Books: “Private Gardens of the Hudson Valley” A Vicarious Pleasure
By Dan Shaw
The imaginary line that divides Connecticut’s Litchfield County from New York’s Columbia, Dutchess and Putnam Counties became very real to Jane Garmey as she researched and wrote her beautiful new coffee table book, Private Gardens of the Hudson Valley. “When I began work on the book, I did not know how intensely rural this part of New York still was,” says Garmey, who published the stunning Private Gardens of Connecticut three years ago. “I was also unprepared for the grandeur of the landscape. The sweeping valleys and large open tracts of land are remarkably different from the gentler, more protected countryside of Connecticut. Inevitably, terrain plays a role in making a garden, and dealing with the transitions between a cultivated garden and its natural surroundings is a problem that had to be confronted and solved in nearly every one of the gardens profiled here.”
If you are looking to this book for inspiration and feel daunted by the gardens’ scope and ambition, Garmey wants you to know that these are the creations of enlightened amateurs. “Few of these garden makers were in any way knowledgeable when they started out,” says Garmey, who was a novice gardener herself thirty years ago when she started spending weekends in northwestern Connecticut. “Most admit that at first they were entirely focused on their houses and gave little or no thought to the surrounding land and its suitability, or lack thereof, as a gardening habitat.”
The twenty-six gardens photographed by Garmey’s collaborator, John Hall, are the creations of passionate, if not obsessive, gardeners. There are great estates like Edgewater, which is owned by the renowned American furniture collector Richard Jenrette, who purchased the property that juts into the Hudson River from the writer Gore Vidal in 1969; he has created a refined, majestic landscape suitable for his Federal house built in the 1820s by the Livingston family. Amy Goldman‘s estate is more of a well-groomed laboratory where the Ph.D in pyschology cultivates melons and tomatoes, winning 38 blue ribbons in a single year at the Dutchess County Fair. Her books on the subject have become classics (and Martha Stewart asks her for advice.)
Garmey even found an urban garden in the city of Hudson. Richard Eagan’s backyard was originally a “big long dreary space,” but now it is an enchanted jungle full of thistles, verbascum and milkweed. There is a pond surrounded by gravel and a narrow entry path so visitors must walk through single file. “Different in every season, this garden is all about looking through, looking over, looking under, and all the other ways of looking,” says Garmey, whose book is truly an eye-opener.
While most of the gardens were photographed in spring and summer, there are gorgeous autumn shots of Frederic Rich’s riverfront property in Philipstown, where he boldly sited a Zen garden in the woods. Inspired by the rock gardens of Japan, Rich designed the Zen garden as a calculated abstraction. “The placement of the rocks and gravel in this garden appear completely natural but, in fact, nothing is left to chance,” says Garmey. “Each rock in the tableau sits on part of a grid and even the direction the rocks are leaning has been carefully worked out.”
One of Garmey’s criteria for choosing gardens was that the owners had a hands-on involvement in designing and maintaining their properties (which doesn’t mean they don’t have hired help to assist with weeding and mowing.) Since the book has only a couple of photographs of snow-covered landscapes, one wonders what these gardeners do from November to March when the ground is frozen. “I’d love to know!” says Garmey. “Some move into their greenhouses and others, like Richard Eagan, shut down their garden and take off for warmer climates.” And for those of us who are wintering in the Hudson Valley, the Berkshires or Litchfield Hills, Garmey’s book allows us to dream lavishly about the spring and summer to come.
Private Gardens of the Hudson Valley
New York City Book Party hosted by Bunny Williams
Tuesday, October 22 from 6-8 p.m.
418 East 75th Street
Columbia County Book Party
Hudson Opera House
Saturday, November 23 from 5 - 7 p.m.
327 Warren St.
Hudson, NY 12534