Open Gardens, Part I: Meeting a Virtuoso
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.
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 leereich.blogspot.com, lectures widely, and teaches classes on his property.
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.”