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Northeast Gardening: A Visit to Old Westbury Gardens

Brought to you by Lowe's Creative Ideas

In a place where the Prince of Wales once played polo and Long Island's North Shore became a Gold Coast in the early 1900s, a walled garden grows with all the grace and elegance of the past.

garden gate with pond
garden gate

The setting is a 200-acre estate called Old Westbury Gardens, where an allee of linden trees leads to a three-story Charles II-style mansion. It's also where wood anemones welcome spring along a hillside, a circular boxwood-bordered rose garden blooms, and lotus and water lilies decorate a large pool hugged by a latticework pergola dripping with wisteria.

But if anything stirs reflections of the storied past, it's the 2-acre walled enclave, where spring bulbs are followed by summer and fall annuals and perennials. The line of succession includes peonies, roses, lilies and hollyhocks; poppies, phlox, Russian sage and asters; and dahlias, salvia and tibouchina too.

garden shed

Vines garland the brick walls, and autumn clematis softens the wrought-iron gate. And Old Westbury may be a far cry from England, but you can't tell that by the delphiniums. They are tall and lovely in shades of blue, lavender, pink and white. They rival the delphiniums that have bloomed in my memory ever since I spent my junior year in college studying in London.

Whenever I visit the walled garden, I try to imagine the first lady of the manor. Margarita Phipps was a new bride when her husband, John, brought her to the estate. Her fancies and feelings live on in the plantings that ring a central water fountain--clusters of white irises, cosmos and catmint and, of course, delphiniums.

And I think of Margarita's daughter, Peggie Phipps Boegner, the second lady of the manor. Peggie, who died five years ago, just shy of her 100th birthday, spent her girlhood in the brick mansion and had tea with her dolls in a thatched cottage that still looks as if it came straight out of a children's storybook. It's surrounded by English-style plantings of cosmos and cleome, and hollyhocks and hydrangeas.

Peggie lived on the grounds after the estate became a nonprofit organization and opened to the public in 1959. And she nurtured the walled garden in her mother's memory. It's a favorite spot for young lovers who come there for wedding photos. I think both ladies of the manor would like that.

I'd love to hear about your favorite public garden!

Open every day except Tuesdays to October 31 from 10 a.m. until 5 p.m. House opens at 11 a.m., with the last vehicle allowed onto the property at 4 p.m. Admission charged. Old Westbury Gardens is located at 71 Old Westbury Road, Westbury, New York. For more information, visit www.oldwestburygardens.com or call 516-333-0048.