is also home to 24 community garden plots. Borgusch said having the 200-square-foot plots adds a lot to the communal feel. “The gardeners spend the day. They bring their lunches.”
The show “Uncommon Ground 2021” will attract more of the community. The gardens will display 15 sculptures, curated by Cheryl Sokolow, throughout the property. The exhibition runs from June 26 through September 2022.
Upcoming educational programming includes: “Free Advice Tuesdays” with Paul Wagner of Greener Pastures Organics, weekly through October 5, 3 to 4:30 p.m.; “Organic Rose Care” on June 29, 3 to 4:30 p.m.; “Natural Medicines from the Herb Garden” with herbalist Angus Towse of the National Herbalist Guild on August 7 from 10 to 11:30 a.m.; and “Fruiting Trees and Shrubs” with Paul Wagner on August 17 from 10 to 11:30 a.m.
Bridge Gardens is located at 36 Mitchell Lane in Bridgehampton. It is open seven days a week, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Admission is free. More details and additional programs offered can be found at peconiclandtrust.org
LongHouse Reserve, 16 acres in the Northwest Woods of East Hampton, is a garden and sculpture park. The gardens, lawns, paths and sculptures surround LongHouse, the former home of the reserve’s creator, Jack Lenor Larsen. His home was inspired by a seventh century Japanese Shinto shrine.
Mr. Larsen, a textile designer, bought the abandoned farmland in 1975. First, he planted hemlock hedgerows to evoke those farms’ old stone fences. Over the years, he planted azaleas, cryptomeria and cherry trees, and added arbors with climbing roses, clematis and jasmine. There are lawns, thousands of flowers, and a pond with frogs and turtles.
The Amphitheater was one of Mr. Larsen’s first features. This year, it’s the site of Ai Weiwei’s “Circle of Animals/Zodiac Heads: Bronze.” These 10-foot-tall heads representing the figures of the Chinese zodiac encircle the Amphitheater. The topography of the space provides many vantage points to view the installation.
Matko Tomicic, the executive director of LongHouse Reserve, explained that the team considers viewing points and balance when deciding locations of the sculptures. “Even the artists are amazed when they see their works here. Most of the artists are only used to seeing their pieces inside four walls. The pieces need scale. Nature dwarfs everything.”
Daniel Arsham’s “Venus de Milo,” a bronze with crystals, dwarfs the viewer. Placed atop a dune on one of the approaches to the house, Venus towers over the landscape with her power and beauty.
“Venus de Milo” is part of the “Rites of Spring” exhibition that opened in April and includes the works of John Giorno, Beverly Pepper and Prune Nourry. Sculptures by Buckminster Fuller, Yoko Ono, Eric Fischl, Dale Chihuly and dozens more are also on view.
Entry into LongHouse Reserve is via prebooked timed-ticket admission. Each hour-and-15-minute session is limited to 60 people. Once they enter, the guests disappear into the expansive gardens. Tomicic explained, “You get a special feeling it’s all just for you.”
Guests scan QR codes on their phones for an audio tour narrated by Mr. Larsen. Sadly, Mr. Larsen passed away in December 2020. For Mr. Tomicic, the audio tours are bittersweet. As he walks by visitors, he hears Mr. Larsen’s voice everywhere.
In the wake of Mr. Larsen’s passing, LongHouse itself will open to the public in the next three years. The living area will stay as is, and other rooms will show Mr. Larsen’s collections of fabric, furniture and art. As for the gardens, Mr. Tomicic said they plan to “keep it going and keep it unique.”
LongHouse Reserve is open Wednesdays, Saturdays and Sundays. Purchase timed tickets in advance at longhouse.org. Admission is $15 for adults, $10 for seniors, and free to children and high school and college students with ID. Access the gift shop, InStore, online or by appointment by contacting firstname.lastname@example.org.
Because these gardens began as someone’s home, it’s easy to see the love, wit and joy sowed into them. We are lucky Madoo, Bridge Gardens and LongHouse Reserve have been given to us.
They are a wonderful visit, and we don’t have to weed.
Published in The East Hampton Press on May 27, 2021