Yesterday I had the opportunity to visit some spectacular private gardens in the Hamptons. My first stop was the Bridgehampton estate of Louise and Leonard Riggio. He’s the founder and chairman of Barnes and Noble and the former chair of the Dia Art Foundation. The property is a parklike sculpture garden incorporating a teahouse set in a Japanese-inspired pond garden, a modernist pool house and a pool pergola. Most notable among the sculptures, which include works by Noguchi, Botero, and di Suvero, is Richard Serra’s “Sidewinder,” an immense, rusted steel curve that only a site like the Riggios’ two-acre front lawn could accommodate. “Sidewinder” is similar to “Tilted Arc,” the piece that caused so much controversy when it was installed in downtown Manhattan’s Federal Plaza in 1981 that it was ultimately dismantled and destroyed. I walked through it several times, wondering how it would be if the grass inside were allowed to grow two feet high and make the interior feel like a narrow, winding path of meadow.
Next, I visited “Villa des Amis,” the property of Jody and Larry Carlson — he’s a former HBO executive — who’ve captured the Tuscan landscape, with new-age touches, in Bridgehampton. “Our task is to widen our circle of connection, our circle of compassion with everyone and everything,” says Larry, an artist who seamlessly blends Renaissance-style draftsmanship with Eastern philosophies. Jody and Larry guided me through their myriad garden rooms — each has a true entrance and exit — to the meditative labyrinth they’ve crafted from grass mowed at two heights.
And I dropped by my friend Ruth Summers’ place in Westhampton Beach, which I’ve visited and photographed several times. Master planned by Michael Spitzer and Dennis Piermont of Landgarden, Ruth’s gardens invite one to compete on the croquet lawn and tennis court; to take a dip in the 50-foot pool flanked by Renaissance sculptures and massed blue and white hydrangeas; and enjoy the dining patio surrounded by an allée of 14 Bradford pear trees.
Ruth is a nationally ranked croquet player and had just finished hosting the first local tournament of the season. Framed by sculpted 15-foot privet and yew hedges, the 70- by 90-foot croquet court is a laser-leveled carpet of bent grass, shaved three times weekly to a height of 3/16” in the manner of a putting green.
Interested in virtual visits to gardens in the Hamptons that are open to the public? Please check out my posts: “MORE Gardens in the Hamptons: Where the Signs Say Welcome” and “In the Hamptons: From the Madoo Conservancy to Marders.”