Fellows Focus: Celia Hegyi

An early supporter of the Garden Conservancy, Celia has been instrumental in our success. From supporting our early endowment campaign to recent educational programs, she has been by our side advocating for the importance of preserving and sharing gardens with the public. Inspired by gardens from a young age, Celia gardens at her homes in Southport, CT, and Pebble Beach, CA. In her professional life, she provides art advisory services. She formerly served on the board of directors of the Couture Council at the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York City and is involved with various philanthropic organizations.

You’ve been a Fellow since 1997 and have supported our work to preserve, share, and celebrate gardens in countless ways. How did your interest in gardens begin?

My interest in gardens began very early, growing up at our home outside of Philadelphia, when my father christened me “Chief Weeder,” a job I looked upon with distaste. But bit by bit, somewhere during those hot, steamy, sweaty hours in the garden, a “germ” was planted and I eventually asked for a tiny patch of the garden for my own seedlings. That patch of earth was mine until college.

Years later when my own little family moved from Manhattan to our current home in Southport, CT, I came face-to-face with a beautifully designed garden. It was mostly bare, but I realized much later that the bones it did have were magnificent. It was a huge challenge then, and it continues to be a challenge today.

You garden in Southport, CT, and Pebble Beach, CA. Tell us about the gardens; what have you learned from gardening in these distinctive climates?

I truly love the diversity of gardening east coast/west coast. It was a steep learning curve coming out to the northern coast of California from Connecticut. Fog and cool prevail, yet we have a tiny lemon grove and olive trees which I’ve always associated with the hot, arid hills of Italy and of southern California. There are still roses, but not the varieties I was used to ('Sally Holmes' beauties surround us).
It’s been thirteen years now that we’ve been in Pebble Beach and finally, the learning has plateaued. Living in such different zones has heightened my appreciation of each. As soon as I arrive in either location, I run into the garden first thing to see what magic has happened because where I am on any given day is so different than where I was the day before.

Last fall, you graciously hosted Fellows and friends at your home as part of our inaugural Salon Series. You also hosted Fellows in your home in Paris before our Loire Valley tour in September and have traveled with us to many unique destinations over the years. What has your experience been as a member of our Fellows community and participant in our programs?
The Fellows’ travel programs are a most stellar way to travel. Not only for the magnificent and truly interesting gardens and the warm welcome and hospitality from each and every host, but most especially, for the rich bonding experience with the other participants. Each travel group includes new members, along with the usual garden enthusiast suspects, and the garden commentary (not to mention the gossip) is priceless. I really wish I could do absolutely every trip offered. 
Hosting the Loire Valley participants was icing on the cake. Everyone could view my expansive and ever so perfectly maintained garden…across the street. French taxes are always hard at work keeping “my” jardin (du Luxembourg) impeccable.

Our 2018 inaugural Speaker Series was made possible in part by a generous contribution made by you, and our 2020 Speaker Series is being supported by your new challenge grant. Thank you for helping us bring some of the most important voices in the garden world to audiences around the country! What do you hope our community of garden enthusiasts will gain from these enriching educational programs?

Don’t we all love to hear and learn from notable speakers about their very personal experiences in dealing with nature? Whether it be a design, an adaptability, or a how-to-grow-it issue, our horizons are broadened. We walk out of the lecture a little more enlightened and maybe even inspired; that’s what I care about.

Gardens and gardening are such individual pursuits, yet the intersects are endless. As an example, in an upcoming lecture Alexander de Vogüé will no doubt tell us about his very clever approach to the ever increasing boxwood blight that has already infected Vaux-le-Vicomte, a solution which is a perfect segue to the next question.

In your professional life, you provide art advisory services, and you formerly served on the board of directors of the Couture Council at the Fashion Institute of Technology (FIT) in New York City. Do you see an intersection between nature and art?

Ah, my favorite topic: nature and art! Nature is art, but oh so fleeting. In front of me as I write in San Francisco, there are scented geranium stalks I bought at the local farmers market. Each blackened vein on its undulating edged leaf is a work of art. I sit and stare as if it were on a museum wall—and, well, I should spend time gazing now, because in a week, it's gone. Nature is an even more precious and precarious form of art because of this temporary state. To me, any aspect of nature is art. My love of gardens and of art are totally intertwined. 

Any other thoughts or remarks you’d like to share with our Fellows?

I haven’t mentioned how proud I am to be part of the Garden Conservancy’s mission to save so many beautiful and now enduring spaces. 
You don’t have to look that closely to see that the Conservancy has two sides: the serious and successful accomplishments of their founding mission and the other more individual, fun side like Open Days, lectures, trips, and meeting other garden “artists.” It’s a joy to be part of it all!

Photos courtesy of Celia Hegyi