A beautiful Saturday evening in late summer, a lovely setting, reflections in the pool, a sunset over the water, clinking wine glasses, and good conversation. In the Hamptons, a region noted for spectacular gardens, this was a garden to remember, and to talk about. Especially about the challenges involved in creating it. How was the Monet-like effect created? The designer, Roxine Brown of Harmonia Inc., Bridgehampton, shared her secrets.
“The town of Southampton is very strict,” Brown explained. “The requirement out here is to plant with natives, and it’s not easy to do a perennial garden with only natives and have it look colorful and romantic.”
We were touring the decidedly romantic gardens of the private waterfront home of Howie Rubin and Mary Henry on two acres in Water Mill. The occasion was the HG&C (Hampton Cottages and Gardens) magazine book signing for Gardens for a Beautiful America 1835-1935, Photographs by Frances Benjamin Johnston by Sam Watters.
Brown was able to create the Monet effect with just five plants, all approved as natives by the town—artemesia, coriopsis, echinachia, liatris and lobelia. “When plant material is limited, it has to be carefully selected and used in big drifts,” she said.
“A big problem is the phragmites” (the grasses on the foreground of the photo above) “which are taking over everything and crowding out the natives,” Roxine pointed out. I didn’t know until that moment that the reedy beach grasses that wave so gracefully along many Eastern waterways are so invasive that regional departments of environmental conservation are implementing phragmite control programs.
Later, I chatted with homeowners Howie Rubin and Mary Henry. “We have really enjoyed working with Roxine, who truly understood our vision,” said Mary. “This was empty property when we bought it 20 years ago, in 1992. As the houses across Calf Creek kept going up, we wanted to soften the view. Roxine got special permission to plant a row of six crape myrtles (below), which I always thought of as a Southern tree, but they work beautifully here.”