Bob Hyland and Andrew Beckman have racked up some impressive credentials in the horticultural world over the past 25 years or so. Hyland, whose background is in public garden administration, was most recently VP of Horticulture at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden. Beckman trained at Longwood, gardened for Peter Wooster and Stephen Sondheim, and then became head gardener for Martha Stewart. (He is presently the editorial director of gardening for Martha Stewart Living). So when these passionate plantsmen opened Loomis Creek, a nursery near Hudson, it soon became a magnet for gardeners looking for unusual, well-chosen plants.
“We always knew we were going to try our hands at running a small specialty nursery, though we’d planned to go at it more slowly,” says the affable Hyland. But property closer to the city, where they could run a business part-time to see how things went, proved too expensive. Instead, they threw caution to the wind, bought an old house in bucolic Columbia County, fenced one of their 25 acres, and opened the nursery in 2003. Hyland runs the business during the week; Beckman toils on behalf of Martha and returns on weekends. “And he starts gardening the minute he’s out of the car,” says Hyland.
A converted chicken coop serves as a guest cottage, its pathway flanked by miscanthus and physocarpus ‘Diablo.’
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A majestic hornbeam hedge screens the nursery from the parking area, while tuberous begonias drape languidly over the Loomis Creek sign — a contrast that suggests the approach: big, bold statements but with attention to detail. An old milking shed now serves as the sales shed, and also a reminder that the property was once a dairy farm. “This is a type of farming, too,” Hyland notes. “It’s a tough business — and Mother Nature plays a big part.”
Perennials make up about two thirds of the stock displayed in the gravelled nursery yard, with a good selection of shrubs, and a small offering of annuals and exotics, including a few elegant water plants like Egyptian papyrus. Big containers of cannas and blowsily lovely angel’s trumpets in pale, salmony pinks show off here and there.
Customers in search of inspiration will likely find it in the 100-foot-long demonstration border, which in late summer has a lush, jungly look — though many of the plants are hardy in the Hudson Valley. “You can get a tropical look without using tropicals,” says Hyland, citing hibiscus and Senna marilandica, a big shrub with an ornamental seed pod. Scarlet runner beans twine up 8 foot tripods between clumps of giant miscanthus, adding whimsy (not to mention bees and hummingbirds). “It gets customers thinking,” Hyland remarks of the exuberant mix of exotics, annuals, dramatic perennials and shrubs. “We like to coach them.”
Winterberry holly (left) shows off its autumn colors. Hyland (below) backed by a graceful panicle hydrangea and the feathery mass of hardy clumping bamboo, Fargesia rufa. A golden Italian cypress, ”with lovely form and lovely color,” winters inside. In the long display garden (lower left), annual red fountain grass and anise hyssop contrast beautifully with the big chartreuse leaves of a catalpa that’s cut back every year to keep it shrub-sized
The hornbeam hedge serves as a backdrop for a herbaceous border showcasing dry climate plants like salvias, ornamental oreganos, and phlox. The long shade border, with its hostas, meadow rue, pulmonarias, yellow waxbells and ferns, is declared “a bit of a hodge-podge,” but it’s one most of us would be delighted to have. “We’re big on foliage,” Hyland says, admiring a ruffled yellowy-pink heuchera ‘Caramel,’ whose leaves are as lovely as any blossom, and look especially good nestled up to the pale rusty fronds of autumn ferns. (The same heuchera looks even prettier in a handsome cone-shaped graphite gray pot on a tree stump nearby.)
Strolling around, Hyland points out characteristics of plants he likes: the “very lacy leaf” of a crimson species morning glory, blooming merrily mid-afternoon; the “inky middle” on the leaves of tiarella ‘Iron Butterfly’; an actaea with lacy foliage the color of dark chocolate. “It’s called ‘Black Negligee,’” he says, with a twinkle. “It’s such a good name, how could you not buy it?” All the plants look vital and thriving, even late in the season when the natural world is getting a little bedraggled.
In the couple’s private gardens around the yellow farmhouse, shrubs and grasses dominate. Hyland’s favorite spot is on the swimming pool terrace behind the guest house, where a long, densely planted border separates the pool from the hayfield beyond. In late summer, echinacea, rudbeckia, New York ironweed, tall coreopsis and a staghorn sumac provide splashes of color, and switchgrass Panicum ‘Cloud Nine’ binds the easy-going composition together. “The border gets better as summer goes on, because the grasses become frothy masses,” says Hyland. “And it’s easy to maintain — just edit it in the spring, and weed out anything that multiplied too much.”
The front door of the farmhouse is flanked by urns overflowing with the striking red and chartreuse coleus ‘India frills,’ (another finely cut foliage plant that can rival a flower), while by the back entrance, there’s a relic from the farm’s past: an old galvanized drinking trough, where water plants now grow. “This was the Van Deusen farm, and Lulu Van Deusen was apparently quite a character,” Hyland says. “But her ghost hasn’t revealed itself to us yet.”
Perhaps after a lifetime of farming, Lulu’s taking it easy, sitting in one of the pale green Adirondack chairs in the secluded grassy area beside the house. They face the wet meadow, which slopes down to Loomis Creek. Today, winterberry hollies and other shrubs that tolerate heavy soils and dappled light grow on the edge of the woodland that sprang up there. Beckman and Hyland are gradually removing unwelcome interlopers like slippery elm and replacing them with river birch and sour gums. Big shrubs and grasses thrive in the sunnier border — a less labor-intensive choice for those caring for hundreds of plants and extensive borders in the nursery. Aside from the clipped lawn, it looks very naturalistic. “I suppose that describes our style,” Hyland says.
And their gardening philosophy? “To spread the gospel,” he replies, laughing, but serious. “Gardening gives you a greater connection to the natural world — bird life, insect life. It’s a reminder that we’re part of a bigger system. That’s where the joy comes from.” â—
Loomis Creek is located at 29 Van Deusen Road, about 3 miles from Hudson. For more information, check www.loomiscreek.com