Local professional green thumbs share their tips for growing gorgeous gardens.
By Merri Rosenberg
Spring is here, summer beckons, and you’ve decided to stop being green with envy about your neighbor’s beautifully landscaped pool or lush gardens and do something to revitalize your own. Or maybe you’re in despair that the deer will devour whatever you plant. But where—and how—to start your garden?
To help achieve whatever outdoor look you’re longing for, be it a modest perennial bed, an abundant English cottage garden, or a total transformation of your property, we’ve located 10 of the county’s most able and imaginative experts—landscape architects, landscape designers, and garden designers—for you. Some are familiar to us because of their work, while others’ names came up time and time again among the gardening pros we consulted. Each has a unique take, style, and method for turning a patch of earth into a stunning work of blooming art.
The Show Stopper
—Elaine Yellen, Landscape Designer—
Background: Trained at the New York Botanical Garden (currently is the president of its alumni association).
Pet Project: The Winged Foot Golf Club in Mamaroneck. “It’s the first place I started, and I’ve watched it grow and develop.”
Pet Peeve: “I generally do not like a totally evergreen garden. Westchester gardens tend to have too much evergreen.”
What Clients Say: “We live on a little itsy-bitsy postage stamp of a lot,” Janice Eiseman of Scarsdale says. “Elaine is very creative, and the plantings are just beautiful. Cars literally stop to look at our front yard.”
Occupational Hazards: “Even though I know what it looks like, every summer I get poison ivy at least three or four times.”
Best Solutions for deer: ”The only real way to keep deer from eating your plants is to have a deer fence, but Milorganite also works. It’s a fertilizer and the deer don’t like the smell. “
worst gardening mistake: “Planting aegotodioum—a plant that takes over everything, and that’s exactly what it did.”
Secret to Keeping Nails Looking Good: “I have learned to appreciate the beauty of cracked hands and dirty nails—they are gardeners’ hands.
Favorite Gardening Equipment: “My crew—and they’re cute too.”
Fees: A typical design starts at about $3,000 to $4,000, with a percentage over the whole sale cost of plant materials, as well as a percentage of the construction costs for supervision.
Contact: Elaine Yellen, LLC, Scarsdale (914) 723-4090.
Background: SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry
Claim to Fame: Working on Derek Jeter’s Orange County house; some other gardens featured in House and Garden magazine; the Christmas lobbies for the Rudin Management.
Signature Look: “I like a lush, English cottage garden sensibility, with masses of roses, lavender, flowering bulbs, grasses, and hydrangeas.”
What Clients Say: One Scarsdale resident (who requested anonymity) says: “My architect was always late to every meeting, but not Dan. And Michael Becker, his flower guy, is beyond a dream. He’s so meticulous: if he doesn’t like the way the plants look, he rearranges them.”
Fees: about $125 per hour for Sherman; $90 per hour for a staff member (fees may vary).
Contact: Daniel Sherman Landscape Architect, PC, Valhalla (914) 824-0999.
—Ann Catchpole-Howell, Landscape Designer—
Background: A native Brit, Catchpole-Howell began her career as a fashion designer in London. Self-taught gardener who credits her late mother for much of her knowledge and skill.
Design Philosophy: ”I’m an aesthete when it comes to gardens and exceedingly critical. There has to be rhyme and reason. Because I’m a classicist, I like to have allÃ©es. I like to be able to walk from one outdoor room to another, and I like to have things lined up in a natural progression. It does not exclude spontaneity, but there has to be reason to it.”
Signature Look: Approaching a garden with a classicist’s mindset. “I like the intellectual challenge of being able to solve the problem.”
Pet Peeve: Bad pruning.
Fees: Depends on project
Contact: Ann Catchpole-Howell, LLC, Bedford
Background: a former artist who trained at the Boston College of Art and the Museum School.
Design Philosophy: ”I like to create beauty. I like to bring in as much color as possible, throughout the entire season and, to me, each piece of property is a different sculpture and a different painting all put together. There’s always something beautiful and unique in each and every landscape and my job is to awaken it and bring it forth.
Claim to Fame: Has used Feng Shui principles to design gardens and landscapes.
Signature Look: “My use of bulbs is unique. I plant living choreographed displays in small or large spaces that will literally and completely change colors three times during a two-to-three month period. My motto is, â€˜There are never enough flowers.’”
What Clients Say: “Lia planted perennials and thousands of bulbs,” reports Gail Greenstein of Katonah. “I had known her work as an artist and thought that working with flowers as her palette would be fabulous, and I was right.”
Must-Haves: “A water feature. It can be as simple as a small fountain or as complex as you like.”
Best Solution for Deer: “I have a secret organic recipe that feeds plants while keeping deer off. Over-the-counter products that work well are Milorganite, but this only works until plants are about a foot tall—the deer can’t smell it at that height—and Bobex, which has to be applied after every rain.”
Secrets to Keeping Nails Great: “I don’t. I can’t wear gloves because I need to feel the roots, the soil. But I’ve found that the aloe and olive oil moisturizer by Kiss My Face is a miracle for gardeners’ hands. I always keep a bottle in my car.”
Favorite Gardening Equipment: “My hands, eyes, nose! I love my perennial shovel with its long narrow blade. It’s much better for transplanting perennials.”
Pet Peeve: “I love color so I am disappointed at seeing red and yellow tulips being used so much. There is such an amazing array of colors to choose from; expand your horizons. Color, color, and more color.”
Fees: $95 an hour to draw up a design: $75 an hour to draw up and execute a design (which includes purchasing plants; the fee is double the cost of the plants).
Contact: Red Salamander Enchanted Environments, Wingdale, New York (845) 329-3325
Background: A Bachelor of Landscape Architecture from the University of Minnesota.
Claim to Fame: Commercial credits include work for Fox Studios and NewsCorp headquarters in Los Angeles; and the Dun and Bradstreet corporate headquarters in Wilton, Connecticut. She also is on the design review committee for the Village of Bronxville and consultant to the Bronxville Historical Consultancy.
Signature Look: Stone work that looks as if it’s been part of the property forever. “I’m very particular about transitions—how the built areas of the landscape evolve to the mostly planted parts.”
What Clients Say: Bronxville resident Dave Harris, an investment banker, knew that the property he and his wife have would be “challenging,” requiring extensive hardscaping—sidewalks, curbs, driveway—as well as plantings. One landscape architect he had hired before signing on with Byers “didn’t quite get it.” But “with Renee,” says Harris, “everything flowed as if it had been there for fifty years. It fits into the setting in a classic and understated way. I don’t think I’ve ever dealt with someone so competent.”
Best Solution for Deer: “Usually we go with a combination of deer fencing, electric fencing, and cattle guards.”
The worst gardening mistake: “I’m very careful with my clients, but my own garden is more trial and error. I’ll sometimes test the limits of plants—putting something that needs sun in a shady area.”
Pet Peeves: “The single most infuriating thing for me is to see landscape maintenance people—so-called â€˜gardeners’—mechanically prune shrubs and destroy any natural beauty the plants possess and, in just a few minutes, take years of growth to an irreparable state.”
Fees: Most projects start at six-figures; Byers, like other architects, charges a percentage of the project.
Contact: Renee Byers Landscape Architect PC, Bronxville (914) 337-3103.
The Water Bearer
—Glenn Ticehurst, Landscape Architect—
Background: Studied landscape architecture at SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry, and received a degree in landscape architecture from Syracuse University.
Pet Peeve: “People who don’t maintain their property appropriately.”
Signature Look: “We always like water in a garden, like fountains or waterfalls. Water can be used to mask sounds. We’re very often associated with landscapes that have pools.”
What Clients Say: Martha Handler of South Salem didn’t know what to do with her 68-acre property until she met with Ticehurst. “I interviewed seven different people,” she says. “Glenn knew where to site the house for sun orientation, for views, for driveway aesthetics so we would have the most beautiful approach to the house—it was wonderful. And he was good about working with the subcontractors and our masons. I wanted it to look as if it had been here for one hundred years, and it does.”
Fees: Start at $5,000 for drawings, plus a percentage of the project.
contact: Armand Benedek and Glenn Ticehurst Ltd.,
—Hallie Flanagan Wolfe,
Background: Trained as an environmental educator; self-taught set designer; self -taught garden designer.
Design Philosophy: “My gardens must reflect my clients’ taste and not my own, but they’re usually vibrant and full of color.”
Signature Look: Deliberately “under-designed,” to look as natural as possible, with a plant palette that favors forget-me-nots, hens-and-chicks peeking from rocks; masses of begonias in pinks, whites, and yellows; daisies; grasses; lilies; iris, salvia, nepeta; and ferns.
clients say: “Hallie is just remarkable,” declares Margo Paz, whose home in Chappaqua was a “from-scratch” project. “She knows what’s practical, and she’s so fast to respond. If I call because I see deer in the garden, her guys will come over immediately.”
Must-Haves: “I love roses—there are all these new varieties that are fungus resistant and bloom all season long.”
Occupational Hazards: “I’m scrupulous about avoiding poison ivy. Before I go out in the morning, I coat all my exposed parts with a bees wax-based gardeners hand cream, and, when I get home, I wash my hands and face thoroughly.”
Best Solution for Deer: “Unless you have a couple of coyotes on your property, fencing is my best solution so far for keeping deer away.”
Worst Gardening Mistake: “I planted some dwarfed bamboo by a pond, thinking it would be a lovely little clumping bamboo, but it spread like crazy and turned out to be the ugliest plant I ever saw; it looked like a rat’s nest.”
Favorite Gardening Equipment: “I love tools, but I’m really picky. I don’t like flat hoes but prefer a long handled pointy-hoe. It’s perfect for thinning out vegetable beds. Felco pruners are my most important tool. They come in left- or right-hand models and different sizes and have replaceable blades. The cheapest pair runs about $40. Folding pruning saws only cost about $20, and they fit into tight spaces so they’re perfect when you are pruning mountain laurel or rhododendrons that are up close to a house. You have to get down on your knees and slither around like in those army training manuals to get up close enough to make clean cuts.“
Fees: For a master plan, average is $3,500 to $5,000; hourly rate is $90; maintainence is $40 per person per hour.
Contact: Hallie Flanagan Wolfe Gardens, Ltd.,
Background: Coursework at Rutgers University Cook College/Center for Urban Ecology and the New York Botanical Garden School of Landscape Design. Teaches ecological restoration at the
Design Philosophy: “We would like to see landscapes be much more environmentally friendly. We use native plants whenever possible.”
signature look: “We do what’s appropriate in the space. Not everybody needs a waterfall. Recently, we’ve been using misting systems to create mist and fog gardens. They’re also used to cool patios, or to create effects for children’s play gardens. And we’re using gem quality stones in pools, like amethyst geodes, as part of the water features.”
Pet Peeve: “Cheap, sloppy, shoddy masonry. In most cases, natural rock works just fine. People build these stonewalls and patios, and there are poorly fitted joints. It’s awful.”
Special Focus: Archer frequently works for the county and is often called upon by clients to deal with their drainage problems and design backyards that can handle both our climate’s droughts and downpours. “There are areas that don’t want to be lawns,” he says. “English gardens really don’t do well in Northern Westchester without extreme care.”
Fees: Ground maintenance service is $40/hour; design services range from $1,800 to $10,000; construction projects range from $10,000 to a million.
contact: John Jay Land Management, Katonah
Background: Former fashion designer, ceramicist, and sculptor, with an MFA from Columbia and a BFA from Washington University in her hometown of St. Louis, Missouri.
Design philosophy: “I go for the broad stroke. I love hardscaping, sculpting the land, doing the bones. I come to plants almost as an afterthought.”
Signature Look: Low stone sitting walls. “They offer lots of places to sit in an entertaining space without requiring a tremendous amount of furniture.”
Occupational Hazards: “I seem to be immune to poison ivy. Once I even sat in a bed of it but didn’t get the rash. I’ve had two nasty bouts with Lyme disease though.”
Favorite Gardening Equipment: “I love my Japanese weeder, my combo trowel/transplanting spade, and my serrated garden knife.”
Pet Peeve: “Red mulch. I hate it. I also hate when developers site the driveway so that it leads to the back of the house and the garage, instead of guiding people to the front door.”
Fees: $85 hourly rate
Contact: Delphinium Designs, South Salem (914) 763-6026.
Background: A self-taught garden designer (she studied anthropology at Beloit College in Beloit, Wisconsin); trained at Nilsson’s Greenhouse and at Botanical Gardens. Worked with Charlie Shepardson of
Design Philosophy: “I care about how the garden will look in two years, in five years, in ten years.”
What Clients Say: “Becca is thorough and loves to get her hands dirty,” reports Louis Lownstein of Larchmont. “She has ideas, but knows I’m the gardener at my property,”
Must haves: “Fragrance.”
Occupational Hazards: “I used to pull poison ivy out with my bare hands and never get a rash. But tolerance fades over time, and now I dread it.”
Best Solution for Deer: “I scream.”
Worst Gardening Mistake: “Trusting a client’s definition of where the property line was. We planted all these trees to block the view of the neighbor’s houseâ€¦on the neighbor’s property. He hated trees. We had to move everything.”
Secret to Keeping Nails Groomed: “I haven’t any. But I do wear gloves—the grip model.”
Favorite Gardening Equipment: “My pouch—the Town and Country from Arden Garden. I wear it around my waist, and it holds my cellphone, keys, clippers.”
Pet Project: “The private garden in the Castle in Irvington, because the owner is such an ideal client. I was able to plant what would have been there in a medieval garden.”
Pet Peeve: “Dyed red mulch. I can’t work with clients who use it. If I walk on a property and they have it and don’t hate it, that’s a problem.”
Fees: $200 for initial consultation; $50 an hour.
Contact: Becca Mudge Landscape Design Inc., Hastings-on-Hudson (914) 478-2649.