ISSUE 97  |  Love Letter to the Houseplant

A Painter’s Legacy: Madoo Garden Lives On

November 11, 2013 6:00 PM

BY Lindsey Taylor

Earlier this fall on September 14 the garden community lost one of its enthusiastic members, Robert W. Dash, a poet of the New York School, a painter of the Long Island School, and the creator of a two-acre garden that became an institution, Madoo in Sagaponack, NY.

In 1967, Dash purchased a farmland property in Sagaponack at the time when New York artists where migrating out east. He called it Madoo, which is an old Scottish word meaning “my dove.” With a keen vision he turned the nondescript land into a series of whimsical gardens, and the old farmhouses became his home and painting studios. Twenty years ago Dash deeded the site to the Madoo Conservancy, a nonprofit foundation with a focus on study, preservation, and enhancement of Madoo. On his death his extensive garden library, decorative arts collections, and artwork by his contemporaries and his own works were transferred to the Conservancy.

He had an impressive collection of plants on his death and over the years the garden became a place for events, artists, and garden enthusiasts to gather and roam. He traveled to England where he met the great gardener Rosemary Verey, who became a friend. In her honor, he recreated many of her trademark designs, including her famous yellow blooming laburnum arbor walk and her frog fountain.

Dash was known for a number of his own original design gestures that have been mimicked by others. His sculptural stand of fastigiate gingko with boxwood balls planted among the trees still holds today as a strong statement and is witness to his witty infectious character that many will miss.

Photographs by Mick Hales.

Above: The gingko grove at Madoo with 50-foot-tall fastigiate gingkos pruned every year to emphasis their linear form and underplanted with common boxwood trimmed into balls.

Above: The new gingko grove underplanted with Chamaeycyparis pisifera ‘Filifera Aurea.’

Above: The Chinese bridge with bent hoops painted Imperial red. The bench is vintage Lloyd Loom from Dash’s grandmother.

Above: The telephone path is made of approximately 8-inch thick pieces of discarded telephone poles.

Above: The potager garden is inspired by the late Rosemary Verey’s potager at Barnsley House, which in turn was inspired by the potager at Villandry. In this photo, the leeks are about to bloom, foliage of the cardoon adds structure, and roses and clematis climb the blue Madoo forms–and two varieties of crabapple are trained to create the entrance arch. 

Above: The rose rill looking back toward the winter house. The borders are planted with Rosa rugosa ‘Hansa,’ stachys, allium, lythrum, and asparagus. Rose ‘Applejack’ is trained on the hoops along with clematis and hops.

Above: The secret garden of the Summer House with Lythrum Crocosmia ‘Lucifer’ and casablanca lilies about to come into bloom.

Above: Yellow flag iris surrounds the pond with the Chinese bridge to the far right. The bronze fountain was created by sculpture and garden designer Win Knowlton.

Madoo is open to the public on Friday and Saturday from noon to 4 pm during late spring and summer. For more information, see Madoo Conservancy.

In the mood for exploring? See all of our Garden Visits posts. Looking for another New York garden? See our recent story on Grace Kennedy’s Fall Garden.