The Valley in Bloom
With histories that reflect America itself, these fabulous gardens are worth a whirl on a gorgeous spring day, though many offer interest year-round
by Mary Forsell
149 Girdle Ridge Rd., Katonah (Westchester)
Complementing the European villaÂ¨Cstyle home of Lucie Bigelow and Walter Tower Rosen (now a museum), the gardens at Caramoor have a certain medieval/Renaissance air. They feature a sampler of settings that vary from cloistered courtyards to natural areas. Paved in antique tiles, an arched Italian pavilion borders a butterfly garden, where a lionÂ¡Â¯s head fountain splashes away amid orange, yellow, and blue flowers. Take a stroll down the cedar walk (a long path through ferns and woodland plants) to the sunken garden, a magical place filled with perennial borders and classical containers. Planted with a pastel color scheme, this area is designed to play off the shimmer of moonlight (a spectacle that visitors can enjoy while attending an evening performance during CaramoorÂ¡Â¯s Summer Music Festival). There is also a spot devoted just to irises, peonies, and daylilies. Here you can take a seat and admire the views of a massive tapestry hedge of intertwined evergreens. Or get busy and visit the sense circle, where plants that appeal to all five senses encircle a dovecote-turned-fountain. Touching is encouraged.
Gifford Garden at the Institute of Ecosystem Studies
181 Sharon Turnpike (Rte. 44A), Millbrook (Dutchess)
Arranged around the remains of an old estate garden, this comprehensive collection includes more than 1,000 taxa of plants and is composed of a series of beds connected by brick paths. Themes include xeriscape, butterfly, hummingbird, ornamental grasses, roses, herbs, ground covers, water garden, and poison plant. (How could something so innocent-looking as bleeding heart be so harmful?) The garden promotes the use of environmentally compatible plants that will perform well locally while looking beautiful. Most of them are labeled, so itÂ¡Â¯s easy to jot down your favorites. A 125-foot arbor supports clematis and annual vines. Sit and take notes in one of the many Adirondack chairs scattered about. The garden remains enchanting well into October, with a sculptural show of dried flower heads and seedpods, ornamental grasses rustling in the wind, and plenty of bird activity.
81 Stonecrop Lane, Cold Spring (Putnam)
Once the summer home and private garden of Anne and Frank Cabot, Stonecrop is now an educational garden where growing practices and theories are tirelessly explored. At an 1,100-foot elevation, display gardens cover 12 acres and include diverse collections imaginatively presented. Most noteworthy are the alpines, planted in raised stone beds and rocky ledges and spread out in fascinating mats and cushions. Color theory is big here. Palette-themed beds are arranged in formal squares and triangles, including a Â¡Â°black gardenÂ¡Â± of deep-toned flowers and foliage. The gravel garden features mostly silver and gray plants, many of Mediterranean origin. Some 40,000 bulbs are planted here each fall, making for an extravagant spring display of crocus, muscari, fritillaria, narcissus, hyacinths, tulips, and allium.
Locust Grove, the Samuel Morse Historic Site
Rte. 9, Poughkeepsie (Dutchess)
Enter the main perennial garden at Locust Grove, and youÂ¡Â¯re suddenly far from the mall rats of Route 9. The heirloom kitchen beds are phenomenal, demonstrating growing techniques from the 18th century onward. Volunteer horticulturists fashion rustic tepees and other structures for viney vegetables to scramble over. ItÂ¡Â¯s all so appealing, youÂ¡Â¯ll want to start training beans up poles at home even if youÂ¡Â¯ve never wielded a spade. Wander the grassy paths into the flower areas, too, where the air is perfumed with the scents of peonies and roses. There is also a Victorian-style geometric garden of flamboyant annuals (some spilling from ornate urns) on the south side of the Italianate villa where painter/inventor Samuel Morse once lived. The grounds actually encompass 150 acres, and include a nature preserve.
Van Cortlandt Manor
South Riverside Ave., Croton-on-Hudson (Westchester)
Post-Revolutionary America is the focus of this living-history site at the confluence of the Hudson and Croton rivers. The day-to-day doings of the Van Cortlandts, a prominent land-owning family, get close inspection. What did they eat? What sort of medicines did they use? ThatÂ¡Â¯s the story told in large part in the extensive heirloom vegetable and herb gardens, the produce from which is used in demonstrations of medicinal and culinary practices of the late 18th century. Tulips and other spring flowers bloom along the brick Long Walk, followed by summerÂ¡Â¯s bounty of period ornamentals like hollyhocks and coneflowers.
Anna B. Warner Memorial Garden at Constitution Island
Prepare to time-travel when you hop on a boat at West Point South Dock and depart to Constitution Island, former home of 19th-century writer Anna Warner, author of Gardening By Myself (published in 1872). She lived here in a clapboard house with her sister, Susan, author of the best-selling novel The Wide, Wide World (1850). Guided tours by the Constitution Island Association include a visit to the recreation of AnnaÂ¡Â¯s garden Â¡Âª basically a path bordered by flowers that leads to the Warner homestead. Stroll down the 50-yard walkway and enjoy the profusion of blooms described by Anna in her book. Cared for by dedicated volunteers who make every effort to be true to original plantings, the border spills over with marigolds, petunias, heliotrope, larkspur, helianthus, foxgloves and other annuals and perennials chosen to provide season-long color. There is also a cutting garden.
635 South Broadway, Tarrytown (Westchester)
They donÂ¡Â¯t make mansions like this anymore. A peaked and turreted Gothic Revival fantasy along the Hudson, Lyndhurst draws visitors not just for its amazing architecture but its remarkable grounds, where evergreen plantings echo the crenellated roofline. Expect sweeping lawns punctuated by specimen trees like dogwood, Japanese maple, and magnolia Â¡Âª all so charmingly representative of 19th-century Romantic landscape design. But also wander through a substantial rose garden boasting numerous varieties, many climbing overhead on circular arched trellises. And check out the massive steel-framed conservatory, now just a skeleton, but once bulging with orchids and palms at this National Trust historic site.
River Rd., Annandale-on-Hudson (Dutchess)
An intact 434-acre estate, Montgomery Place offers mountain and river views that will stop you in your tracks. But that would be a shame because there is so much more to explore on the grounds of this Federal-style mansion. Influenced by the design principles of landscape architect Andrew Jackson Downing, this 200-year-old sylvan retreat features a picturesque landscape dotted with ancient trees. But there is also a cultivated herb garden and a 20th-century decorative perennial garden rife with wisteria arbors and lush borders. An elliptical reflecting pool (planted with waterlilies and irises and facing well-situated benches) makes a fine place to pause. Picnicking is encouraged, and in autumn you can even pick up some bags of fresh fruit from the Montgomery Place farmstand.
West Sunnyside Lane, Tarrytown (Westchester)
One of the most charming and well-preserved Romantic landscapes in America, the home of writer Washington Irving is endearingly down to earth. The cottage drips with wisteria vines planted by the writer himself. In the kitchen garden, youÂ¡Â¯ll find ornamentals and edibles representing typical 19th-century varieties. Trails wind through the picturesque 27-acre landscape, where a pond and meandering stream add interest. It all appears quite natural Â¡Âª nothing flashy here. Springtime offers a gorgeous narcissus display. Plan to have a picnic in the riverside pasture.
Beatrix Farrand Garden at Bellefield
Rte. 9, Hyde Park (Dutchess); 845-229-9115
Believed to be the earliest surviving residential creation of prominent landscape architect Beatrix Farrand, the 1912 telescoping garden at Bellefield is so named because it has a forced perspective to make it look longer. Fieldstone walls are bordered by formal, double-sided beds and borders that give way to a hemlock hedge. Eventually the garden narrows to a single gravel path, which leads to the wild garden and parkland beyond, giving the impression that it goes on forever. Although she moved in well-to-do circles, FarrandÂ¡Â¯s work was anything but stuffy. This small garden has an insouciant elegance, an offhand blending of impressionistic shades of pink, white, mauve, and purple, with structural elements playing off the soft plantings. Wood and bamboo trellises along the walls support a romantic tangle of wisteria, honeysuckle, and Virginia creeper. Peonies, irises, nicotiana, yucca, acanthus, and phlox peak in waves all summer long.
Italian Garden at Vanderbilt Mansion
Rte. 9, Hyde Park (Dutchess)
Situated on a picturesque hillside overlooking Crum Elbow Creek, the formal, terraced Italian Gardens at the Vanderbilt estate were first laid out in the early 1800s by Belgian landscape architect AndrÂ¨Â¦ Parmentier; later additions were made in 1895, after Frederick Vanderbilt bought the land. Typical of the Victorian style Â¡Âª with carpet-bedded annuals and tropical, tender plants Â¡Âª the three-acre site slopes gently down multiple levels and is all about symmetry and drama. About 7,000 annuals flourish on the top tiers, replanted every spring in fanciful crescent- and heart-shaped beds. On the middle level, there is a pleasant fruit tree allÂ¨Â¦e (known as the Cherry Walk), which is bordered by a stone wall with Â¡Â°pocketsÂ¡Â± for rock plants. Thanks to the efforts of the volunteer Frederick W. Vanderbilt Garden Association, perennials by the thousands (achillea, candytuft, veronica, Virginia bluebells, pink foxglove, creeping phlox, and hemerocallis among them) bloom here in mirror-image beds. Directly adjacent is the serene pool garden. The two-tiered rose garden (conceived by Vanderbilt himself) contains some 1,800 bushes in 15 varieties. Mid-June to mid-July is the best time to see this spectacle; gardeners will also want to drop in over Memorial Day weekend for the AssociationÂ¡Â¯s annual plant sale (which features annuals, perennials, grasses, shrubs, and houseplants at prices that wonÂ¡Â¯t break the bank).
Donald M. Kendall Sculpture Garden at PepsiCo World Headquarters
700 Anderson Hill Rd., Purchase (Westchester)
This world-class sculpture garden surrounding the soft-drink makerÂ¡Â¯s corporate headquarters was designed by landscape architect Russell Page. The layout features a walking trail that winds through the 168-acre grounds, offering inspired vistas and ever-changing views of the art. What distinguishes this site from other sculpture parks is the series of garden settings filled with surprises Â¡Âª like a pond sprouting water lilies, or a textural swath of black ornamental grasses Â¡Âª designed to complement and offset the 45 artworks within. Among the highlights are Auguste RodinÂ¡Â¯s Eve (a standing nude from 1881) and George SegalÂ¡Â¯s quietly amusing Three People on Four Benches (1979). Other big names to look for include Alexander Calder, Isamu Noguchi, Claes Oldenburg, and Louise Nevelson. Lace up your walking shoes, pick up a map at the visitor center, and take a self-guided tour.
Tours begin at Philipsburg Manor, Rte. 9,
Sleepy Hollow (Westchester)
Four generations of the Rockefeller family lived on this amazing estate that has it all: river views (Kykuit is Dutch for Â¡Â°lookoutÂ¡Â±), formal gardens, roses, classical statuary, and Nelson RockefellerÂ¡Â¯s 20th-century sculpture collection. Landscape architect William Welles Bosworth began designing the garden in 1906, and he was heavily influenced by the Italian villa style Â¡Âª all terraces, temples, reflecting pools, double staircases, and grottoes splashing with fountains. As was fashionable, evergreen hedges, clipped shrubs, and stone walls add definition, and gardens are oriented along clearly defined axes terminating in focal points. A semicircular rose garden features a Renaissance-style fountain and colonnade. Garden spaces often complement sculpture: the Beaux ArtsÂ¨Cinspired inner garden, for instance, pairs conical shrubbery and decorative urns with bronze nudes. By contrast, the Asian-influenced brook garden, with its Japanese lanterns and spring-blooming cherry trees, displays sculptures by Isamu Noguchi. New this spring is a modern art tour, featuring garden sculptures by Henry Moore, Calder, and Picasso.
Wethersfield Estate and Gardens
214 Pugsley Hill Rd., Amenia (Dutchess)
Shh! ItÂ¡Â¯s a secret Â¡Âª sort of. High on a hill with panoramic views of the Catskills, Berkshires, Taconic foothills, and anything else around, the lavish estate of investor/philanthropist Chauncey Stillman is very much off the beaten path. A functioning greenhouse still supplies the terraces and inner garden surrounding the Georgian-style brick house with blooming orange trees and gardenias Â¡Âª just as if Mr. Stillman still lived here. But it is the three-acre formal garden, designed by Evelyn N. Poehler, that truly enthralls. Reminiscent of 17th-century Italian villa landscaping, repetitive plantings of taxus, arborvitae, and yew clipped into balls and cones gently flow from one Â¡Â°roomÂ¡Â± to the next.
Positioned at key vistas and focal points are works by an international array of sculptors, including marble putti and a Madonna by Polish-born Jozef Stachura, pan pipers by Englishman Peter Watts, Swedish sculptor Carl MillesÂ¡Â¯ bronze Naiad, and a redstone female figure (known as Rondo) by American John Flannagan. There are also plenty of horticultural delights, including a 24-foot high by 90-foot long arborvitae allÂ¨Â¦e where massive European weeping beech have been trained into imposing columns. If that isnÂ¡Â¯t already too over the top, be forewarned: at any moment, peacocks can pop out unexpectedly from behind shrubs with a full-feathered courtship display.
Japanese Stroll Garden at Hammond Museum
28 Deveau Rd., North Salem (Westchester)
A journey through this site could be called walking meditation. Stepping stones make you tread a little more slowly and mindfully. Listen to the wind in the bamboo and the crunch of pebbles underfoot. In just three and a half acres, 13 different landscapes reveal themselves in stages. A Zen garden of combed sand punctuated by rocks gives visitors a different perspective on working the ground. Other sections include a waterfall garden surrounded by soft greenery, a red maple terrace of trees and stone lanterns, and a reflecting pool where the view within is as significant as the three-dimensional world around it. Instead of traditional floral displays, azaleas provide a show of color. An outdoor cafÂ¨Â¦ serves lunch, which is ideal, since this is definitely a no-rush kind of place.
Tyrrel Rd., Millbrook (Dutchess)
Modeled after Chinese gardens, Innisfree is a 150-acre site surrounding a glacial lake. Think of it as stepping into an ever-changing composition. The grounds reflect an Eastern design technique called a cup garden, which means that beauty is emphasized by surrounding a feature in some way and thereby directing the eye toward it. On this site, low hills create the enclosure. Cliffs, waterfalls, streams, and lichen-encrusted rocks become focal points, adding enclosures-within-enclosures. A water sculpture plays off a stand of columnar ginkgoes. Climbing hydrangea surround a circular grotto. With surreal perfection, a stream carves through a meadow, while a fountain jet erupts in the distance. Using native plants and rocks from the adjacent forest, the garden was painstakingly created by former owners Walter and Marion Beck. In late summer, when the lotuses bloom, the lake is particularly lovely. Â¡Ã¶