On September 26 & 27, 24 garden lovers took the Rollin’ Garden Party Bus to experience two days of Long Island’s premier gardens.
At Old Westbury Gardens, 100 volunteers keep the former Phipps estate happening They tend the gardens and gift shop, greet the public and guide them through the mansion and gardens.
Receptionist Geraldine Goldner, age 93, began volunteering when she was 70. Undaunted and passionate, she gracefully greets people at this iconic Gold Coast estate where steel was once king and shipping was queen.
Docent Gladys Kolechinski expertly guided us through gardens and mansion with aplomb and humor. Her no nonsense approach and unlimited knowledge made for a delightful experience. Many docents are “school teachers, professors and actors,” says Angela Savino, volunteer coordinator. “All want to be docents, so they know how to act in front of a group.”
Both Gladys and Geraldine began as gardeners in the mid-50s when Old Westbury went public. “When they couldn’t do it anymore they came into the house,” Savino says. She solicits volunteers at garden places such as nurseries and visitors to Old Westbury, because the people there have a love of gardens.
“The people we do have are very hard to replace. It is a passion of theirs. They love the history, the gardens the mansion. They’re great and we couldn’t grow this place without them and their dedication.”
At Landcraft Environments, tropical plant growers to the trade, owners Dennis Schrader and Bill Smith show us around. Never were there more magical gardens than at Landcraft where tropicals mingle in warm weather with hardy ornamentals. Visually, it blends agriculture’s long rows and beds with formal design and bursting explosions of unusual perennials, shrubs, vines, grasses, seed pods and succulents. It is a horticultural shock wave!
How do they do it? “We’re designers,” says Dennis. “Always experimenting and mixing new things with different textures, colors. We trial a new plant for a year or two.” There are some self-seeders such as the Formosa Lily with tall, grand stems and pods that pop up just about anywhere, but there’s no doubt that the gardens are managed and planned. Formal gardens near the house transition into more natural fields of flowers ad shrubs with less pruning and more seeding in.
Arnold and Karen Blair enjoy their lives in peace and serenity 80 feet above the Nature Conservancy’s protected beach and salt marsh of Peconic Bay. Theirs is a woodland garden with several paths that amble through three-plus acres that went from wild to tame starting 25 years ago. Inspiration came from visiting other gardens on the Garden Conservancy’s Open Days Program. When they bought the densely wooded lot next to their house, a bulldozer created a path from top to bottom just to be able to get in there.
“It was a 25-year project of creating paths – a slow evolution,” says Arnold Blair. In the woods, all plants were planted and some transplanted while they figured out what worked.
Though a crew comes in for maintenance, Arnold says. “I do things I enjoy – pruning and rejuvenating some plants. We’re just lucky to have it. It’s been a passion for us both. For me it’s a creative outlet. We love sharing it with people who love gardens.”
Off to the Hyatt Place Long Island/East End where lemonade and cookies await!
Hot and cold buffet breakfast at the Hyatt, then we're off to Yugen, a 20-acre Japanese-inspired garden covered with a rich carpet of moss in East Hampton. Bamboo groves among 31 designed areas with Asian sculpture enrich the gardens.
Peconic River Herb Farm is a destination in itself with gardens along the Peconic River, garden and home furniture and accessories, their home-grown herbs, annuals, perennials, shrubs, tropicals and trees and their own Salvation Spice Blends, as well as a homestead designed and built by owners Cris and Mike Spindler from a truckload of balsam fir.
Cris graciously extended the nursery hours to accommodate our arrival and time spent enjoying the riverfront gardens, shops and plants while happy bus trippers filled the bottom of the bus with on sale and discounted new-found treasures.