Thursday, September 14, 2017

September 14, 2017--Arboreal Chic

I'm so glad we no longer have a house in East Hampton.

In case I was having any doubts about moving on when this formally bucolic place became a bastion of conspicuous consumption among big-bonus outer-borough Wall Streeters, a story in last week's New York Times cured me.

"How Does the Hamptons Garden Grow? With a Lot of Paid Help" is about vegetable gardening Hamptons' style.

The Times reports that compared to more familiar small scale, do-it-yourself vegetable gardens--
On the gilded acres of Long Island's East End, a different set of skill set often applies: hiring a landscape architect to design the garden, a gardener and crew to plant and pamper the beds, and sometimes even a chef to figure out what to do with the bushels of fresh produce. All that's left is to pick the vegetables--though employees frequently do that too.
Of course the "different set of skills" begins with the ability to write a big check.

Alec Gunn, a landscape gardener whose made-to-order gardens typically go for as much as $100,000 has something interesting to say about what is going on out there--
"What's driving the gardening bug [pun intended?] among the affluent, [professional] gardeners say, is their clients' focus on "self-care"--a curious phrase for a pursuit that requires so much help. . . [He adds], that the impulse includes a "moral component."  
"There's so much wealth, he said, "It's, 'Let's take something I've been fortunate to have [money] and put it back into the environment. I want to do something to reduce what I'm taking.'"
Rona and I knew it was time to begin to think about bailing out after participating in a garden tour for the benefit of the local Animal Rescue Fund. Among the gardens we visited was Martha Stewart's. She had recently bought a huge "cottage" by the ocean. 

We were stunned particularly by her mature rose garden. It was at least a half acre and included perhaps 50 varieties of roses. Talking with one of her gardeners we learned that it had been planted the week before.

"Just a week ago?" I nearly screamed at him. He just smiled as if to say, "If you have the money . . ."

A week or two later we were wandering around one of our favorite garden stores, Marders in Bridgehampton. They were well known for their stock of specimen trees. We stopped to look closely at one--a huge conifer. Not to buy it, it was listed at $5,000, but to admire its majesty.

We knew one of the owners and he walked over to say hello.  I said, "This is some tree."

He said, "If you promise not to tell anyone I have a story about it." We promised not to, though I am breaking that vow now. He told us that two, three years earlier Paul Simon, who had an estate on the beach in Montauk, wanted rows of them planted on both sides of the quarter-mile drive to his "cottage."

"We told him they wouldn't thrive there because they would be so close to the ocean that there would be too much salt in the air for trees of this kind. He insisted, and we said OK, but that we wouldn't guarantee them. He agreed and, though we shouldn't have, we agreed to plant them."

"What happened?" Rona asked.

"Within a year they were all dead."

"How much did they . . . ?"

"Hundreds of thousands," he confided in us. 

This was more than 15 years ago when hundreds of thousands was real money.

The Times article concluded--
The initial excitement of a vegetable garden fades for some clients. They lose interest, after they are planted. . . . It's the same thing with the chickens. They say, 'I have to have chickens, so I can tell my friends,' but they end up giving the eggs to the help.
Let me end with something on the same subject from my new-favorite book, Kevin Phillips' Wealth and Democracy--
The Hamptons, where roadside vegetable stands sell Osaka purple mustard and Romanian wax peppers, developed a particular case of arboreal chic. Crimson king maples and golden honey locusts costing tens of thousands of dollars apiece became status symbols along with weeping copper beeches, according to one Baedeker. They had to look like they had been there since the first settlers:
Size, rarity, and the difficulty of transportation add to the cachet of some trees, but in the end it comes down to expense. Some trees now gracing Hamptons estates have been driven down from the Pacific Northwest in refrigerated tractor-trailers, and some have been planted with the aid of military-size Sikorsky helicopters to obviate the necessity of rutting the lawns with wheeled tracks. 
Amagansett Farmers Market

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