By Alison Rooney
Figuring out when to visit Stonecrop Garden used to be perplexing. Although open to the public since 1992, a jumble of “three times a week, once a month on Sundays, or by appointment only” proved daunting to those who actively desired to visit, let alone those who happened upon it, traveling along Route 301, only to find the site closed.
All that has changed, and Stonecrop now welcomes visitors every weekday, and many Saturdays, from April through October. In addition, on
one Sunday each month Stonecrop invites members of the Garden Conservancy, along with the general public, to come and partake of tea and cake while strolling the very distinct and beautiful gardens. This past Sunday’s (Aug.15) moody weather, with overhanging clouds and mist, proved perfect for savoring Stonecrop’s green vistas.
The 12-acre site incorporates a “diverse collection of gardens and plants, including woodland and water gardens, a grass garden, raised alpine stone beds, cliff rock gardens, and an enclosed English-style flower garden,” according to Stonecrop’s literature. Paths meander throughout, sometimes splitting off into forks, leaving a visitor with that feeling of exploring nooks and crannies independently.
The Soong family were enjoying their Stonecrop Sunday. They have visited many times and were back again. The Soongs, who live in Dutchess County, enjoy the “low key atmosphere.” Dad Steve said “We like to come here. It reminds us of being in England; it’s peaceful, and so easy to get to for us.” Mom Mei Ting called the plants “perfect-it’s like a wild English garden, not structured. And the cake and tea helps!” Kids Linus and Elizabeth, and Elizabeth’s friend Emma, considered the many frogs a highlight, “and the stone bridge, too.”
According to head horticulturalist Michael Hagen, it was the diversity of the collection which brought him to Stonecrop in 2001. He had been working at White Flower Farm, in Connecticut, and was looking to move out of commercial horticulture. With its conservatory, alpine house, wide variety of trees and shrubs, and systematic order beds, Hagen dubs Stonecrop a “cutting edge research facility. We are able to do world class garden research here, stretching our parameters. The gardens are 25 years
old now, and mature, and we’re still learning about the plants as they mature.” Change is part of the process, “We are always looking for new seeds-I’m a seed propagator. Because we have a long time frame to work with, we can see if they fit in with the collection. We’re constantly building the collection. Every year the flower gardens are different; there’s a framework, but we can experiment.”
The biggest challenge is incorporating Stonecrop’s mission, “to uphold and demonstrate the highest standards of horticultural practice and to promote the use of such standards among amateur and professional gardeners through aesthetic displays and educational programs,” by promoting the gardens more while still not letting them become overrun with visitors. Hagen and Stonecrop’s office manager Barbara Licis acknowledged that they had become accustomed to hearing a certain
phrase: “Where in the world is Stonecrop Gardens?” They are remedying this by better signage, more press releases, a much-enhanced Web site, more benches, and niceties such as afternoon tea provided by the Cold Spring Cafí©. Right now they are hoping to correct the GPS coordinates given for Stonecrop, as drivers are currently being directed to their neighbor on Route 301, Glynwood Farm!
Programming and events have also been improved. Stonecrop has over 400 members, and along with an invitation to a September garden party in their honor, they receive discounts on activities including garden walks and workshops such as October’s on terrarium building. Stonecrop also plays host to small wedding ceremonies (no receptions), photography sessions, and yoga classes. Many painters find it a wonderful place to work. Stonecrop’s admission, a mere $5, has remained unchanged since 1992. The gardens are a nonprofit organization, supported by an endowment, through the membership, and
through fundraising events such as the big Alpine Plant Sale, which takes place each April. Other plants are available for sale all season long. Staff currently consists of four full-time gardener/horticulturalists, two grounds maintenance workers, and two administrators, along with two interns and five part-time personnel. A Philipstown Garden Club intern helps out during the summer.
Stonecrop Gardens is is located on 81 Stonecrop Lane, off Route 301 in Cold Spring, across from Dennytown Road. The garden is open through October, from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday through Friday, as well as the first and third Saturdays of each month. There’s still time left in the season to bring a picnic to the gardens late on a Friday afternoon, as the gardens remain open until dusk on Fridays through September, and Hagen recommends this as a particularly striking time to visit. For more information, call 845-265-2000, or visit www.stonecrop.org. [slide]