Mention gardening or gardening books or experts on the topic and one name comes to mind immediately: Page Dickey. The doyenne of this subject has written several books on the subject, in addition to countless articles, and also has a blog. Now she has written a memoir “Uprooted: A Gardener Reflects on Beginning Again” — a book that her readers have been asking for since she moved from one property to another.
“It’s an extremely personal book, the most personal I’ve ever written. My readers have been wanting a book explaining the move and the curiosity about starting again. What is it like to leave a garden you had for 34 years and loved passionately and to move on to a completely different place and environment? It’s never a clean slate. A lot of the book is comparing and contrasting the two gardens. It also seemed right for the times we are experiencing. So many people’s lives have changed during these past months. And, in retrospect, I believe that some change may be for the better. Certainly in my case it has.”
For over 30 years, Dickey and her husband Bosco Schell lived at Duck Hill Farm in North Salem, New York, with three acres of extensive cultivated gardens. A sight to behold, indeed. About five years ago they moved across the border into Falls Village.
“We were getting older,” explains Dickey, “and the gardens had developed a certain notoriety. People came in groups to look at them and there was an impetus on our part to keep them looking perfect all the time. We did all the work ourselves, which is what I wanted to keep doing. There were three acres of intensive plantings, hedges to trim, borders that needed constant editing, roses to prune, flowers to deadhead, a large vegetable garden to tend, a woodland garden to care for, and a meadow to weed! My husband and I were both finding the maintenance a challenge. We did all the work ourselves, which is what I wanted to keep doing.
“Northwest Connecticut was always in the back of my mind as a place I could live. I love that countryside and we have a number of friends there, so it wasn’t as if we were moving to an unknown place.”
As is usually the case, after looking at several houses, there is usually just one more to see. And that invariably turns out to be the one.
“It was just minutes off the main street in Falls Village,” recalls Dickey. “I had previously dismissed the property after seeing it on the Internet. The interiors appeared without charm and the house seemed to sit right on the road. What we saw as we came up the driveway was a simple house set in what seemed to us the most beautiful landscape.
The land was sunlit, open, the wide lawn in front transitioned into a meadow that gently dipped down to pine woodland. A glorious sugar maple towered over the house and other venerable trees graced the property.”
Dickey was sold, even though the house was not what she had in mind — it was neither Victorian nor a farmhouse. And instead of the three acres at Duck Hill, this property included 17 acres. The house was built in 1793 as the Battle Hill Methodist Church, the first Methodist church in New England. After closing on the property in 2015, Dickey renamed it Church House. Duck Hill was sold and renovations began on the new house — the beginning of another phase of the couple’s life.
“While there is a good deal more land, the garden around the house is smaller than at Duck Hill. It sits surrounded by open space that allows the grass to grow and the fields to flourish; then it dips into low edge woods and on the other side there are rocky limestone woods. I have never owned uncultivated land before. A lot of my energy is spent clearing and making trails. We have a smaller number of gardens to take care of, but we still have quite a few around the house. A lot of my time is spent in the woods and just enjoying that whole aspect of natural gardening.”
With the change in climate from one state to the other Dickey has the opportunity to rethink what she can grow.
“Where we live now is one zone colder,” she explains. “The good news is I can finally grow sweet peas, but some things that survived at Duck Hill won’t survive here. We have very sweet soil, except in the deep woods. It’s been a learning process to see what works and what doesn’t. In the flower garden, for instance, I knew that things like lilacs, peonies, and primrose would love it here.”
Dickey has settled in, gardens are in place and the garden thrives in its new setting.
“A wise friend, visiting Duck Hill many years ago, warned me not to give up all the negative space on our three-acre parcel. I ignored him and did just that, filling every inch of ground with trees and shrubs and hedges, boxwoods and flowers. It was all pretty and I loved it, but it offered no rest to the eye. We are lucky now to have a generous amount of land, and I hope the small gardens clustered around Church House do not intrude on the bigger, wild beauty that surrounds us and that I treasure.”
“Uprooted” officially published this week and under normal circumstances, Dickey would have been on tour. Because of Covid-19 many of the planned events will take place virtually. However, Dickey will be doing a personal appearance and a modified book signing at Pergola Home in New Preston, on Oct. 3, from 2 to 5 p.m. It will be held on the back deck of the shop. Books are available for pre-ordering. For more information visit www.pergolahome.com.