The Brine Garden is right here in Pawling, nestled at the foot of North Quaker Hill Road off Hurds Corners Road. Duncan and Julia Brine, the owners of this private garden, are principal designers of GardenLarge, a naturalistic landscape design and installation firm. In fall, after a busy summer of designing and tending to their clients’ gardens, they open their own garden to the public as part of Garden Conservancy Open Days. The program seeks out America’s finest private gardens and presents them as “living works of art.” When it comes to the Brine Garden, that’s an apt description; time spent there offers an experience somewhere between a hike and a museum visit. Julia says, “We enjoy welcoming friends and neighbors when the garden is full of ripening berries, and the leaves are turning color.”
On October 13 from 12:00 p.m. to 6:00 p.m., rain or shine, you’ll be able to stroll on grass and gravel pathways that connect ecologically and horticulturally diverse areas covering six acres. (Don’t worry, many of the slopes are gentle, although some are not. Several strategically placed benches offer respite throughout.) When you arrive, you’ll receive a map of the garden as well as a checklist of the 184 plant species (113 of which are native) that can be found on the property.
The layout of the garden is a study in naturalistic design, a somewhat loosely defined term that indicates a less regimented style than one typically finds in traditional gardens. Duncan explains that this approach “combines a gardener’s needs and desires with nature’s dictates. The gardens are not generic or paint by numbers – each one is unique. The diverse native flora, landforms, soil, climate, and other regional characteristics inform their individuality.”
Adding an old-fashioned ambience to the bucolic setting are twin 1920s-era farmhouses. The Brines have been cultivating this formerly agrarian landscape for more than two decades. Their maturing native plant collection includes an allée of Taxodium distichum, or Bald Cypress, a native of the seasonally inundated soils of the Southeastern and Gulf Coastal Plains. These trees are surrounded by intriguing “knees,” knobby structures above the roots. Although the purpose of these outgrowths isn’t really known, they are often present in swampy areas, leading to speculation that they help stabilize the trees in waterlogged areas. Chionanthus retusus, related to the native Chionanthus virginicus, will be showing off its blueberry-colored drupes. Adding hints of autumnal color will be more than twenty species of Viburnum, both native and non-native. Several hedges of Miscanthus giganteus, a non-native (but sterile and hence non-invasive) grass reaching up to thirteen feet, structure the garden. As you follow the path, a view through arching branches will often highlight a charming focal point, like a small open meadow-like space or a rustic wooden footbridge traversing a trickling stream. You’ll be transported. The cool breeze, the sounds of rustling leaves and crunching gravel under your feet soft-pedal the thrum of passing cars which although near, comes softly, as if from a great distance.
A week before, on Saturday, October 6 from 12:00 p.m. to 6:00 p.m., rain or shine, members of the Mad Gardeners are invited to visit the Brine Garden. The Mad Gardeners are a group of passionate, amateur and professional gardeners in Southern New England. Members of the organization sponsor a yearly landscape symposium, visit each other’s gardens, and are involved in invasive plant control in the region. If you’re interested in becoming a member contact Angela Dimmitt at email@example.com. Annual membership is $30 for an individual, $40 for a couple. Visit their website, MadGardeners.com to learn more.
The Brines began their business in 1984 in Brooklyn, and they have been creating and caring for residential gardens from New York to Boston ever since. They specialize in native and deer-resistant plants, whole property gardens, and invasive plant control. Duncan Brine is also an instructor at the New York Botanical Garden, and Julia is an accomplished botanical illustrator. Find out more by visiting their website, GardenLarge.com.