Monday, June 17, 2013

A Late Start

From time to time, most of us grind to a halt.  Sometimes with good reason, often with none.  In October I moved yet again, this time just up the street in Rhinebeck.  After a summer in a backyard shared with various tenants and dogs that precluded a garden, a rental house became available with its own deep garden and extra room for guests.

Moving sucks up all the air available for breathing and almost all the available time.  Eventually, everything settles in place and it’s possible to focus on work again.  Fortunately, I’m not too far from the Catskills garden and the season is not too far ahead of me. 

Perennial Border Before Thinning
That garden is now well established and we are doing more removal and resettling than planting.  The climbing hydrangea has taken over a frame outbuilding and will have to be relocated.  The perennial border has been thinned and rethought. The baptisia was taking more than its fair share of space and has been reduced from three to two. The Siberian iris in the Peony Walk will be divided once again.  As a result of tree removal, the porch garden, once a haven for shade plants, is now in the sun. 

The new Rhinebeck garden is a different story.  It is a clean slate:  a long, deep, neglected garden typical of 1850’s village houses. A. J. Dowling in Victorian Cottage Residences (1842) lays out in detail how these properties should be used, accompanied by planting plans and maintenance expectations of family members.  In its day, the ornamental part of the garden would lie in front of planted trellises, with the working garden discretely in the rear. The latter would include a kitchen garden, fruit trees, berries, grape vines.  Varieties to be planted were specified and duly noted, while more routine vegetables could be purchased in the village. 

Dowling, 1842 Edition
All traces of that early garden are gone and now it is a plateau of lawn – a few shrubs on the perimeter, the brick outline of beds long abandoned to the easiest of plants to grow, hostas and daylilies. Tall trees, black walnuts and maples, are located on the neighbors’ side of the perimeter fence and pruned high.  The dappled shade is ideal for sitting quietly, but not best for planting.  No roses, perennials or vegetables here, or anything susceptible to black walnut toxicity.

As for the house itself, the first time I walked in it was immediately familiar.  It is an 1856 side hall cottage, identical in layout to a house I owned years ago in Roslyn, NY.  Coincidentally, I have a dollhouse made from the original plans for the Roslyn house, now in the Livingston Street living room.

There is light from all four sides, something you don’t miss in a city apartment until you have it again somewhere else. This house felt right from the very beginning, which does not happen that often.  

We’ve started our planting with the front of the house – the editorial “we” being Natalka and I.  You will remember her from earlier posts as the critical success factor in the Catskills garden.  Natalka cleaned out the bed, emptying it of desiccated boxwood, ubiquitous green/white hosta and a few oddities.  After soil testing and amending, we planted this week. 
71 Livingston Street, before
I dithered, as usual.  I started with a bold idea, a strict yew hedge centered on a jazzy ornamental something – an urn, an armillary, giant canna, but settled on a more neighborhood-friendly configuration.  At the same time, Natalka tried to avoid repeating what we see all around us and yet remain harmonious.  We settled on Carolina rhododendron, dwarf ‘Bombshell” hydrangeas (the people responsible for naming hydrangeas is a another conversation), ferns (probably Christmas or Ghost), a cimicifuga or two tucked in for surprise, and clematis for a little color on the porch railing.
71 Livingston Street, after

I share a semi-sunny property line with a neighbor and plan to mirror her perennial plantings and perhaps expand the palette somewhat.  This is a very neighborly neighborhood.  When winter is finally over, everyone emerges from confinement and stands about outdoors chatting. Neighborhood news and garden tips are freely exchanged, invitations proffered and accepted.

I think you can tell I’m smitten.