Gardens as Art


By Marianne Levine

This Saturday, August 23 marks the fifth annual Guild Hall “The Garden as Art” Tour. An East End tradition that started with Guild member Alexandra Munroe’s suggestion that a gardening tour might be a creative way to fundraise for Guild Hall’s many educational and community programs. It’s executive director, Ruth Appelhof, welcomed the idea so enthusiastically that it swiftly led to a mid-winter scouting trip with two interested Guild Hall members. 

“Carol Mercer and Erika Shank met with me in the depths of winter. We pulled on our snow boots and basically looked around at some gardens,” Appelhof recalls fondly. She stresses that “The Garden as Art” tour has always been a collaborative undertaking. That chilly peek into a few iced-over back yards five years ago germinated into an event that currently includes seven lush summer gardens and additional admission to the spectacular gardens of the LongHouse Reserve and Madoo.

This year’s “The Garden as Art” tour commences with a special cocktail party and additional garden viewing at the home of Dina Merrill and Ted Hartley on the Friday, August 22, and proceeds the next morning with a breakfast at The Maidstone Club prior to the actual garden tour. This year’s tour looks at the gardens from a historic perspective.  From the beginning “The Garden as Art” organizing committee decided that each year should have an underlying and unifying theme. This year’s lecture, given by New York Times writer and garden historian, Mac Griswold, of Sag Harbor, places the gardens on tour within the context of gardening design and its history on Long Island. This is the first year that the lecture will focus specifically on the seven gardens on view. Appelhof credits Griswold’s involvement as an exciting component of this year’s discussion as “she is able to look at a garden and relate it to famous gardens from the past and to gardens from here and around the world.” 

“The Garden as Art” tour has developed and changed with each year. The first year’s tour focused on the gardens of local artists. The freshman committee selected five gardens that had artworks on display or had the artists’ studios open out into the garden, but the committee, which quickly turned into a group of 12 garden enthusiasts, realized early on that they needn’t limit themselves to these gardens since the gardens themselves were works of art. Appelhof points out, “like architecture, gardening is a creative art, but in gardening there’s an uncontrollable natural element which always creates infinite intensities and wonderful transformations.”

This is especially true on the eastern end of Long Island. Appelhof notes, “What’s so unbelievable is the richness and variety of the gardens we show on the tours. The climate here does lend itself to beautiful gardening, but we also have gardeners and designers of great taste and with the means to develop that taste.”  Because there are so many gorgeous gardens to choose from, the tour has offered new ones to view each year.   Appelhof declares “we really owe it to the people on our tour to showcase new gardens annually, because we have quite a loyal following.” The gardening committee also endeavors to keep the gardens close to Guild Hall so that it is more convenient to drive between them and gives participants a chance to linger and enjoy the gardens, most of which have never been on public display.

“Our committee members know so many people in the community who love gardens and gardening and who talk about them all the time that it was easy to find gardens for the tour,” Appelhof states, and adds, “in the end it is really the community out here that comes together and supports us in this project which in the end helps us to fund our educational and community programs.”

For those who want to add yet another garden to the already hefty array of horticulture, there’s a special benefactor’s luncheon after the Maidstone Club lecture at the home of Guild Hall Board of Trustees members, Cheryl and Michael Minikes. Appelhoff cannot find enough positive words to say about their magnificent grounds, “There are just acres and acres of flowers. It’s just breath-taking. You almost need a guide. You could actually get lost in this garden.  It just goes on and on.”  

In the end the Guild Hall’s executive director admits planning “The Garden as Art” tour has been a personal pleasure, not only because the gardens are so beautiful, but also because the organizing committee has been so enjoyable.

“We’re all such good friends now. We get together socially even when we don’t have the committee meetings, which take place once a month, and it’s so wonderful because we’re all such different people who really come from such different walks of life, but we really enjoy each other’s company.”  And Ruth Appelhof is certain others will enjoy the fruits of their labor. For tickets and more information about “The Garden as Art” tour contact Danielle Zahm at 631-324-0806.