Up the Not-So-Primrose Path

Native trees and plants, natural grasses and stones, organic, low-maintenance meadows, and water, water, everywhere, without any nitrates or other chemicals to poison it
Water — keeping it clean, not green — is the theme of Saturday’s Guild Hall garden tour. Above, on Burnett’s Creek on Water Mill, the Rosenberg garden features an ever-blooming mix of salt-air-loving plants. Looking back up from a ginormously glamorous pool complex complete with Italianate fountains, below, clouds of pink, white, and blue frame the Lipschultz house in Sagaponack. Durell Godfrey Photos

Garden tours, God bless ’em, begin in April and peak in June and July. Then, just when you think you’ve seen every breathtaking garden in the Hamptons, along comes Guild Hall’s late-season Garden as Art benefit with a knockout quartet of offerings, and up the primrose path we go again.

No, we don’t. No primroses this time, but native trees and plants, natural grasses and stones, organic, low-maintenance meadows, and water, water, everywhere, without any nitrates or other chemicals to poison it. With some of the South Fork’s blue-chip bodies of water, Georgica and Wainscott Ponds among them, closed to fishing and questionable for swimming thanks to dense algae and various nasty effluents, Guild Hall has chosen this year to emphasize the toxin-free approach to gardening. 

“This is probably the most important garden tour we’ve ever done,” Ruth Appelhof, its director, said last week. 

Water is the common element; three of the four gardens on the tour, which will take place on Saturday afternoon from 1 to 5, border pristine ponds or creeks.

On Burnett’s Creek in Water Mill, Alex and Carole Rosenberg’s garden is, as she put it, “a nod to the borrowed landscape.” White hibiscus the size of dinner plates guard the entry, but around back an ever-blooming mix of native plants, evergreens, and exotics, all of it salt-air-loving, flows down to the creek. The garden was begun in 1982, and most of those plants have survived. 

“A lot of things here, no one else in the United States has,” Ms. Rosenberg said. That’s because the original designer, Wolfgang Oehme, brought in seeds and seedlings from Germany — “smuggled” might be too strong a word, but some were in coffee cans, others rolled up in his socks — that have flourished in the New World. Don’t miss the Henry Moore torso at the deep end of the pool.

With a knockout view across Mecox Bay to Flying Point Beach, a new, very modern house, built out from an old one soon after Hurricane Sandy, posed a grade challenge for the designer. The lawn originally sloped all the way down to where the dock begins, ending in view-obstructing phragmites. Now there’s an organically maintained meadow, in soothing shades of silver, blue, gray, rust-red, and green, separating what is still a great big lawn from the water. 

“I was upset at first to lose the lawn, but now I’m happy. The meadow is low maintenance and looks like it’s been here forever,” the owner said. Looking out to the beach from the front porch, the sky seems endless. Easy to imagine that Portugal is just over the horizon.

One of the least-known water bodies here is little Kellis Pond, a 19-acre gem just off Montauk Highway in Bridgehampton, where Lyn and James Adamson rejoice in not just one garden but two (one gets full sun, one full shade), or three, counting the one in between that gets a bit of each. The sun garden, closest to the house, changes with the seasons; shades of purple in spring, mostly white in July, mainly yellow now with Rudbeckia, native daisies, and viburnum set off by phlox, salvia, and yarrow, all grown locally and, of course, organically. 

As you walk toward the water, the lower garden descends from half-shaded ornamental grasses and Cimicifuga (bugbane, a long-lived, tough perennial that’s a magnet to butterflies) to full shade, until only ferns — such lush, happy ferns! — are growing pondside. The owners suggested building a retaining wall between the sun and shade gardens, but the designer said no, it would cut the effect in half. He was right.

No pond or creek at the Lipschultz house in Sagaponack, but a baseball-diamond-size lawn that Jerry Seinfeld might envy leading to a huge pool complex, complete with Italianate fountain and graceful borders of lacebark elms, white tree hydrangea, blue salvia, and pink roses. A high-end entertainment area next to the pool features a built-in barbecue, storage for everything from china and paper towels to half a dozen cases of seltzer, a bar, and a table seating 14, all of it protected from the elements by attractive latticing. No last-minute tents for these hosts. 

Somewhere behind the pool, too far off from anything to disturb anyone, there’s a basketball court, tennis courts, a jungle gym, and heaven knows what else, maybe Mickey Mouse and Cinderella. The homeowners have four young sons. 

Tickets for Saturday’s tour begin at $100, which includes breakfast in the Guild Hall Sculpture Garden with representatives of several local environmental groups and a panel discussion from 10 to noon featuring noted water and garden experts, moderated by the ecologist Carl Safina. A $300 ticket includes a cocktail reception tomorrow night; a $500 ticket includes lunch with the panelists, at private homes.

In Bridgehampton, the Adamson garden descends in three levels to the waters of little-known Kellis Pond. The closer to the water, the shadier it gets and the more ferns grow.
On Mecox Bay in Water Mill, an ultra-modern house built out from an old one after Hurricane Sandy has a knockout view across the bay to Flying Point Beach.