Putting Down Roots

There are Buddhas and bronze monkeys in this enchanting garden, but the specimen trees — evergreens and magnolias and yellowwood — came first.
Southeast Asian sculptures
Southeast Asian sculptures take their ease beneath a canopy.

    In the mid-1980s, John T. Barham told his longtime partner, Dick Auer, that he had bought property on Highland Terrace in Bridgehampton, where he wanted to plant a garden and build a house.
    “Ocean Road used to flood, so we’d take Highland Terrace,” Mr. Barham said of the drive to the nearby house where the pair spent summers. Their winters were in San Francisco at the time, after many years in Brazil and Peru. Mr. Barham had his mind set on creating a garden in the rich Bridgehampton loam that would combine his love of plants and of statuary.
    “It used to be empty fields of weeds all around here,” Mr. Barham said when I visited the garden at the end of March. In fact, he said, the garden went in first, and the house, a cyprus-shingled Georgian reminiscent of the manor houses of his childhood, is surrounded by specimen trees and such fixtures as birdbaths and flying stone cranes.
    Mr. Barham has been attached to gardening since he was about 5 years old. He grew up in Tidewater, Va., where he would dig up ferns and wild orchids to replant at a grandfather’s house. A cousin, Roland Totten, formerly of the botany department at the University of North Carolina, introduced him to the intricacies of leaves, trees, and exemplary gardens by the time he was 11.
    Today, almost a quarter-century since he bought the two-acre lot, it is a unique, individualistic blend of garden and gallery. Its series of rooms are filled with Buddhas, bronze monkeys, Hellenistic statues, and stone sculptures made to Mr. Barham’s specifications in China.
    The birdhouses resemble barns, churches, and Colonial houses. Chinese Chippendale gates and millstones guide visitors through the garden’s rooms, where statues stare back at them. There are obelisks and arbors, evergreens and magnolias, obelisk beeches and yellowwood trees everywhere, many underplanted with ferns. Korean generals stand guard.
     In a book Mr. Barham published to memorialize his garden, he says: “The best way to understand my passion is to understand my garden.” When I asked Mr. Barham, who studied at the Parsons School of Design and worked as an interior decorator as a young man, whether he could define his garden’s style, he replied that he wanted it to have a “natural” feel despite its carefully manicured plants and man-made works of art.
    Mr. Barham said he wished he could open his garden to more visitors, but his insurers have warned him that too many risks come along with them.
    “I’m very proud of this garden,” he said.