Euphoria, Giddy Delight, Sensory Overload: An Intoxicating Garden in Mattituck

A below-ground “ruin” is surrounded by a new meadow leading to three roundels.
The roundel: A tranquil respite after a sunny meadow. Erika Shank

They’ve done it again, in spades. Now going into its second summer, they’ve created three new gardens, adding up to about an acre. A below-ground “ruin” is surrounded by a new meadow leading to three roundels.

The partners, owners of Landcraft Environments, the wholesale grower of many of the tender plants we buy at local nurseries and use in our containers, set the bar high in their goals: l. They didn’t want to repeat plants and designs from other areas of the garden; 2. They wanted to try out a lot of new, primarily perennial, plants they hadn’t grown before; 3. They wanted to showcase native grasses as a means of introducing people to grasses other than the popular miscanthus that self-seeds too readily; 4. They wanted to create habitats to attract bees, birds, butterflies, and other wildlife.

Dennis Schrader designed the ruin and the garden immediately around it and the roundels, while Bill Smith concentrated on the meadow. Connecting the three areas, drawing the visitor ever forward, are wide, curving grass paths. 

A ruin? Mr. Schrader wanted to have some fun in the garden, a surprise element. The nursery and their home is on Mill Road so he decided to create a ruin of a fantasy mill, and made it from the salvage and oddments he’s collected over the last decade. He did the stonework himself.

The contrast of large, bright yellow leaves of a golden aralia backing a mass of the new lavender, Phenomenal, which is truly phenomenal, at the entrance to the ruin garden signals the virtuoso plantsmanship throughout the gardens. 

As Mr. Smith explains it, they each developed plant lists for their areas, then compared them, laid out their areas, and “played” with them. “We were looking for a good sequence of bloom, color, and texture,” Mr. Smith said. During the summer the meadow area emphasizes cool colors, blues, purples, and pinks. Toward the back the palette transitions toward warmer colors and finally hot in the roundels.

Because they didn’t want to obscure the view of the “wild” meadow running to the south of the garden to a line of trees on the horizon, most of the plants are of modest height or transparent with larger plants toward the rear where you turn toward the roundels.

In the meadow Mr. Smith groups large swathes of a single plant in a painterly fashion. Various shades of purple and blue in many different species of salvias, for example, are paced through the space, leading the eye through the canvas. Interspersed through them are clusters of soft grasses and perennials in more neutral colors.

One of the salvias, in particular, caught my attention, Salvia horminum Oxford Blue. It is an annual, but it reseeds, and Mr. Smith says he gets three sequences of flowers in a single season.

For spiky plants they experimented with different varieties of verbascum and foxgloves. In late July, foxgloves, fronted by masses of blue geraniums, brought a lot of color to an area at one edge of the meadow where peonies held sway earlier in the season.

The thrill of being submerged in the midst of the sun-drenched romanticism of the meadow fights with the desire to focus on specific plants and plant combinations. As in any good garden the only solution is to return again and again. 

A showstopper at the far edge of the meadow is a large butterfly bush from China, Buddleia nivea var. yunnanesis. It can grow 12 feet high, has large felted silver leaves, and soft pink flowers over a long period. When I saw it growing in Yunnan years ago, I never dreamed it would be hardy here. It’s a must for any garden with space.

Three roundels were created in the original woodland garden that, as Mr. Schrader explained, had become “too shaded and needed to be opened up.” The transition between the meadow and roundel garden is planted with native shrubs to support birds throughout the year: chokecherries, blueberries, winterberry, and Virginia cedars. Birdsong fills the air throughout the garden.

“I wanted this area to rest the eye and the brain,” Mr. Schrader said, “so it is more about repetition of plants and structure. It is a destination with seating areas” in dappled sunshine. The locust posts that support the three roundels were harvested on the property and support an ever-growing collection of vines.

Billows of an annual hot orange coreopsis alternate with large silver felted leaves of Salvia argentea along the paths. Dazzled by the heat of the coreopsis, other plants in these beds are more muted. The distinctive panicle hydrangea Limelight is threaded through the arbors. Left to its own devices Limelight could be 8 feet high, but here it is cut low to keep it compact. 

Plenty of horticultural gems make it in this area, but they are tucked away and don’t call attention to themselves. In a protected shady spot is a grouping of hydrangeas with hairy purple foliage, Hydrangea aspera Plum Passion. This is one to lust over, but it is a Zone 7 plant so let’s see how it does in our climate. 

The garden will be open for a Garden Conservancy Open Day on July 9.

Go early and feast your eyes. 

Notice the ruin at the right in the photo above.
In the meadow Salvia Oxford Blue, in foreground, provides a painterly effect.
Aralia cordata Sun King and Lavender Phenomenal in Ruin Garden. Abby Jane Brody Photos