August 5, 2012

Hot August Morning

The forecast for Boston yesterday morning was for 95 degrees and oppressive humidity.  In other words, a perfect day for a day trip to someplace cooler and with a lower dew point.   Lesser sorts would have gone to the beach, the Cape or the White Mountains.  Betty and I packed a picnic lunch and headed for Stonecrop Gardens in New York’s Hudson Highlands, elevation 1100 feet and ‘only’ 184 miles away.
A planter idea you could
try at home
Stonecrop Gardens and the Garden Conservancy are inextricably linked.  Located in Cold Spring, NY, the garden was the home of Anne and Frank Cabot, who founded the Garden Conservancy in 1989 with the goal of “preserving America’s finest gardens for posterity and to enhance public appreciation of gardens.”  Today, it is a public garden, open every day except Sunday between April and October.

The Cabots built their summer home at Stonecrop in the late 1950s and began creating twelve acres of gardens.  Frank Cabot (who died in 2011) was an avid plant collector and the unusual structures he built to display his collections are still in use (a pair of half-sunken greenhouses are especially attractive).  The idea of turning Stonecrop into a public garden began in 1985 and, over the next seven years, the property was gradually transformed to create an ‘educational’ garden where people could learn about horticulture, experience his enthusiasm for fine gardening, and take inspiration back home to their own gardens.

Getting to know one of the
Stonecrop staff?
Stonecrop opened to the public in 1992 and, twenty years later, it is glorious.  Maintenance is top-notch, the horticulture is in prime condition, and every visitor gets a sheet with a listing of more than a hundred ‘points of interest’ showing what’s in bloom or otherwise shouldn’t be missed.  In turn, discreet numbered tags next to plants tie to the sheet, leaving garden vistas uncluttered.


The Cabots were not your usual exurban gardeners.  For example, there is a glorious pond with cascading pools, each filled with carefully selected aquatic plants.  The pond is bisected by a stone bridge, the centerpiece of which is an irregular slab of granite roughly thirty feet long, six feet wide and three feet thick.  Standing on the stone, looking across the pond, you realize that the entire facing wall of the pond – including all those cascading pools – is made up of other enormous chunks of granite, carefully placed to create a ‘look’. 


The stone bridge in the pond
The stonework was done by masons over several years, but the raw stone came to the Cabots as the result of blasting on the Cold Spring Turnpike (SR 301) which connects the property to the nearby Taconic Parkway and the Hudson River. When New York State allows you to take away the blast debris from a public road project, this speaks of a very good relationship, but then you have to keep in mind that Anne Cabot’s family donated much the land that became Fahnestock State Park and her grandfather helped create the Palisades Interstate Park Commission. 


Succulents massed in a
sunny courtyard
As a garden that gives homeowners good ideas, Stonecrop is top notch.  There are attractive containers that look like something that anyone with a little Portland cement and some spare pieces of stone could throw together.  There is a massing of succulents in a sunny courtyard than has probably been photographed by everyone who has a terrace or a patio and six cacti in pots.  The intricate woodland trail is something that can be emulated by anyone with a preponderance of shade and a love of perennials. 
Water cascades down a man-made
hillside into the pond
All that was missing from our trip were fellow visitors.  We arrived a few minutes after the opening time of 10 a.m. and were the garden’s second guests.  We stayed two hours and stopped to chat with the friendly docent who had taken our five dollar admission.  Glancing down at the sign-in sheet, there were still just two more names.  On a beautiful weekend morning at the height of get-out-of-New-York season, the garden should have overflowed with people.  Instead, we had the place to ourselves.  A garden this beautiful deserves visitors – lots of them.
This coming Saturday (August 11), the garden will be open as part of the Garden Conservancy Open Days Program, with tea and refreshments.  Please go. 

Note:  We opened our property for the Garden Conservancy Open Days program in 2008.  Four years later, it still ranks as one of our proudest days as gardeners.

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