I've seen a lot of gardens over the years, and if there's one thing I've learned, it's that they are as varied and unique as their gardeners.
Some comprise only turf and annuals. Some are tiered for height and carefully planned to ensure a succession of blooms from March through November. Others are formal and strictly symmetrical, or are created with the placement of potted plants on paved walkways. The one commonality they share is the ability to provide the respite, tranquillity, beauty and softness that only nature can.
The Garden Conservancy, a nonprofit organization whose mission is to "save and share outstanding American gardens for the education and inspiration of the public," knows gardens better than anyone, and it's celebrating its 25th anniversary with the release of "Outstanding American Gardens: A Celebration -- 25 Years of the Garden Conservancy," by Page Dickey (Stewart, Tabori & Chang; $50). Among the 50 gardens profiled in the commemorative coffee table book are three on Long Island.
The tome, edited by Page Dickey and beautifully photographed by Marion Brenner, accurately portrays the diversity found among gardens, from cottage and formal to vegetable and perennial, and desert to tropical. The featured spaces all have participated in the Garden Conservancy's Open Days program at some point since 1995, when the organization began partnering with the stewards and owners of public and private gardens nationwide to offer self-guided tours to the public.
On Long Island, scores of gardens have been a part of the program, and the John P. Humes Japanese Stroll Garden in Mill Neck, Landcraft Environments in Mattituck and Hooverness, the garden of Tom Armstrong on Fishers Island, were selected for inclusion in the book, which was published Sept. 22.With its pebbled walkways, signature Asian plants and imported traditional teahouse, the John P. Humes Japanese Stroll Garden, featured in the book's Preservation Gardens section, is hailed as "a rare example of traditional Japanese garden design," whose defining feature is its "winding steppingstone and gravel path, which represents the spiritual journey to enlightenment through immersion in nature."
Landcraft Environments, a wholesale greenhouse that supplies tropical, subtropical and annual plants to nurseries throughout the Northeast, showcases the artistry and science of Dennis Schrader and Bill Smith, who opened the business 23 years ago after recognizing the need for warm-weather plants that would flourish in cold-weather climates.
The pair "are passionate collectors" of plants, which they display in beautifully staged garden vignettes at their 1840s farmhouse, where, the book notes, "the visitor moves from the lawn around the house along paths opening to a series of garden experiences: vibrant perennial borders enclosed by hornbeam hedges, a vegetable and herb garden, natural ponds planted with water lilies and papyrus, and a shady woodland." The meadow there is home to grasses and birds, and "frogs [that] splash in the ponds, and lizards [that] skitter around the walls."
Farther east at Hooverness, the house of the late Tom Armstrong is described as a "modernist steel-and-glass pavilion set between a panoramic view of Long Island Sound on the seaside and an elaborately planned garden on the landside." Armstrong, a former director of the Whitney Museum of American Art, called his garden "a place where I can be thrilled and surprised," and his vast art collection completed "his lifelong wish to live in a garden with art."