Is my beautiful rose garden lying in ruins under this heavy, unrelenting snow? Will my skip laurel hedge survive its first frigid winter? Why are my hydrangea shrubs looking like brittle sticks? These are some of the questions plaguing KDH right now. To find out the answers I went straight to the guru of Hamptons gardens for some wise winter season tips. Famed garden stylist, founder of The Best @ Dianne B, and president of LongHouse Reserve, Dianne Benson helps prep our green thumb for a glorious spring / summer season in this new KDHamptons Garden Diary below:
KDHamptons: As an enthusiastic home gardener I would love to know what somebody of your caliber does to prepare in the winter season?
Dianne Benson: Well, the first day my garden will be open in the spring is May 10th, as it will be featured on the Garden Conservancy’s program, which just happens to coincide with The St. Luke’s House and Garden Tour. The Church Tour is being orchestrated by my partner, Lys Marigold, and promises to be very exciting, with a cocktail party, on May 9th, at the new Ocean Avenue home of Jeff Gates and Michael Moran the night before. Preparing for an Open Garden Day is much more intense than just hoping that the tulips and fritillaries will be at their peak. There will be endless pruning, picking, and purging the garden from this nasty winter.
KDHamptons: Do you have a dream team working with you on your home gardens?
Dianne B: I actually do much of my own garden work. For me it serves as a spa, a workout and a cure-all therapy. I am never happier than when I have a few uninterrupted hours to spend outside. [Like this past Sunday, with the much appreciated high 50's temperature it was heaven to be outside, though under the melting snow were many sad plants].
Dianne shares, “The garden, even under several inches of snow, is extremely demanding.
Trudging around in high drifts shaking snow from the tree limbs has been the most physical effort this winter season in the Hamptons, but the most challenging part of winter garden work is deciding what to order from the specialty nurseries and summer bulb people. Stop stressing about the snow in your backyard. The longer you wait to place your bulb orders, the less likely to get exactly what you want.”
KDHamptons: Which flower do real gardeners spend the winter months searching for most?
Dianne B: Precisely the right peony: I like single petal white ones with dark burgundy splotches in the middle (Khlem’s Song Sparrow Nursery) or giant black Elephant Ears, but not the shiny ones (Brent and Beckys Bulbs) or Fabulous fuschia already trained to look like an Alice-in-Wonderland tree (Landcraft’s Hot Plants for Cool Places).
KDHamptons: Are there new varieties of flowers that you are currently researching?
Dianne B: After reading The Signature of All Things, my passion for different kinds of mosses has gotten completely out of control. Also, surprisingly, I am looking for geraniums, not the obvious red Pelargoniums, the perennial sort, but I want interesting variegated leaves and violet flowers — a hard combination to come by. And clematis, to get exactly the ones you want, and for me that means not only rebloomers, but also the kind that create little tuft-balls after they have bloomed plus no pink — not in any of its shades — and that is hard to avoid.
KDHamptons: Have you ordered any special seeds this winter?
Dianne B: I am not an instant gratification gardener by any means, nor do I have the time or patience for growing from seed, germination or hybridization I leave that to the more horticulturally advanced. However, I am crazy about bulbs, tubers and corms and hunt them out in all seasons because they are usually the most exotic plants. Most of the fabulous tropicals grow from one of these intense packages: bulbs contain all the ingredients that are needed to make a plant grow, unlike plants with roots that have to depend on types of soil and moisture. Think of an amaryllis really healthy ones can bloom without ever being planted and the same goes for my various voodoo lilies. I’m on a constant quest for new colors in calla lilies and species lilies, which are the old fashioned ones: small and richly colored with upturned petals, often called ‘Turk’s caps’.
KDHamptons: Will you please share a great garden book you are currently reading?
Dianne B: Well, I am actually buried into The Birds of New York. As Chair of the LVIS Nature Trail Committee, I aim to identify the myriad ducks at the ‘Duck Pond’ on Davids Lane so that the new kiosk can be kept up with the best information. This afternoon there were at least 8 different kinds of ducks [see top photo] devouring the healthy food and two that I have never seen before! I think they are ‘American Black ducks’.
KDHamptons: Can you please share a little scoop on a few special garden projects you are working on with KDH readers?
Dianne B: Yes, here’s a few: As President of LongHouse Reserve [pictured below], I am involved with everything, and we are abuzz with planning for the most intense season we have ever presented – ever. Aside from new art installations and new merchandise for INstore, there will be an exhibit called exteriors which will highlight the best in outdoor design and cover all 16 acres. Plus there are eight special events planned for the season the most exciting of which is our fabulous Summer Benefit WHITE HOT + BLUE 2 .
This year, as our Arts Patron, we are honoring Agnes Gund, the fabulous MOMA president emerita, and maybe the most exciting arts philanthropist on the planet, and the LongHouse Award is going to Cindy Sherman. So, we are expecting tout le art world and making plans to give an exceptional Benefit Party on July 19th — definitely not the same old thing.
Also, as a member of the Board of the Watermill Center [below], I cannot yet leak the name of the Benefit on July 26th, but I can tell you that the theme is exotic: think Arabian Nights and that will put you in the right mood!
KDHamptons: How do you manage so many projects and still have time to cultivate a gaspworthy Hamptons home garden?
Dianne B: There is not enough time in any day to accomplish all the things on my ever-mutating To-Do List. Saturday is March 1st and Ash Wednesday is next week! That means Spring Equinox is only a few weeks away and that is when my gardening business really kicks into gear….so I am rushing to get my website and my newsletter DIRTIER in spring shape.
My new leather Garden Gauntlet Glove [below] has become a big hit, so I am rushing to put a larger size for Men into production. Life is good!
For more information on Dianne Benson, please go to: http://www.diannebbest.com