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Quick Takes With: Alan Calpe and Christopher Crawford

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Quick Takes With: Alan Calpe and Christopher Crawford

March 24, 2024
Gardenheir's Alan Calpe and Christopher Crawford

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We didn’t know we needed quietly stylish workwear and Italian garden clogs in our lives until Alan Calpe and Christopher Crawford’s Gardenheir came along. Now, like many others who’ve discovered their website or wandered into their chic shop in Windham, NY, we’re obsessed. The pair founded the business “after becoming more and more consumed as we made our first garden in Upstate New York,” says Alan, who has a background in visual arts and art education; Christopher comes from fashion design. Next up for the enterprising couple: “We recently purchased the property next door and much of it is quite wet land, so we are slowly working towards creating a wild, meandering bog garden.” 

Ready to find out what they wear when they garden (spoiler alert: it’s not Crocs) and how they use dryer sheets to fend off bugs?

Photography courtesy of Gardenheir.

Christopher and Alan (right) in their moonlight garden.
Above: Christopher and Alan (right) in their moonlight garden.

Your first garden memory:

Alan: One of my oldest friends’ mom was an avid gardener and made a beautifully jungly Florida garden that welcomed you through the front door. I wish I could’ve told her just how much of an influence she was, from peeking into her floral arranging workshop to her once making me a gift of a large strawberry pot dripping of herbs to accompany me to college. I’d consider it my first garden, actually.

Book/show/movie/art that has influenced your work:

The couple knew nothing about gardening when they purchased their 4-acre property in Upstate NY—but they were diligent students, reading everything they could on plants and garden design. See Lessons Learned: The Founders of Gardenheir Share the Highs and Lows of Designing Their First Garden.
Above: The couple knew nothing about gardening when they purchased their 4-acre property in Upstate NY—but they were diligent students, reading everything they could on plants and garden design. See Lessons Learned: The Founders of Gardenheir Share the Highs and Lows of Designing Their First Garden.

Christopher: Early on, reading other’s accounts of making their first gardens, like Margery Fish’s We Made a Garden and Jamaica Kincaid’s My Garden. The unknowing, the failures and pleasures, resonated with us as we fumbled through our beginning gestures.

Alan: Gilles Clément’s The Planetary Garden and Other Writings shapes a philosophical approach to gardening that I think about often. There’s still much of his work that I don’t think I completely grasp, but it challenges us to look deeply, think more deeply, into the decisions we make in the garden.

Garden-related book you return to time and again:

Alan: We have a copy of Derek Jarman’s Modern Nature in plain view in our home. Because it’s written as diaristic entries arranged through the passing of a year, we often will pick it up to read the chapter that coincides with our own time, to bring him and his garden at Dungeness close to us.

Instagram account that inspires you:

Christopher: Dan Pearson @coyotewillow. Monty Don @themontydon, of course.

Plant that makes you swoon:

Iris fulva.
Above: Iris fulva.

Alan: Iris fulva (copper iris). A native iris with a perfectly simple form and seductive rusty tones.

Plant that makes you want to run the other way:

Christopher: Burdocks, Japanese knotweed.

Favorite go-to plant:

Ornamental grasses planted in their landscape include Deschampsia cespitosa and the Veronicastrum virginicum &#8\2\16;Album&#8\2\17;.
Above: Ornamental grasses planted in their landscape include Deschampsia cespitosa and the Veronicastrum virginicum ‘Album’.

Christopher: Still a sucker for heirloom roses even if they’re finicky in our garden. Pycnanthemum (mountain mints) for sure.

Alan: Also, our garden would be nothing without the structural ornamental grasses.

Most dreaded gardening chore:

Christopher: Picking off Japanese beetles.

Unpopular gardening opinion:

Alan: We have a hard time getting rid of plants that we’ve fallen out of favor with or might not even be thriving so well. It’s sort of like a bad tattoo that you refuse to remove because it reminds you of a particular time in your life. (Even if it’s relegated to a far-off corner somewhere!)

The one thing you wish gardeners would stop doing:

Beauty in the unruly.
Above: Beauty in the unruly.

Alan: Being too stressed about tidiness.

Old wives’ tale gardening trick that actually works:

Christopher: Sheets of fabric softener tucked into a garden hat or the neck of your shirt to ward off bugs.

Favorite gardening hack:

Alan: The lasagna layering method for preparing new garden beds has done wonders for our soil condition and backaches.

Christopher: Using used coffee grounds and fireplace ashes as amendments.

Every garden needs a…

Mountain mint flanking some steps in their garden.
Above: Mountain mint flanking some steps in their garden.

Alan: …journeying path and a place to sit.

Favorite hardscaping material:

Alan: The abundant stone on our property. It’s expected that digging new areas for planting will involve an arduous removal of rocks, many quite large. Those have become material for crude rock walls and borders that are sympathetic to the garden.

Go-to gardening outfit:

Above: Gardenheir’s Garden Smock, pictured in Hazelnut, is $108; Le Laboureur Workpants, pictured in French Green, are $118.

Alan: Our Garden Smock, Le Laboureur Workpants or a pair of my dad’s old houndstooth chef pants.

Christopher: And long socks with our Italian Garden Clogs!

Favorite nursery, plant shop, or seed company:

Christopher: We love Catskill Native Nursery, Hudson Valley Seed Company, Greene Bee Greenhouse.

Alan: I’m enamored with Issima… such treasures in their collection.

Tool you can’t live without:

Tools neatly displayed on a pegboard wall at Gardenheir&#8\2\17;s Windham shop.
Above: Tools neatly displayed on a pegboard wall at Gardenheir’s Windham shop.

Alan: The Sneeboer Royal Dutch Push Hoe and Transplanting Spade.

Christopher: Niwaki GR Pro Secateurs and Folding Saw.

On your wishlist:

Alan: On our perpetual wishlist, deer fencing. Every year, we make an oath to put one up, but then it always falls away and we make peace to welcome the deer and just garden differently. Until the next year’s devastation comes around and the frustrated talks begin again.

Not-to-be-missed public garden/park/botanical garden:

Christopher: So many, and ones we embarrassingly have yet to visit ourselves. But, close by, The High Line and Little Island have added so much to the city and it’s pretty incredible how well-visited these sites have become, how it’s created conversation about plants.

The REAL reason you garden:

Alan: I needed something that helped occupy the creative impulses, appreciation for labor and nerdy research that slowly slipped away from me in my art practice. I’m so grateful to the garden for this.

Thank you, Alan and Christopher! You can follow them on Instagram @thegardenheir

For more interviews in the series, see:

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