Outside the Box at LongHouse

The LongHouse Reserve is anything but typical
“Good Luck in the Water” by Kate McCarty won second place last year.

    In any other format or site, a container show is pretty much what you would expect it to be, a lovely but restrained affair. The LongHouse Reserve, however, is anything but typical. Its container show burst out of its confined format practically from the beginning.
    The fifth “Planters: On+Off the Ground” will take place on Saturday from 4:30 to 6 p.m. with the winners announced at 6 p.m. Last year’s winners included Hope Sandrow’s first place entry of a single cactus under a bell jar bound with rope and titled “Endangered Species.” Geoffrey Nimmer’s “People’s Choice Award” winning entry looked like something hacked out of a rain forest with a machete by an artful native plant designer. The effect was stunning.
    “It gets more and more imaginative each year,” said Dianne Benson, LongHouse’s president, known more familiarly as Dianne B. to the gardening cognoscenti. “Now, in the spirit of the ideal invitational competition, the participants are trying harder and harder to come up with something original, or so unusual that it does go one step beyond.”
    She said the emphasis has become more on the visual than the botanical, “an artistic exercise, rather than horticultural exercise in keeping with the spirit of LongHouse. Its gardens are not traditional, but they’re classic in their own way. LongHouse is not a botanical garden or arboretum. It’s not scientific. The stress is on the visual and artistic parts rather than the horticultural parts.”
    In the entries, sometimes it’s the containers that take center stage, sometimes it’s the plants. Often there can be elaborate installations that take days to put together. “Entrants are given free rein beginning Monday morning. They have all week long to do installations. They may arrive with the entry completely full-blown or create it all there. By Friday evening they have to be finished.” When LongHouse opens on Saturday at 2 p.m. they will be complete; they will remain on view through July 28.
    Ms. Benson said the momentum for the invitation-only event has been growing every year. LongHouse tries to limit entries to 30 people each year, although that number can grow to accommodate new faces and prior participants who offer to return.
    Craig Socia, a garden designer from East Hampton, will be a first-time participant this year. “He’s doing something very exciting using upside-down trees and putting plants in the tree limbs and trunk. It will be spectacular,” Ms. Benson said.
    This year’s panel of three judges includes Ina Garten, April Gornik, and Fred Stelle. In the past there has been just one judge and some decisions were controversial. “When Martha Stewart judged, everyone agreed with her.” In subsequent years, that was not always the case. “This year it’s completely different. We will have three judges and the people’s choice award, which was added last year. Now, everybody is helping decide,” Ms. Benson said.
    The judges all come from different backgrounds, Mr. Stelle is an architect, Ms. Gornik is an artist and a dedicated gardener, Ms. Garten has focused her career on food and entertaining. They will choose ribbon winners and honorable mentions.
    Those who want to vote for the people’s choice award can begin casting ballots at 2 p.m. on Saturday. Admission costs $10 on Saturday until 4:30, and $20 from 4:30 to 6, or $10 for members.