For photographer and artist Judy Tomkins, who lived a few miles north of New York City in tiny Sneden’s Landing for nearly 60 years before dying earlier this year at age 90, “her stone and clapboard house was—like her landscapes—just another canvas,” recalls her daughter Jocelyn Jones Watkins.
Tomkins’s garden and 18th-century house have stories to tell of an interesting life lived fully. (The property is on the market, with an asking price of $1.6 million.) Known for her intimate portraits of New York’s art and literary luminaries such as the abstract painter Jasper Johns (whom she snapped in his studio) and Harper’s Bazaar editor Diana Vreeland (whom she photographed in a high-necked caftan), Tomkins was equally renowned for her garden. Celebrity neighbors Bill Murray, Mikhail Baryshnikov, Diane Keaton, and Al Pacino asked her to design theirs, as well. It’s pretty clear why they were charmed:
Photography courtesy of Sothebys Realty.
George Washington slept here. Possibly. The 18th-century stone and clapboard house (remodeled and enlarged from its original one-room footprint to 2,400 square feet in the 20th century), was “rumored to have served as his office when his men were guarding the ferry service from high up on the Palisades cliffs,” notes Sothebys.
Tomkins’s second husband was New Yorker critic Calvin Tomkins.
“I used to play in my mother’s gardens endlessly,” says Jocelyn Jones Watkins. “It began in May when they would be freshly cleaned and the negative space around the plants, and the floor of lush earth, lured me into creating lavish fairy lands in them. The tulips with their long graceful stems not only made for fine fairy trees, they also would offer their petals up for beds, and headboards, and skirts and such. I’d fill a basket with sticks and stones, heart-shaped rocks, feathers, and shells and spend endless hours making steps and fences, tables and beds, and even elevators.”
About 10 years ago, writer Jaclyn Vorenkampa from 10964 (the local Palisades newsletter) asked Tomkins to describe her philosophy of landscape design. Tomkins replied (“with energy”): “First, pull out all the pachysandra!”
“Whereas Leo Castelli’s gallery became the epicenter of contemporary art, Judy’s house was second home to many of these artists, who came together often to relax and celebrate their communal interests,” says Jocelyn Jones Watkins. “For over a quarter of a century they gathered to celebrate every Thanksgiving and Easter in their ‘favorite house on the Hudson’ with a woman they credited with influencing much of their life and style.”
See more of the property at Sothebys.
N.B.: For more of our favorite New York area gardens, see:
- Garden Designer Visit: A Low-Maintenance Brooklyn Backyard by New Eco Landscapes.
- 10 Garden Ideas to Steal from the High Line in New York City.
- A Secret Roof Garden at Rosemary’s in Greenwich Village.