Roots and Shoots: Things to Do in the Garden Now

Seek out inspiration

By Pamela Doan

If you’ve spent your outdoor time this spring preparing vegetable beds, mulching and composting and dividing and filling in and weeding and planting, then it’s time to take a break. Let your garden grow for a while and go visit someone else’s garden.

Stepping away to appreciate someone else’s efforts can give you a fresh perspective and new energy. Fortunately, we have local treasures in Stonecrop, Boscobel and Manitoga. If you don’t have time to travel far, spending an hour or a day at any of these sites is well worth the time. Each is very different but filled with ideas. I always come away with the name of at least a few new plants that I want.

Stonecrop is a special gardener’s resource, and there are many different types of landscaping. The raised bed section is a good way to observe how a plant grows and what it looks like throughout the season. The plants have a lot of freedom, and I love the intentional wildness of the English-style flower garden.

Stonecrop is one of the higher-elevation public gardens and boasts great views, too.  Photo by P. Doan

Stonecrop is one of the higher-elevation public gardens and boasts great views, too. Photo by P. Doan

Frequently I’m guilty of impulsively purchasing a plant with little more information than what is on its label. Then I discover after a season that it only looks good for a week or tends to droop or it doesn’t play well with the other plants. Consider visiting a public garden an opportunity to test-drive a plant before you buy it.

A little further away are Innisfree Garden and the Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies, both in Millbrook. Innisfree is one of my favorite places to visit. Like many public gardens, it began as a private estate and represents the ideals of its owners and a designer who thought of landscaping as creating a series of contained encounters in a natural environment. The design is called “cup gardens” and it flows through woods and around a lake. It feels like controlled nature with the space at the edges allowed to roam free. Landscape architect Lester Collins, in collaboration with the owners, spent nearly 60 years designing and refining Innisfree’s grounds.

The Cary Institute has nature trails. Although I haven’t been able to visit yet, it appears it’s got a lot to offer through educational displays within the various ecosystems on its 2,000-acre campus. Bird-watching, a fern glen, meadows and wetlands are among the diverse natural landscapes that can be experienced here. For anyone with property that encompasses more than a grassy lawn, visiting places like this helps you better understand the land that you manage and possibilities for its vitality.

Tilly Foster Community Gardens and the Haldane School Garden are interesting for vegetable gardeners. Both are places to see organic gardening in practice. The Community Garden in Brewster is available for county residents to request space, and walking through it you can see different methods at work. The Haldane garden is maintained by volunteers and is a great learning experience for kids of all ages.

The Teatown Lake Reservation in Ossining is on my must-see list this summer. Who could resist something called Wildflower Island? Boasting more than 200 native plants, it’s an amazing resource for anyone interested in environmental conservation.

More formal gardens accompany tours of many of the historic homes in the Hudson Valley. In Hyde Park, the National Park Service maintains the home of Franklin D. Roosevelt, and they are restoring the gardens that the family tended that were formerly paved over. Many Hudson Valley estates had vegetable gardens and orchards, as did the Roosevelts’. This will be a historical record; don’t miss the rose gardens, either. They aren’t as extensive as Boscobel’s but are worth a trip.

Nearby, the Vanderbilt Mansion has more than 200 acres of grounds, and it includes terrific views and gorgeous trees. The gardens are maintained with volunteers who were dismayed at the neglect of the formal Gilded Age landscaping and organized to help restore and preserve it to its former glory. Some people aspire to own material possessions, and some people aspire to have gardens that simply make them look rich and famous. This is the place to get your fill of the latter.

In no particular order, here are some other listings for Hudson Valley public gardens to explore: Locust Grove in Poughkeepsie, Storm King Art Center for sculpture with your landscaping and Caramoor in Katonah for another historic home with multiple flower gardens to browse.

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