The Hamptons are a land of high hedges and closed gates, as well as of open vistas of fields and water. It can easily seem as if most gardens there are off-limits to the average visitor, who can occasionally catch a glimpse of a tantalizingly inaccessible swimming pool or tennis court beyond a barrier of meticulously clipped boxwood.
I’ve just spent a few midweek days exploring and photographing free or low-cost places for garden lovers to visit; places where the signs say “come in” instead of “private” or “members only.” Other than a storm last night, the weather was magnificent, as it often is after Labor Day, and it seemed as if I was the only person around (besides the vanloads of contractors, landscapers, pool maintenance people, and sound-system installers who are getting houses ready for next weekend or season).
On Wednesday I rode my bike from Westhampton Beach to East Quogue, and had all of Dune Road, with its idiosyncratic mix of architectural and landscaping styles, to myself. Old Country Road from Eastport to Westhampton is also a beautiful ride, with bridges over picturesque inlets. You can ride up and down and all around the lanes of Remsenburg, from the main roads down to the Moriches Bay, viewing front gardens. On streets such as Shore Road, homeowners have extended their showy, no-expense-spared landscaping to the borders in front of their properties.
The garden designers out here have mastered the art of using evergreens, shrubs and grasses in great drifts of color, combining, for example, rows of blue spruce and crimson barberry with quantities of lime green Hakonechloa macro aureola and bushy-topped Cortaderia pumila or dwarf pampas grass, all hardy and deer resistant.
Other gardens are more homemade, quirky and low-cost. Pedaling along Mill Road the other day and realizing my front tire needed air, I spotted an old-timer on a tractor and asked him to point me to the nearest gas station. He graciously offered to fill my tire from an air hose in his garage—next to which was an amazing backyard assemblage of whirligigs, twirling and sparkling in the sunshine. “These are my neighbor’s,” he explained. “He’s 96 years old, a retired Grumman engineer. He started building motors in the 1920s that were used to run water pumps and saw mills, and 60 of them are in the Bridgehampton Museum. Now I help him put up these things because he can’t get around so well any more.” Clothes-pinned to bungee cords strung between the trees were plastic cups and colanders, glittery holiday decorations, pinwheels, shiny toys, and colored lights: a kinetic garden of found art.