Open Gardens, Part I: Meeting a Virtuoso

The Garden Conservancy Open Days transport you to worlds of creative beauty, like the garden of horticulturist Teri Condon in Highland, New York. Teri punctuates her gardens with restored retro furniture.

My husband Dale and I have been mastering the day trip, built around visits to some of the coolest private gardens in the Hudson Valley. The Garden Conservancy, the horticultural analog to the National Trust for Historic Preservation, raises funds each summer through the Open Days project. There are dozens of gardens to see in the Hudson Valley alone, but there are scores more in other Northeast states and around the country.

For just $50, I joined the Conservancy, then received a glorious 300-page guidebook to the 2011 tours. My membership allows me to visit gardens for just $2.50 per person, and holy smokebush, have I seen some fantastic properties.

New Paltz-based author and instructor Lee Reich, who teaches classes on fruit tree pruning, intensive vegetable growing, and many other things.

Last Saturday was notable because I got to meet horticulturist, teacher, and writer Lee Reich and see his intensively planted fruit and vegetable gardens in New Paltz. He writes a regular column for the New Paltz Times and has written A Northeast Gardener’s Year, The Pruning Book, Weedless Gardening, Uncommon Fruits for Every Garden, and Landscaping with Fruit. He blogs at, lectures widely, and teaches classes on his property.

Lee Reich's vegetable gardens are very productive and neat without being precious.

Lee Reich grows many lesser-known small fruits like this Nanking cherry (Prunus tomentosa).

Reich’s property is an intensive project in self-reliance; he grows the lion’s share of his own food, from more common fruits like apples, to more unusual crops like figs, paw paw, currants, and hardy kiwi. His Garden Conservancy description says he grows 20 varieties of gooseberries alone. I asked him for a bit of advice for someone who might want to embark on a similarly ambitious trajectory.

“Read a lot about gardening and soil, and do so discriminately,” he said. “Reading lets you amass years of experience without spending years doing it, and lets you avoid others’ mistakes. The big caveat is to read discriminately; there’s a lot of questionable advice and information even in books and especially on the Web, so think about the source of the information and its corroboration with other reliable sources. I was lucky to have started this journey by immersing myself in academia, gardening books, and getting my hands in the dirt at the same time.”

Hardy kiwi fruits (Actinidia arguta) are smaller and tastier than the ones you find in the store, and they require no peeling. Reich grows a 100-foot trellis of them.


2 Responses to “Open Gardens, Part I: Meeting a Virtuoso”
  1. vintagejenta says:

    Oh man – I didn’t even know there WERE 20 varieties of gooseberries! Any chance he’ll sell some? Lol… I am going to go check out his books. I love fruit trees.

  2. Irma Elaine says:

    I came across an article in Mother Earth News by Lee Reich and I knew I heard his name from somewhere and look it was on our own FarmHouse Magazine!! I am going to get his weedless garden book, maybe next years adventure?!

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