If you happened to read my second foundational essay, “The Living Water Boson” (link easily found on the “About” page of this blog), you already know that my daily prayer includes three requests for spiritual tools: first, I ask for metaphorical mirrors – mirrors of every shape and sort – to reflect out our constantly arriving Divine gifts of light, life, love and perception (this latter the better to recognize and delight in God’s penchant for beauty, goodness and truth); Secondly, I ask for lenses to gather that light, both to focus it into the dark places where fears form and shadows linger, as well as to spotlight the beauty, goodness and truth wherever I find it; and thirdly, I ask for prisms to unfold God’s light, the better to reveal the rich beauty and infinite nature of His gifts, for once His largess has been perceived, it becomes impossible for God’s incomparable beauty, God’s astonishing grace, God’s light to be denied.
And, for me, one of the most delightful aspects of knowing and cooperating with my angels – the very inspiration for this blog – is the creative work we do together to turn my prayer requests into reality, whether it is in growing a beautiful flower or baking a perfect cake, and while it may be true that I am the recipient, by and large, of the compliments that come when such efforts are successful, I am perfectly and completely aware that without their help – and the help of our mutual Creator – I would be completely lost; a compost heap without a cause.
And so, in that spirit, and in the hope that you will recognize that whatever beauty I may be sharing here is first and foremost due to their influence and His generosity, Herewith follows my first “photo essay” in this blog format as we take a tour of what may loosely be called our beach house gardens in their early phase. As you will see, many of these flowers are still in bud, so I look forward to updating you as things develop throughout the summer. A garden is nothing if not kinetic, and I hope to share that marvelous dance with you.
That said, it is also enormously important that I credit my helpmate and partner, Richard, for his huge contributions – both practical and artistic – to all this. On the practical side, he does most of the shopping and shipping of both annual plants that have to be replanted every year, as well as the actual dirt we plant them in.
This year’s supply of dirt, now mostly put to work.
People often ask how we grow so much on what is essentially nothing but a sand bar, and the answer is that we import lots of dirt. The first year – 1996 – it was eight tons (in 40 lb. bags), and I stopped counting long ago after it had exceeded twenty-two tons.
And, on the artistic side, many years ago we decided to divide the yard into two parts, with his garden growing on the sunny side, and mine on the shady side. This has proved an excellent arrangement over the years, as our creative approaches have proven to be very different, but I think you’ll agree that both have been successful.
Finally, note that this little tour is organized in three parts: I: The Decks (a series of tableaux combining tropicals and temperate annuals – which we replace every year – with pots of perennials that only grow bigger and better as they age); II: The Shady Side (largely my doing) and III: The Sunny Side (where Richard reigns).
I: THE DECKS
We are blessed with two primary deck spaces, one in the front that steps down to a granite patio with a table and chairs (flanked by a fountain on one side and the gate to Richard’s garden on the other), and a second one that – once through the center hall that connects the two sides of the house – surrounds the pool and leads down to the hot tub and gardens in the back yard.
I’m starting with this photo to help you get oriented. Our entry starts with a bridge a few feet off the ground that leads from the wooden walk outside (all Fire Island houses are located along wooden walks; no cars are allowed here) to the gate leading into our front deck.
Just to the left, inside the gate, is this first tableau, which grows out of some built-in planters that were added when we redesigned the front deck some years ago. Roses, mandevilla, oriental lilies, petunias, geraniums, one chartreuse sweet potato vine just getting started, and some rudbeckia that won’t be blooming for a few weeks yet.
This is, of course, the same tableau, but seen from the other side. The oriental lilies complained they weren’t being seen well enough in that first shot!
Turn to the right as you enter the deck, and this is what you’ll see. Hibiscus and annuals are new every year, but the daylilies – some of my favorites – have lived in their pot though all seasons and many years.
Even my mother, who was a great daylily fancier, would be impressed with the size of these!
Another shot for perspective, looking across the entry deck to the patio area. The wheels to the left are on our big wagon for hauling goods from the ferry dock – a necessity in a land without cars!
The cistern fountain was a birthday gift to Richard our first year in the house, and originally sat in the back yard, but has found a happy home on the patio, flanked by another huge pot of perennial Stella Doro daylilies, another hibiscus tree and lots of yet-to-bloom lilies.
We’ll come back to the front deck when we head out to Richard’s garden, but for now, moving through the entry hall to the pool deck, just to the left of the pool is one of my favorite growing spots, because begonias and coleus just love it. I grow the begonias from bulbs, so it’s early days yet for this grouping and the first begonia bud is just showing a little orange, but there will be many more to come. I also put a surprise in this grouping, our first black-stemmed elephant ear that you can see just coming up in the large pot to the left. Be prepared, because this tableau will be huge by the end of the season, and maybe by then I’ll have straightened out the handle on that light gray pot!
Just beyond the begonias, in the back left corner of the deck, is this built-in planter that actually goes down for six feet to the “bedsand,” so it works well for the Japanese maple tree in the center. Unfortunately, this is also the corner of the deck closest to the ocean, and the salt spray is deadly to the leaves of the maple, so keeping it going is a constant challenge. We lost more of it over the past winter than ever before, but it’s still hanging in there. We also use this bed for herbs, and there is parsley, rosemary and basil growing alongside the little impatiens (and chives in the two boxes on the outside, where we’re also growing basil and cilantro seeds for later transplanting.) The hostas and daylilies are permanent, but the annuals are a yearly buy.
Another view for perspective looking to the right, across from the maple tree, where another hibiscus anchors the grouping of three tableaux around our poolside dining table.
The first grouping, against the wall, also includes a great pot full of day lilies that will bloom deep, deep red in a month or so. The yellow hibiscus to the left was a gift, and if you look closely behind the pink cleome on the far left, you’ll see the beginnings of a group of youthful canna lilies for August and September.
On the other side of the table is this little group, one of my favorites, with a mandevilla that will, by season’s end, have climbed all the way up the post and along the balcony rail above it.
And, in the center of the grouping resides this wonderful pot, which boasts a “collector” daylily in the center that was a gift of our great friends KB and Hunter, who celebrated their marriage here last September. I asked KB the name of the wonderful plant with the heart-shaped leaves (that stowed away with the daylily when she brought it from her Virginia yard) and after looking at it for a very long time, she began to laugh. “It’s a violet!” she said. It was just so big and healthy that neither one of us recognized it. I do love the contrast of the daylily swords and the violet hearts.
And look! There! Is that a stair? Where does it go, I wonder?
The biggest book in the Century Elementary School library was “The Secret Garden,” and I was always jealous that my friend, Patsy Sparks, read it first, but ever since I gulped it down I’ve been in love with the idea of little hidden gardens that delight and surprise, and while some people might see this walk as the route to our hot tub (which it is), I rather think of it as our own hidden pathway to a floral fantasy where angels delight, the birds sing their brightest songs and even woodsprites dance in the dew…
II: THE SHADY SIDE
I actually climbed a little ladder to get this shot and Richard and I agree that these are the most astonishing astilbes (tall red spikes) we’ve ever seen, and the fact that they are still developing and yet to fully bloom, even this late in the year, is amazing. We are now into the yard, or, put otherwise, that part of our garden that was utterly destroyed only three years ago by Superstorm Sandy, and this specific bed – at the lowest point of all – was under 6′ of seawater for at least a day. Almost all of this has been replaced and moved around in the meantime, but that big green hosta right in the center is a survivor, as is the hydrangea at the top of the photo.
The same garden, seem from another angle. We left the right portion of the wall open on purpose for light and air, which has improved even more since Sandy also killed several 50-year old cedar trees.
And, one more, this one showing our street light that Richard picked up at an auction in Evanston, IL when he was a teen and stored at his parents place for years. The original 13′ foot pole was too long, but against all odds, we found this pole at the St. George’s thrift shop in the city just as we were planning all this in 1995/6. Angels in action.
Rounding the corner into the back yard, the walk continues to the hot tub patio, passing another one of my favorite little beds along the way.
All new since the flood and very much in the shade with astilbes, hydrangeas, hostas, coleuses, and you can see the start of three begonias coming along at the front.
I’ve used this one before, but its the best view from the bottom of the garden looking up the hill toward the great overspreading holly tree that was already huge when we moved in.
The first of several views from the lower garden.
These weeping astilbes are also survivors and descended from some plants I bought from Atlee Burpee Seed company in 1996.
There are, of course, no rocks on Fire Island except those that have been imported. But both of us made sure to put in a rock garden twenty years ago. Every now and then, though, you have to dig the rocks out of the sand they’ve sunk into and reposition them. Here’s mine.
The walk meanders up the hill. I measured it out once, and in our yard, which is about 70′ by 120′ – 35% of which is covered by structures – we have over 370 feet of garden paths!
Detail of my self-designed and homemade sea horse. We are at the beach, after all!
A close-up of the rock garden with varigated grasses behind and slate steps leading up from the hot tub patio.
I’ve always loved pitcher plants, but they are hard to grow here. Nevertheless, this umbrella-leafed specimen has been a steady contributor to our garden and our delight for many years. The long string hanging off its “lid” is to entice insects to land and then climb up and in… at their peril.
Finally at the top of the hill, just before finding ourselves back at the entry bridge, is the rose garden. The enormous hydrangea behind it is another survivor. The first year after the flood, it didn’t come back at all. The second year – last year – it was one tiny stem with only one flower. Clearly, it was ready to reclaim it’s previous spot when this spring rolled around. Really astonishing and absolutely a surprise!
III: THE SUNNY SIDE
Returning to the front patio, across from fountain is the entrance to Richard’s garden. It is much more visible to passers-by and drenched in sunlight, but even here, unless you take the meandering paths and walk through it, you can’t get the full effect. Here you can just see Cedar Walk (within the white lines) on the outside of our deer fence (which, though regrettable, is an absolute necessity here. The deer are everywhere.)
For perspective, if you look to the left as you pass through the gate to the sunny side, you can see the entry bridge and across it to the big hydrangea.
Following the path to the right, a veritable smorgasbord of ground covers, succulents, mosses and herbs play together in beautiful ways.
We call it the bonzai tree, but it’s unique shape is the result of years of growth while constricted by massive poison ivy vines. Richard actually dug out the walk to be able to go underneath it without hitting your head.
Another view of the bonzai tree looking back toward the bridge.
Hens and Chicks are flowering!
Soon to be a field of liatris.
A young, aspiring sequoia with a glimpse of the neighbor’s house beyond the walk.
Wildflowers in white
…or in yellow and fuscia.
Sorry, you’ll have to ask Richard what all this stuff is, but I think it’s beautiful.
And though they are gone now, it wouldn’t be right to close this out without a shot of the extraordinary field of buttercups that greeted us for several weeks this spring. Such happy flowers! (The house in the back of this photo is the only thing between us and the Atlantic Ocean, and we both credit the concrete pool on the other side of it with helping us avoid even more Sandy damage than was done.)
And, so, my friends and readers, there you have it. Perhaps this is more than you wanted to see or look at, but I did promise a few friends to give you the tour. Thank you all for coming along with me, and may you also be granted the gifts of the Holy Spirit to reflect, to focus and to unfold the magnificent, generous gifts of our Heavenly Father!