Bored, Mary Gamble and Joe Graziano took a walk one relatively mild February day. With no pressing destination in their neighborhood, the Columbia University professors pulled on boots, wandered off their beaten track, and penetrated the hinterlands of their 2-acre Mount Kisco property. They found what they discovered along the way compelling, and they wanted to explore further.
A circuit of bridges connect to the hinterlands of the landscape, adding intrigue.
But they couldn’t actually access the more remote reaches. In fact, they couldn’t wander beyond the land immediately hemming the house. When their journey was continually halted by the numerous streams that run through the land, they made a decision: They were going to reach the periphery of their property, and they were going to do it comfortably and frequently. “We decided to utilize the whole property,” Graziano says.
That was the day they planned the first of eight bridges.
Left: Husband and wife team Mary Gamble and Joe Graziano enjoy the patio backed by hydrangeas and a trellis of ‘New Dawn’ roses. Right: A red Flower Carpet rose nestles beside a hydrangea on the patio.
The year of the cabin fever revelation was 2007; the couple had spent the previous five years renovating their house. “It was a wonderful home in need of TLC,” Graziano says about their fixer-upper feat. Built in 1925 by Lillian Greneker — a Renaissance woman who excelled in multiple careers, including Broadway dancing, architectural designing/building, sculpting, and invention — the French country–style house was Greneker’s favorite architectural triumph. She chose the house as the home she shared with her husband, Claude Greneker, director of publicity for the Shubert Theatre.
Although a bridge by the house was present at purchase, it was rebuilt to safely access the garden now filled with grasses and blooming perennials.
Halfway up Crow Hill Road and one of five houses she built on a parcel she subsequently divided, the Greneker house ultimately developed serious drainage issues that the Grenekers initially solved by diverting water via streams. However, when Gamble and Graziano came onto the scene, the neglected streams were not performing properly.
The couple tackled that problem first, and with the water flowing correctly, the two put in the initial leg of a wood-chip path (the wood chips resulted from the loss of many ash trees that fell victim to emerald ash borer) and installed the first of several wooden bridges.
Above: Ornamental grasses possess the heft to bulk up to mature trees in the further regions of the property. Below: “Caladium is the filler of choice when we see an empty spot,” Graziano says. Lady’s mantle (Alchemilla mollis) boasts beautiful velveteen foliage throughout the year plus chartreuse blossoms in spring. Astilbe ‘Delft Lace’ furnishes midsummer flowers when other perennials pause.
Bridge building became an ongoing initiative. Over time, they extended the path network, and whenever they hit a stream, they installed a bridge. But their makeover didn’t just entail a series of pathways: The goal was to create garden destinations throughout the circuit. Stone walkways ringed the house, and large swathes of pachysandra were already in residence.
Beyond that jolly green ground cover, they wanted a series of focal points and scenes to accent the journey. Gamble and Graziano have always gardened, more or less, and — informed by reading plant books and periodicals, as well as by swapping advice with fellow gardeners — they personally oversaw plant selections, installing astilbes, ferns, epimediums, bleeding hearts, and foxgloves where paths slip into the shade of mature trees.
The ash trees that perished to emerald ash borer were chipped to create paths.
They wanted to strengthen the woody element, but finding understory trees and shrubs that would love the wet feet proved a challenge. They found that shade trees, river birches, viburnums, and witch hazels (which they have propagated themselves) work brilliantly for shade. In sunnier locations, they planted informal beds filled with bee balm, buddleia, agastache coreopsis, rudbeckia, nepeta, and Verbena bonariensis. Ornamental grasses provide foliar diversity and late-season interest.
With their first February foray in mind, Gamble and Graziano wanted interest throughout the seasons. “We [strived] to create a garden that flowers from mid-February to November,” Graziano says. Further bridges followed as they moved out to conquer previously unreachable destinations. Throughout the process, they enjoyed their property to the fullest. The experience brought the land and its homeowners into a coalition wherein all reap the rewards.
Above: The grill and a birdhouse are stationed on the patio before the path disappears into the woods. Below, left: Rose of Sharon shrubs bring color to late summer. Below, right: The screened porch was repaired to allow an easy overlook to admire the nearby garden of grasses and rudbeckia.
The two have moved outward from the house to reach their land’s limits. But the most recent project was a vegetable/flower garden right outside the kitchen. Gamble designed a raised, stone-bed crescent garden where the couple can grow vegetables, herbs, and annuals. As with all their plantings, beauty was an essential part of the brew.
Gamble envisioned an armillary as the focal point and serendipitously found the exact antique of her dreams during a visit to Sag Harbor. The result offers just the right dose of formality adjacent to the house and feels very much in concert with the architectural flow.
Astilbe ‘Delft Lace’ and Monarda didyma keep pollinators working while surrounding trees provide perches for birds.
The homeowners are not the only ones to benefit from the beauty. Birds have a field day feeding from the many bird feeders, and an indigo bunting regularly visits during migration to take advantage of the spread. In addition, Gamble and Graziano have opened their garden for Garden Conservancy Open Days and learned from visitor feedback. This June 30, their garden will again be part of Garden Conservancy Open Days; go to www.gardenconservancy.org for details. In turn, the couple frequently attends local garden tours, benefiting from what they see.
Not many gardeners reach out to their property’s boundaries and make the entirety of the dialogue. But for these two, taking their land to the limits has proved infinitely fulfilling.