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Long Island backyards as peaceful retreats

Everybody would like their backyard to be beautiful. But some want a bit more — a space for contemplation, to get away from workaday worries, worldly tumult and the 24/7 onslaught of electronic pings and breaking news. Here are some backyard escapes Long Islanders have created. 

Four-season Sag Harbor garden

Gloria Primm Brown, 76, spends hours, sometimes days
Photo Credit: Gordon M. Grant

Gloria Primm Brown, 76, spends hours in the garden she created a dozen years ago at her Sag Harbor home, tending her plants. “I get lost out there,” she says of her four-season garden. “I like digging. I like standing back and seeing how things are coming along. I just love being out in it.” Brown sits in her swing, reading or simply marveling at how tiny plants and seedlings have matured. She says she enjoys listening to the waterfall in the back of her yard — it is surrounded by dwarf Euonymus and Heucheras of various hues. “It’s very restful,” she says. “I noticed my next-door neighbors have moved their hammock closer.” 

Gloria Primm Brown admiring the handiwork of nature
Photo Credit: Gordon M. Grant

Gloria Primm Brown admiring the handiwork of nature.

Gloria Primm Brown's garden surrounds her Sag Harbor
Photo Credit: Gordon M. Grant

Gloria Primm Brown's Sag Harbor garden and home.

Harmony and remembrance in Hampton Bays

When she needs quiet and harmony, Ria Pasch,
Photo Credit: Veronique Louis

When she needs quiet and harmony, Ria Pasch, 71, of Mill Neck, heads to her second home on the East End. The first thing she does is walk the Hamptons Bays property’s path along rocks. She looks at the flowers, she says, and stands still to watch the sun beating down. “That creates different colors, and the different colors of the flowers and the grasses waving in the wind. It gives a feeling of joy and peace,” she says. And tranquility, added to by the butterflies and hummingbirds that stop by. Pasch also uses this space as a spiritual connection to her father. He gave her the rocks that garden designer Eric Hagenbruch placed along the path. “I always stand still and think of him a little bit more than I usually do,” she says. 

Ria Pasch says sitting in her Hampton Bays
Photo Credit: Veronique Louis

Ria Pasch says sitting in her Hampton Bays garden gives her feelings of joy and peace.

Ria Pasch's Hampton Bays home is a getaway
Photo Credit: Veronique Louis

Ria Pasch's Hampton Bays home is a getaway from her home in Mill Neck.

A musical garden Lakeview

After a 30-year career as a Wall Street
Photo Credit: Newsday/J. Conrad Williams Jr.

After a 30-year career as a Wall Street banker, followed by an eight-year stint at the Nassau County Office of Emergency Management, Eddie Gripper retreats from the hustle and bustle by working in the garden of his Lakeview home. “It’s a whole thing of tranquility and pleasure and peace I get from it,” says Gripper, 77. Having wired the entire space with speakers, Gripper finds the garden, with its koi pond, waterfall, and plants and trees, not only visually, but aurally pleasing. “I have nice meditation music,” he says. “I have nice jazz music. Things that bring me a lot of comfort.” The garden requires constant maintenance, and Gripper spends up to 10 hours a day tending to it, even working on moonlit evenings. “I attribute my health and being in good shape and longevity because of the time that I spend back there,” Gripper says. Though he takes pleasure in the enjoyment other people get from experiencing his garden, Gripper confesses that there’s an even greater reward for his labors. “I do it for my inner peace,” he says. “If they enjoy it, too, it’s a cherry on top of the cake.”

Edward Gripper in the oasis of his backyard,
Photo Credit: Newsday/J. Conrad Williams Jr.

Eddie Gripper in the oasis of his backyard, which includes speakers that play his favorite music.

Edward Gripper shares his backyard oasis with the
Photo Credit: Newsday/J. Conrad Williams Jr.

Eddie Gripper shares his backyard oasis with the koi in the pond.

A Buddhist sanctuary

Kevin Potente's meditation garden at his Huntington home
Photo Credit: James Carbone

Kevin Potente’s meditation garden at his Huntington home is ringed by tall trees. The garden, which is almost an acre, has the feel of a forest, with a number of stone walls and small walkways leading to nowhere. A Buddha statue under a Japanese maple welcomes visitors, who will find a vegetable and flower garden in the landscape. “I get up early with the sun, between 5 and 5:30, and spend a half-hour out there, sort of as a morning meditation,” says Potente, 54, administrative director of the Kadampa Meditation Center of Long Island, based in Huntington. As a Buddhist, Potente says he strives to cultivate a positive state of mind. “With every weed that I pull, it’s sort of an external and internal process of taking out the negative states of mind, but in a physical form,” he says. “But it’s a very active process in my mind as I do it, and I understand that I’m purifying the ground in the garden with sort of a reflective understanding of the same thing happening in my mind. It’s very nice to be doing that at 5 in the morning, because it’s very, very quiet.” 

Kevin Potente uses his backyard in Huntington for
Photo Credit: James Carbone

Kevin Potente uses his backyard in Huntington for meditation.

The peaceful design of the meditation space in
Photo Credit: James Carbone

The peaceful design of the meditation space in the backyard of Kevin Potente's Huntington house is reflected in the front also.

Tips from a landscape designer

Michael Opisso in his Port Jefferson garden
Photo Credit: Michael Opisso

To design with zen “is to be in tune with nature, never imposing but rather blending, in form and spirit,” says Port Jefferson landscape designer Michael Opisso, who also is a meditation instructor and has his own tranquil spot outside is Port Jefferson home.
His tips: 

  • Concentrate on “designing” the space between and around objects you’re adding, such as shrubs or rocks or steppingstones. “That space should give balance and harmony to the objects,” he says. 
  • Use overhead tree branches and shade-tolerant plants to accentuate patterns created by light and shadow. 
  • When laying out a walkway, consider what the person walking the path will see. 
  • Avoid the three “overs,” he says: Don’t overdo, overplant or overstuff the garden. “That will not evoke a serene, calming mood.” 
  • Less is more. Keep some carefully placed boulders unplanted to celebrate the essence of the stone itself, “thus revealing its timeless character, texture and color.” 
  • Before you start, ask yourself how you can create a garden that, when done, will look like it’s always been that way. 

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