When the wolf at your door has lunched twice already, and the ugly red digits on Marketwatch have you longing to throw a large brick through your new HD TV, it’s time for you to live your destiny as a member of the monied classes.
Just a short drive on the Long Island Expressway takes you far from the madding crowd for a refreshing day at your country estate. And best of all, someone else is paying the tab–almost as good as receiving your very-own government bailout.
Let us start with Old Westbury Gardens http://www.oldwestburygardens.org/. The former home of John S. Phipps, heir to the Carnegie Steel fortune, this exquisite mansion was inspired by the Great Houses built during the reins of England’s Kings Charles I and II, and is chockablock with art treasures.
Cinephiles may recognize this home’s star turn in “North by Northwest.” It is also rumored to have appeared under another name in F. Scott Fitzgerald’s, novel “The Great Gatsby.”
Stroll through shaded walks to the formal rose garden, or while away the hours under the gazebo by the lake. Perhaps the walled garden would be more your style. Give my regards to painter John Singer Sargent’s best work before you leave.
If you are looking for something just a little more spacious than a 200 acre English Country garden, might I suggest Planting Fields Arboretum http://www.plantingfields.com/ ?
This garden boasts 400 acres of gently rolling hills, wooded paths, lush lawns, fountains, massive oaks, beeches, lindens and gates nicked from an 18th Century English estate in the best American robber baron tradition.
The former home of an American insurance magnate, William Robertson Coe, this Tudor Style Mansion reminds us of the days when Americans thought big. When his new bride pined for the massive beech that had adorned her own manse, he had the tree uprooted and trucked from Massachusetts to Long Island. The venerable tree, alas, is no longer with us, but its memory is honored by a memorial plaque and the planting of a worthy heir.
Of especial note in this garden, is the Camelia House. This conservatory hosts the largest camellia collection in the Northeast, and is in its glory shortly after Washington’s Birthday.
No Spring visit would be complete without a walk through the cherry tree shaded road to the Rhododendron gardens. Mr. Coe doted on his Rhododendrons and owned an amazing collection. In addition to the plants in the north and south gardens, there are naturalized Rhododendrons throughout the woods.
A stroll through the Synoptic garden is a must. This garden features horticultural delights displayed alphabetically by genus, and is an invaluable educational resource for the home gardener.
Alas, if all of this has proven too hectic, you simply must have Charles drive your Rolls to Bayard Cutting Arboretum on the South Shore of Long Island. http://www.bayardcuttingarboretum.com/. When the Bayard-Cuttings deeded their former home to the State, they also thoughtfully provided money in trust for its upkeep “to provide an oasis of beauty and quiet for the pleasure, rest and refreshment of those who delight in outdoor beauty; and to bring about a greater appreciation and understanding of the value and importance of informal planting.” (text quoted from the Bayard Cutting dedication)
You have heard perhaps of the phrase, “A River Runs Through it? Fie, on that. This divine home fronts the Great South Bay across from the former Vanderbilt Estate.
Modest folks, the Bayard-Cuttings eschewed the solid gold plates favored by their Vanderbilt neighbors for the homey comforts of warming themselves by their Norman French fireplace. That’s right, they had the massive medieval hearth transplanted lock, stock and barrel to their home where it remains today. The mansion features stained glass windows, a bronze sculpture, and for the scamps, a terrific little museum with Indian arrowheads and displays of stuffed birds.
Also featured is a charming cafe where you can make advance arrangements to treat your family to formal tea. Should you be able to force yourself away from tea and sandwiches on the elegant veranda overlooking the lawn and the Great South Bay, you have a choice of walks, thoughtfully mapped out by the garden through trails.
The Pinetum walk is especially beloved by many. Bayard Cutting has one of the most impressive assemblages of conifers in the area. Although many of the most famous specimens were laid to waste by Hurricane Gloria, the survivors are hale and hearty and waiting for you.
A particularly beloved amble of mine is the Riverfront walk along the Bay and across the bridge into the Island Bog. A local boy scout troop gifted the garden with a handmade bench directly in sight of nesting Ospreys. These beautiful Eagle relatives were nearly extirpated by DDT during the 1970s, but they can now be seen nesting on this island or in the Terracotta chimneys of the mansion. If birds are not your style, perhaps you would like to sit on one of the benches fronting the bay and feed some of the saucy turtles that swim by with open mouths begging for a succulent morsel of bread.
If neither of these grab you, perhaps you would prefer to take a wildflower walk on the other side of the property or attempt to penetrate the massive groves of rhododendrons there. On many occasions I have sent a startled deer packing. Just beware of the massive snapping turtles that make their home near the little dam that separates the brackish bay from the pond. The mother of all snapping turtles is named “Godzilla” and has occupied this spot since the 1930s. She and her son lie in wait for unsuspecting ducklings, but would be delighted to munch on an unwary wrist or ankle.
Should your Rolls or Jaguar should be out of service while undergoing its quarterly tire rotation, you may also visit any of these gardens via the Long Island Railroad. http://www.mta.info/lirr/. Package tours are frequently available, and the young and robust may choose to rough it by exiting the stations nearest the gardens and hoofing it, or calling a cab.