Ande and Peter Rooney's garden at Twin Brook Farm in Ulster Park, NY, has quickly made its mark with Open Days visitors after just a few years of working with us. Twin Brook Farm, named after two streams that feed cascading ponds, covers 200 acres. Originally used as pasture, it is now a series of perennial gardens plus thirty acres fenced for a herd of North American bison. We caught up with Ande as she was preparing her garden for her Open Day on May 30 after a harsh winter in the Hudson Valley.
Q: What highlights should Open Days visitors expect to see when they visit your garden?
A: "We decided to open earlier this year to give our repeat visitors a completely different visual experience. The color palette is fresh and clean with vivid greens, blues, purples, soft pinks, yellows, and silvers.
While the garden is still waking up, you can also really see the bones of the garden structure, which are covered with plant material summer through fall. Being able to see the roll of the landscape, the rock ledges, the waterfalls, and how each element integrates with the other, is exhilarating and always puts me in my edit mode!
To that end, during spring clean-up in one pond border, I composted some Russian sage (Perovskia atriplicifolia), transplanted various salvias and Echinaceas, and then experimented by adding evergreen material, facilitating a drastic visual change. Ouch, it hurt! But, the new mix of perennial plants with evergreens adds year-round color and texture to that border."
Q: Can you describe your garden a bit beyond the brief description in our Open Days listing?
A: "This winter was so harsh I was sure we had lost many plants, but every day brings surprises with new survivors. In our over 16 years of working the land and the gardens on Twin Brook Farm we have never seen such tree damage or unpredictable growth schedules.
One very interesting observation for me has been that nothing is breaking ground, or leafing, per normal, so we are seeing very different blooming combinations. What never changes are the spring sounds of peepers, birds, bees, miscellaneous insects, water and wind, all welcoming the onset of a new season."
Q: How has your garden grown over the years?
A: "Gardening is truly an obsession. Every spring, each bed extends outward several inches, new gardens are born to accommodate perennial division, and separate garden areas morph! We now have ten separate garden areas totaling approximately 6 -7 acres.
Throughout the property we have large scale sculptures in fields and meadows, five major water features, and three cascading waterfalls, as well as a breeding herd of North American bison. They are magnificent animals with deep chocolate eyes that give you the feeling you are looking into the eye of God.
As we age as gardeners, and as our gardens mature, we change our choice of plant material. We begin with annuals, a few flowering shrubs, perennials, herbs, maybe a few loved veggies for summer alfresco dinners.
Then we realize the garden is getting larger and we feel like all we do is weed, weed, and weed some more. That amazing creative edge is dulled and we realize our passion for gardening depends on our ability to make choices and edit. Suddenly, annuals are no longer welcome, choices of perennials change based on dependability, and we move into shrubs, evergreens, and trees!
Phew, it takes a while to get to this point, but it is such a relief to simplify the garden and fully appreciate that less is more!"
Q: Can you tell us about your first garden?
A: "As a kid, I began weeding for my grandmother in her very typical 1950s border, complete with a rose arbor entrance and a fieldstone walkway. After college, in 1968, I rented my first house, converted a shed into my art studio, and enthusiastically planted a vegetable garden, built a pergola with trumpet vine over a railroad tie terrace off my art studio, and learned much about plant material -- and myself!
The successes of that first garden moved with me to Twin Brook which included a variety of ornamental grasses, heritage root stock peonies from my grandmother’s garden, and ‘Autumn Joy’ sedums from my mom’s garden. Both women inspired me to become a gardener. What a joy it is to be able to remember them as I design with my own plant material."
Q: Do you have any lessons for a new gardener?
A: "In retrospect, making a garden is not such a daunting experience as many new gardeners fear. My evolution as a gardener has encouraged me to share tips, making the journey less stressful, a creative challenge, and a joy.
Creating a garden is a series of choices and edits. The first choice is to decide how you will use your garden. You need to study your light, your soil type, and how you will water. The second choice is to decide what plant material is best suited to your conditions and function of your garden. That sounds simple, because it is!
Once you have defined your garden’s function and goal, then the fun begins and the journey is lifelong! My advice is to always look at gardens you admire in books, as well as to your life experience and your imagination. Ask questions, dig deeply in the dirt, and realize you cannot fight this wonderful and fulfilling addiction."
Q: What is your biggest gardening challenge?
"Our major gardening challenge is reworking and editing each year's new growth as it relates to the land. We try to be as native as possible with all our plant material and to encourage wildlife habitats. Because we have abundant water, we have been able to develop extensive borders. Our journey has not been without failures and each experience has helped the garden grow into a gorgeous living painting.
Please do visit us at our Open Day on May 30! We would love to share our passion with you!"