What I believed to perhaps be the highlight of our garden touring was the North Salem, NY, home and life-work of Page Dickey. She is known for her garden writing, primarily two books that chronicled her life alongside her garden here at Duck Hill (Duck Hill Journal: A Year in a Country Garden, 1991; and then Embroidered Ground: Revisiting the Garden, twenty years later in 2011).
The garden is clearly mature. A product of years and years of love, both volumptuous and restrained, overgrown and controlled. Dickey has called this garden home for the last 30 plus years.
One of the first things I thought upon entering this garden was, “Gosh, her husband must really like to prune.” And I see in this personal article by Anne Raver in the NY Times from 2010 that her new millenium husband, Bosco Schell, does indeed enjoy clipping.
Thankfully so. Because these boxwood balls (what is it about men and their boxwood balls?) are barely navigable, but who wants to nix such mature specimens? Not Page Dickey who says in her most recent book, “I don’t have the energy to start again.”
The crabapple trees that form a grid in the courtyard garden next to the house are really what she is referring to when she says this. If there was any thought to taking them down and starting again, it is clearly not an option. For they are floriferous in the spring and then demonstrate such linear architecture in the winter months that taking them down would be nothing less than criminal. Embraced by neatly clipped yew hedges, these trees need constant attention so the paths can be navigated without getting a branch in your face.
But there are such beautiful moments here; moments where the visitor can breathe a bit easier and smell the fragrance on this hillside.
I have always gardened in confined spaces. Urban gardens, bounded by garages, fences, walls. My hands ache and my back weakens when I imagine tending a garden that is even a little bit bigger than mine in the city.
There is a lot to do here. And Page Dickey is keenly aware of what happens when your garden grows beyond your capabilities. Replacing perennials with shrubs and ground covers in order to help curb the maintenance is an important focus.
And this is exactly what she’s done in parts of the property. The shady parts. The wild parts. The parts that become a focus, and a relief, with age…
All made more spectacular because of the contrast with the civility closer to the clapboard house: the highly organized and pristine vegetable garden that was a naive inspiration to me…
But this garden is not simply a set of views, images or lessons. It is someone’s home. Someone’s passion with plants, moments in time and space, shared with family and animals.
I really appreciated the glimpse. And the imagining without the work. Thank you to all those gardeners who clip, rake, sweep, snip, stake, and primp so that when we come and visit, it all looks so easy.