Sagamore Hill garden to bloom again

Peter Hogarty of Ireland Gannon Associates, left, and

Peter Hogarty of Ireland Gannon Associates, left, and volunteer Margrethe Randall pose for a portrait by the entrance sign to the Sagamore Hill National Historic Site in Oyster Bay (Jan. 9, 2012) (Credit: Barry Sloan)

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During Theodore and Edith Roosevelt's years at Sagamore Hill, the Cove Neck property was a working farm with three acres of gardens mostly lost when the site opened to the public in 1953. But a small section of a cutting garden is expected to bloom again in the spring.

About 500 square feet of some of the same flowers -- lost to the paving of the access road and parking lot, as well as a lack of upkeep -- are to be planted around a new welcome sign installed in a circle of grass at the entrance to the parking area.

The nonprofit Friends of Sagamore Hill is trying to raise the $15,000 necessary for the planting materials and installation of a water line to allow irrigation.

Gerard Alfani, a retired history teacher from Huntington who is chairman of the group, said $1,500 in donations has already been raised. "We should have some beauty at the site and why not go back to the plants they used," he said.

The Theodore Roosevelt Association opened the site in 1953. "When the entrance and the parking lot was constructed in the '50s, the garden was not continued," site superintendent Thomas Ross explained. "The entrance cut the garden in half."

What remained of the gardens languished, leaving only a few surviving fruit trees today.

An entrance sign made of Western red cedar surrounded by stonework that reads "Sagamore Hill National Historic Site" was installed in the late 1990s. The subsequent general management plan for the site called for adding another sign on the blank rear of the entrance sign. So a sign reading "Thank you for visiting Sagamore Hill National Historic Site" with a quote from Theodore Roosevelt -- "Keep your eyes on the stars but remember to keep your feet on the ground" -- and his signature was recently added there.

"That work with the sign precipitated a conversation: 'Can we do something to improve this entrance because right now there is just grass around it?' " Ross said.

Volunteer Margrethe Randall, an avid gardener, plowed through records at the site and found documents detailing Edith Roosevelt's plant purchases. The Friends group agreed it would be a good project to mark the 50th anniversary of the July 25, 1962, designation by Congress of Sagamore Hill as a National Historic Site.

Randall enlisted Peter Hogarty, a designer with Ireland-Gannon Associates, the landscape division of Martin Viette Nurseries in East Norwich, to volunteer to create a layout for the plantings.

Randall said visitors will see a glimpse of "what it looked like as Mr. and Mrs. Roosevelt had it in their time from 1880 to 1919 -- carnations, petunias, marigolds, zinnias, snapdragons, larkspur, chrysanthemums, clematis, moonflower."

"It will be a mix of annuals, perennials and shrubs -- a hundred some-odd plants," Hogarty said. "A lot of annuals to give color."

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