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Evening Light: A Painter’s Serene Summer Garden in Upstate New York

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Evening Light: A Painter’s Serene Summer Garden in Upstate New York

August 28, 2019

Last summer, photographer Alison Engstrom and I took an early morning Amtrak north from New York City to Hudson to visit artist Helen Dealtry and Dan Barry in their clapboard house, tucked behind a hedgerow in the small upstate town of Claverack. The light was too harsh at midday to photograph the gardens, but after we finished shooting the eclectic interiors (see An Artist’s Circa-1830 Home in Claverack, New York), we noticed early-evening dappled light—and stepped outside to capture a few shots of the quiet gardens, just in time. Here’s a look.

Photography by Alison Engstrom.

The circa-1830 house is set back from a main street in Claverack, where tall hedgerows abut the road and conceal the historic houses and sprawling gardens behind.
Above: The circa-1830 house is set back from a main street in Claverack, where tall hedgerows abut the road and conceal the historic houses and sprawling gardens behind.

The couple was living in Brooklyn when they discovered the house online in the fall of 2016. The gardens, by landscape designer Peter Bevacqua, were mostly in place. Bevacqua has become a friend: He lives down the street amid sprawling, intricate gardens. On the day we visited, Dealtry pointed out two long, oval pieces of honeycomb in their dining room, a gift from Bevacqua and his bees.

Hedge maintenance is a running joke in the neighborhood: It’s rumored some spend tens of thousands of dollars on their upkeep. (For their part, Dealtry and Barry say, they hire a crew to trim their double front hedge of hornbeam and boxwood, plus some trees, a few times per year.)

The front entrance, seldom used by the couple, with trailing potato vines casting shadows on the steps.
Above: The front entrance, seldom used by the couple, with trailing potato vines casting shadows on the steps.
Just to the side of the house is a gravel driveway with the only addition the couple has made to the landscape: a swinging wooden gate that marks the entrance into the back gardens. “Using a limited plant palette of hornbeam, boxwood, arborvitae, and linden for the garden’s bones, I created green walls for privacy and to divide the long narrow property into rooms,” Bevacqua said.
Above: Just to the side of the house is a gravel driveway with the only addition the couple has made to the landscape: a swinging wooden gate that marks the entrance into the back gardens. “Using a limited plant palette of hornbeam, boxwood, arborvitae, and linden for the garden’s bones, I created green walls for privacy and to divide the long narrow property into rooms,” Bevacqua said.

The Summer Dining Patio

The driveway leads to the back of the house, and the entry more often used by the couple, where garden beds create outdoor rooms, including an outdoor dining room for summer meals, tucked between the flowers.
Above: The driveway leads to the back of the house, and the entry more often used by the couple, where garden beds create outdoor rooms, including an outdoor dining room for summer meals, tucked between the flowers.
A glass table serves as potting bench, with basil and small strawberries ready to be planted.
Above: A glass table serves as potting bench, with basil and small strawberries ready to be planted.

Helen does most of the gardening; fitting, as flowers and floral patterns are the focus of her work as a watercolor painter. (You can follow some of her sketches and paintings on Instagram @helendealtry; she also teaches workshops.)

Above: Among the flowers, roses and delphinium grow by the new gate.

Outdoor Living Room

The garden beds curve and swoop to create privacy and separate spaces within the pea gravel patio.
Above: The garden beds curve and swoop to create privacy and separate spaces within the pea gravel patio.

“All the beds were existing; we have just added pots and a few new plants to the existing beds. The color scheme and planting were very simple and we have added a few new varieties such as lavenderroses, and delphiniums,” Dealtry says. She cuts foliage and flowers from the garden to paint, she adds: “I love to cut branches from the garden since we have so many trees. Also, the hostas are abundant and add a great sculptural structure to other more whimsical flowers.”

A summer living room, set for lounging. The outdoor furniture was all in place when the couple moved in.
Above: A summer living room, set for lounging. The outdoor furniture was all in place when the couple moved in.

Hedge Path

Adjacent to the patio, bordering the driveway, two rows of hornbeam hedges—one tall, one short—create a passage of sorts, leading into the expansive gravel garden.
Above: Adjacent to the patio, bordering the driveway, two rows of hornbeam hedges—one tall, one short—create a passage of sorts, leading into the expansive gravel garden.
Turning and walking between the hedges, it feels as though you’re entering another room, Secret Garden style.
Above: Turning and walking between the hedges, it feels as though you’re entering another room, Secret Garden style.

Gravel Courtyard

Beyond the hedges lies the garden’s piece de resistance: a long, formal gravel garden, centered by a screened outbuilding (for long, warm-weather dinners) and a shallow reflecting pool.
Above: Beyond the hedges lies the garden’s piece de resistance: a long, formal gravel garden, centered by a screened outbuilding (for long, warm-weather dinners) and a shallow reflecting pool.
Despite its formal elements, the garden has a relaxed, languid feel to it, as though one could lounge all day eating strawberries in one of the vintage-style armchairs.
Above: Despite its formal elements, the garden has a relaxed, languid feel to it, as though one could lounge all day eating strawberries in one of the vintage-style armchairs.

Beside the shed is a practical element: a tumble composter that the couple feeds with scraps from their kitchen. “It will be used on the flower beds in late fall,” Dealtry says. (Read more about the options in Hardscaping 101: Composting Systems.)

The shallow pool, with lily pads, is home to the couple’s turtle, Moe. He winters in a glass tank in the house until the water warms up enough for his reentry.
Above: The shallow pool, with lily pads, is home to the couple’s turtle, Moe. He winters in a glass tank in the house until the water warms up enough for his reentry.
A moment of whimsy: spherical boxwoods dotted around the grounds, and a driftwood chair, left behind by the previous owner. “The boxwoods get hand-trimmed twice a year, in spring and early fall,” Dealtry says. “It’s a learning curve; I hope it gets faster!”
Above: A moment of whimsy: spherical boxwoods dotted around the grounds, and a driftwood chair, left behind by the previous owner. “The boxwoods get hand-trimmed twice a year, in spring and early fall,” Dealtry says. “It’s a learning curve; I hope it gets faster!”

Back Allée

Two rows of pleached linden trees form a sun-dappled allée along the very back of the garden, and allow for extra privacy.
Above: Two rows of pleached linden trees form a sun-dappled allée along the very back of the garden, and allow for extra privacy.
The view from the steps of the black outbuilding, looking toward the house, over the gravel courtyard and pool.
Above: The view from the steps of the black outbuilding, looking toward the house, over the gravel courtyard and pool.
Dealtry, Barry, and their dog, Dudley.
Above: Dealtry, Barry, and their dog, Dudley.

Are you designing a patio or driveway? See our curated Hardscape 101 guides for help, including Low-Cost Luxe: 9 Pea Gravel Patio Ideas to Steal. For more virtual walks through Hudson Valley gardens, see:

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