Sandra Saiger had no intention of falling in love. A permanent relationship with a home and garden was the last thing on her mind when she bought a 1918 Dutch Colonial and its surrounding four acres in Bedford Hills. Her plan was to flip that house—just as she had flipped several others, using her talent for renovating homes in need of a savvy eye and an instinct for what makes people want to settle in, happily ever after. So she went to work creating all the comforts of home—for someone else.
Saiger never thought she would be in residence long enough to wade through the fluffy nap of densely packed pachysandra that flows around her front door. She never imagined that she would see the viburnums that she placed around the walkways in full glory. All she really wanted when she bought the house 15 years ago was to rid the property of its invasive hoard of weeds, thronging just footsteps from the back door, and get it fixed up for someone else to enjoy, a talent she discovered out of necessity.
When her husband, Sherman Saiger, passed away after a brief illness in 1991, leaving her with four children under the age of 16, her first step to family survival was to sell her stately Federal house and buy something less expensive, with the intention of reselling. She was so successful in that game that she ultimately flipped three houses and bought her current home—all within the span of ten years. “I had no attachment whatsoever to those houses—they were just money in the bank for me. I figured that I’d go live on a mountain or something when the kids grew up.”
Meanwhile, she had another strategy to keep the family solvent. She realized her longtime dream of opening her own design shop when the perfect location in Mount Kisco became available in 1994. Simultaneously, a decorator took her under his wing and taught her the ropes of retail. Together, they blew through tag sales and auction houses. She shadowed him at gift shows. And she became a veteran at putting a polish on tarnished furniture. As a result of her finesse, her shop—Blithewold Home—is still perking along 19 years later. Conceived as a creative outlet, it remains the go-to place for Saiger’s ingenuity.
The shop was doing well and she was resigned to living in houses that were merely investments when Roger Goldman came into Saiger’s life 11 years ago. It all began, she says, with “a wrong telephone number,” blossoming from a misdial into everything right. When Goldman, a New York City-based attorney, married Saiger and came to the property, it was a game-changer. Goldman dug in, Saiger became a nester, and the couple started installing the backyard of their own dreams.
A large portion of the property is shaded by trees—most of the backyard is under the umbrella of a majestic, 120-year-old copper beech, one of several that stretch down the street. “It may have once been one huge property,” Goldman surmises. “In an aerial view, you see the copper beeches all in a line going east.” In addition, there are spruces and pines scattered throughout the Goldman-Saiger landscape, lending intimacy. Originally, there was an all-embracing, 100-foot-tall linden (“messy as can be,” says Saiger) behind the house. “I used to worry what the place would look like if anything ever happened to that tree.” The unthinkable occurred: In 2008, lightning struck the linden. The replacement was a southern magnolia that is a much neater solution, but requires burlap wrapping for winter protection.
The prevailing shade had definite benefits, but there was the disadvantage that a pool could not fit easily into the picture. Indeed, the only obvious space for one was partially obstructed by a stone ledge. “A hill of stone came out to the middle of the backyard,” Saiger recalls. If a pool was going to be part of the future, a big chunk of that hill had to go. After a little dynamite, a section of the escarpment was history. To soften the remaining ledge, Saiger had stone terraces built into its crown, planting them with ground covers. “It looked strange at first,” she admits. But now that they have grown in, she says it’s brilliant. And the pool has become a gathering place for the family—with plenty of umbrellas and outdoor furniture in place. Saiger had the insight to give the pool the large footprint of a bluestone patio. A flower-packed perennial garden and a little goldfish pond (originally stocked by two of the neighbor’s goldfish that grew fruitful and multiplied) complete the scene immediately behind the house.
A path laid in the ledge beckons seductively, offering the only inkling that there might be something further afield. “This is our jewel,” says Saiger of the formerly overgrown thicket at the crest of the hill that hosted only “a shot-out greenhouse” when Saiger first moved in. Although Saiger has beds of larkspurs, snapdragons, salvias, echinops, and other cutting flowers basking in the sun, the upper garden opens into Roger’s realm, a massive vegetable garden that produces enough bounty to keep the family in fruits and vegetables throughout the year—thanks to a pantry and freezer full of preserved goods. “We’re a good team,” says Saiger. “He grows and I cook.”
Early in his gardening career, Goldman picked up James Underwood Crockett’s book, Crockett’s Victory Garden, and it has been his bible ever since. “I follow that religiously. It goes month by month, telling you what to do and when to do it. I’ve made a lot of mistakes, but now I’m kind of good at it.” Clearly, he’s being modest. Rows and rows of beans, peppers, kale, and peas (shelling and snaps, all given fencing to clamber on) dwell bountifully within a fenced area, producing crops with a largess that would rival any CSA. There are 12 different varieties of tomatoes—110 plants in total—all of them started from seed by Goldman (“There is nothing more satisfying than starting your own seeds,” the estate lawyer asserts). In March, the couple’s basement is a laboratory of sprouting seedlings.
The vegetable garden is also a place where the two nurture souvenirs. When Saiger and Goldman go on their frequent shopping trips to Europe to stock Blithewold Home, they come back with more than just crates of antiques. This year’s cucumber seeds came from a vacation in Greece. Ditto for the zucchini and one of the 12 varieties of tomatoes. Fruit is also part of the picture; within the fenced enclosure, cages protect berry crops from the birds.
Together, husband and wife have created the perfect Eden. Goldman gives Saiger trees as birthday gifts knowing that they will still be at this home to see them reach their full potential. Plantings that Saiger installed early in the game are now magnificent, thanks to her initial, spot-on instincts. But the botanical element is only part of the ambience. To the extremely savvy layout below and savory “farm” above, Saiger added a sprinkling of antique statues and faux bois furniture. Beyond their brick-and-mortar shop, Blithewold Home has an online presence at 1stdibs.com, and the garden serves as one repository for Saiger’s inventory of phenomenal upscale antiques waiting to be sold. After all those years of flipping homes, she’s learned not to become too attached to things. Plus, there’s another advantage: The changing accents keep the garden forever fluid. As for the backdrop—it’s a keeper. The owner of Blithewold Home has finally found her own home.
Although Tovah Martin’s vegetable garden can’t compete with Roger Goldman’s, she grows a cornucopia of organic fruits and vegetables on her own seven acres. She also writes about gardening organically indoors in her latest book, The Unexpected Houseplant. . She lectures throughout the region (her schedule can be found at tovahmartin.com) blogs at plantswise.com.