One of the things I appreciate most about public gardens is the programming that engages visitors more deeply with plants and nature. Here in Philipstown we have a treasure in Stonecrop, a public garden originally created by the founder of the Garden Conservancy, Frank Cabot, and his wife, Anne. After engaging Caroline Burgess, a graduate of the Royal Botanic Garden at Kew who is still director more than three decades later, the garden opened to the public in 1992.
Stonecrop blends art and writing seamlessly into its educational efforts. Even if you aren’t interested in any of those things, it’s one of the best places in the area to go for a walk, appreciate a scenic view and be surrounded by natural beauty.
You might even see a snake! On my first visit more than a decade ago, I was nervous about that part, which was announced by a sign near the entrance. I did see “Blackie,” and watching the water snake swim in the pond was part of my journey to be less worried about snake encounters.
Stonecrop’s features include an English-style flower garden, alpine plants, woodland and water gardens, with plants from all over the world, as well as native species. Take the guide when you arrive, because chances are you will see something that you want to know the name of so you can plant it at home.
Located on a high vista off Route 301 east of Cold Spring, the gardens are designed to showcase vantage points in all directions for grand views, using trees, plants and structures as framing. Guided tours offered throughout the season focus on specific areas. In May, tours of the woodland garden and another of alpine plants are opportunities to get more-in-depth knowledge from a staff horticulturist to inform your experience.
I was initially in over my head when I went on the guided tour of the systematic order beds years ago. These beds display the wild diversity of plants that are in the same order but different families. Back to science class: Taxonomy allows us to organize the natural world. The systematic approach brings together plants that share DNA.
There are surprises to be found here. For example, the saxifragales bed, which features species that hibernate underground, would include some peonies and also sedums and the woody plant witch hazel (Hamamaleis). I would not have expected a connection here.
Stonecrop staff collect seeds from its plants and sell them to the public through the Index Seminarium, a searchable catalog at stonecrop.org. This column took much longer than necessary because I couldn’t resist sorting through the database. Barbara Licis, a staff member, said that seeds can be ordered through the spring and that there are typically about 400 species available.
The new Gardener’s Bothy at Stonecop has given the gardens a modern facility with room for art exhibits, workshops and seed storage. An exhibit of botanical paintings by Susan Lanzano is on view and the artist will talk about her work at 2:30 p.m. on May 6.
I’ve found that sketching plants brings me deeper into connection with the basics of identification. It’s a process of noting each plant’s characteristics, such as a white line on the underside of a leaf or the pinkish cast of a bud. Close observation through artistic or writing exercises and photography reveal the traits necessary to see the fascinating details of flora and fungi.
After seeing Lanzano’s exhibit, anyone wanting to go further can attend a workshop with Stonecrop’s resident artist (and Garrison resident) Susan Sapanara, later in May. She will demonstrate drawing and painting exercises suitable for all experience levels.
In June, Anne Sargent Walker’s paintings and John Lampkin’s photographs will take over the exhibition space. Lampkin will return in July to lead his popular nature photography class.
To get a similar educational and cultural immersion in a designed, natural space, I’d have to travel to the much larger New York Botanical Garden. I prefer our local resource.