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The Hooper Garden: A Passion That’s Bigger than Both of Them

Rural Intelligence StyleSophisticated gardeners tend to agree that turning the land surrounding a house into a series of garden “rooms” is a great way to bring nature to heel.  This handy design device transforms negative space (ill-defined areas you may gaze across or wander through on occasion) into positive ones (places to actually dwell). 

True to good form, the garden of Madeline and Ian Hooper in Canaan, New York has its fair share of lovely garden rooms—a lavender garden surrounded by a hornbeam hedge; a serene water garden, a vast vegetable garden—all close to the house. But their broader landscape—eight acres actively gardened within a total of 180, as well as seemingly infinite acreage “borrowed” from the distant views, defy such domestication.  After all, when you’ve got a 450-foot long, 35-foot high,100-foot wide blindingly white rock heaving out of the ground in your front yard, it’s a little difficult to tame it into a cozy spot for taking tea.

This Sunday, July 24, the extraordinary grounds at the Hoopers’ Rockland Farm will be open as part of the Garden Conservancy’s Open Days Program to benefit not only the Conservancy but the Berkshire Botanical Garden, on whose board the couple sits.  Visitors may take self-guided tours, climb the stairs of the aforementioned geological phenomenon (a gigantic chunk of Stockbridge limestone left behind by a glacier that the Hoopers have seamlessly retrofitted with a stone staircase), and, once aloft, wander along the thyme path that wends through the “silver garden” 35 feet in the air.  And on and on….   

Rural Intelligence StyleNeither Madeline nor Ian Hooper had gardened before they bought their property in Canaan 31 years ago, but Madeline believes that Ian being British gave them a leg up on their future avocation.  On annual visits to his parents, the couple was exposed to the glories of the English garden.  Even so, they resisted taking spade in hand for years, until installation day of a perennial and shrub garden they still refer to as “Fred.”

While Fred Callander of Callander’s Nursery in Chatham was planting “Fred,”  he said to the Hoopers, who were hovering nearby, “You know, you’re allowed to pitch in.” 

Fateful words. “He did things that would never have occurred to us,” says Madeline, who remembers being amazed by the way Callander turned every natural contour and rock outcropping to advantage.  “I suppose that’s when it all began.”

Rural Intelligence StyleThe couple were soon taking classes at the Berkshire Botanical Garden, to learn which of the many ideas they’d picked up from books would work in this region and which they ought to forget. This summer is their seventh since they retired as co-heads of DeVries Public Relations, a top New York firm.  Both now view gardening as a full-time, seasonal job.  That they were once co-workers may explain their business-like approach.  “Every morning we meet with the garden team in the vegetable garden barn—command central—to figure out what needs to be done that day.” 

Mark Whiteman came into their lives more than a decade ago, when he was 20, and has worked with the couple ever since—no doubt part of the reason they never shrink from a new challenge.  “We never had a master plan,” says Madeline.  Then, with nary a trace of real regret in her voice, she adds, “That was a mistake. You don’t know how many things we got wrong and had to move four times.” 

 
 
 
 
 
 
The enormous flat disc-like stones that form a landing at the base of this woodland staircase were excavated on the property in the process of digging garden beds and contouring the land.
 
 
 
 
 

 
 
 
 
 
A local carpenter designed and assembled the over-scaled garden bench and chairs, using mortise-and-tenon joinery. 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

 
 
The Hoopers described to Mark Whiteman a natural log “bench” they had seen in their travels, and he promptly whipped one up for them, using a stately pine that had recently fallen on his own property.  It has proved to be an ideal perch for taking in the view of the lake and the distant hills beyond.
 
 
 

 
 
When they bought the property, The Rock was covered with junk trees and weeds, which took years to clear. Though they’ve since planted the side facing the road with perennials and trees, they’ve left this side, facing their “big sky country” view, completely unadorned.
 
 
 
 
Garden Conservancy Open Day at Rockland Farm  
180 Stony Kill Road, Canaan, NY
Sunday, July 24, 10 a.m. - 4 p.m.
Admission/$5

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