By Christine Sampson
The gardens at the Madoo Conservancy are in full bloom, the renovation and restoration of an 18th-century barn is nearing completion and a new art exhibit is being readied for public viewing — all in time for “Much Ado About Madoo,” the organization’s annual benefit party and garden market, planned for Friday and Saturday.
This year’s festivities hold special meaning for the Madoo Conservancy, located at 618 Sagg Main Street, which is celebrating the 50th anniversary of the year the late artist Robert Dash moved into the former Sagaponack farm and began creating both its well-known gardens and his acclaimed artwork. Mr. Dash died in 2013 at the age of 82.
“I think Bob would be very proud,” Alejandro Saralegui, the organization’s director, told a visitor just before offering a tour of the gardens. “We’ve brought Madoo back into the spotlight. We’ve refreshed it in ways I think he would approve of. His expression was, ‘I don’t want it preserved in amber.’”
What people may not know, however, is Mr. Dash did not necessarily draw inspiration for his artwork from his gardens, according to Mr. Saralegui. Instead, it was his artistic sense that informed his garden designs.
“People always look for the tie-in between the painter and the gardener, but to him, they were separate arts,” Mr. Saralegui said. “Not so separate that they didn’t mesh, but he had another expression: ‘I paint with a trowel and garden with a brush.’”
Mr. Dash’s 1,000-volume collection of gardening books is currently in storage while the house and barn are renovated and restored. A selection of his paintings, titled “Robert Dash: Sagaponack Landscapes,” will be housed in the restored barn beginning Friday, and will be open for viewing on Fridays and Saturdays from noon to 4 p.m. and by appointment through July 22. The landscapes capture a visual history of Sagaponack, “truthfully represent[ing] the time and place in which they were made,” with a focus on architecture, fertile fields, woodlands and waters.
The restored barn, built around 1740, was ultimately combined with several ancillary sheds and more recent additions to create a functional house. “As a whole, it is read as one unit with utmost respect to the agrarian past of Sagaponack,” according to the Madoo Conservancy.
The gardens themselves will be the venue for an outdoor marketplace of like-minded, complementary vendors, with a preview starting at Friday night’s cocktail party. Guests will have the chance to access rare plants, home and garden accessories, antiques, fashion, fragrances and more. Jamie Niven will present a live auction at Friday at 7:15 p.m., which will feature an acrylic painting by Mr. Dash titled “Kim’s Boat,” a pair of antique Directoire garden chairs donated by celebrity garden designer Charlotte Moss and what Mr. Saralegui described as “the most hotly contested lot” — eight sacks of chicken manure.
The lineup of events Saturday starts at 9:30 a.m. “A Talk in the Studio” will be with Betsy Pinover Schiff, a garden photographer who recently published the book “Sidewalk Gardens of New York,” and Barbara McLaughlin, the president of the Fund for Park Avenue. The talk will be moderated by writer Wendy Moonan, with a book signing and breakfast reception to follow. The garden market itself runs from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday, and two hours dedicated to children will be from 3 to 5 p.m. “Once Upon a Time at Madoo” will include activities such as potting plants, face painting and print-making inspired by Mr. Dash’s artistic style.
The gardens, which range from classic American landscapes to European-inspired designs, “take you from bright to dark, from compressed to open spaces, making use of quintessential gardening devices,” Mr. Saralegui said.
“Much Ado About Madoo” is meant to inspire the love of art and gardening and to honor Mr. Dash’s legacy, Mr. Saralegui said. Future plans include creating residency programs for artists and gardeners to do their work.
“He left a remarkable legacy in his body of artwork and in Madoo, which has been open to the public for the last 25 years,” Mr. Saralegui said. “We’ve worked to build on that. Our restoration project will allow those buildings to survive for another 150 years. The gardens themselves have been rejuvenated. As things change, we’ll let the garden evolve. Bit by bit, we’re turning this into a center of creativity.”