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Sachem library opens 1-acre garden to patrons

People enjoy the scenery in Sachem Public Library's

People enjoy the scenery in Sachem Public Library's new Inside / Out Garden on a summer afternoon. (Aug. 16, 2010) Credit: Newsday / Thomas A. Ferrara

The Sachem Public Library has a new garden that's likely to be the envy of other communities.

For starters, it occupies an entire acre.

"I believe it's the most unusual library extension on Long Island," said the site's architect, John Tanzi of Beatty, Harvey, Coco Architects in Hauppauge.

The garden, titled Inside/Out, underscores the library's aim of offering many of its programs in an outdoor setting - one that offers a parklike destination for the community. And Tanzi said it is "unique in its sheer size and its layout," which includes areas for displaying sculpture, a secluded spot for meditation, and extensive plantings - 233 varieties of 63 species. The garden has been designated as an arboretum by the American Public Gardens Association.

The library, in Holbrook, is one of Long Island's largest, according to director Judith Willner, serving more than 82,000 residents in parts of Brookhaven, Islip and Smithtown. A donation from the estate of a former staff member, Mary Martinez, helped make the garden possible. It opened in May after a year of construction at a cost of less than $1 million.

The plants, all selected to thrive in Long Island's zone 7 climate, are arranged in decorative beds that fan out from a circular grass plaza 180 feet in diameter. The plaza is ringed by a paved walkway that "is great for a walking exercise in a pastoral setting without car fumes or obstacles," said landscape designer Michael Opisso of Setauket.

Beyond the shelter of its wrought-iron portal, the tall oaks, locusts and flowering shrubs, lawns and paved paths and teak benches offer a quiet retreat during library hours.

But only part of the time.

"Inside/Out is already living up to its name," said Willner. "Libraries are not just for books anymore," as they have transformed into community centers.

The garden is expected to be the venue for events as weather permits, including concerts under the stars, arts and craft shows, poetry reading and discussion groups on the plaza, and sunset storytime for pajama-clad preschoolers.

The plaza abuts an area designed to accommodate equipment such as band vans and the Brookhaven Showmobile with its built-in stage. Audience members can use a blanket or a folding chair to settle on the grass. Soft lighting filters through the trees from fixtures designed to respect the nonintrusive "dark skies" movement.

Inside/Out became a work in progress in 2007 with the purchase of property next to the library's rear border.

"Given the size of the parcel, it was an easy choice to use it to create this very special garden; it was tailor made for us," said Willner, explaining not only was the site flat with mature trees but it also fronted on a public road, North Third Street, so an emergency exit could be installed.

The new garden is "priceless," said Louisa Lorito, secretary of the Friends of Sachem Public Library, which donated 11 garden benches purchased with funds from book sales. "This place has a Zen quality," she added. "Just to sit here first thing in the morning and listen to the birds - it's an oasis of peace in this hectic world."

On a recent morning a stroll along the path that edges the central plaza found a straw-hatted woman reading a magazine on a shady bench half hidden behind the blue blooms of a huge hydrangea. Further along, a young woman, picture book in hand, helped a toddler onto another bench, and a couple jotted down horticultural information from a printed marker as they paused to admire a bed of hostas.

Said landscape designer Opisso: "It's rewarding to see that my vision of how people could experience the serenity of this garden is catching on."

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