Lois and Ken Lippmann's Dairy Farm, Keeler Hill Farm in North Salem, Gets a Makeover

Lois and Ken Lippmann were merely looking for a place to house their horses—not plant gardens—when Lois found Keeler Hill Farm. But somewhere along the way, she went from growing “a few hollyhocks” to the full cornucopia.

The year was 1985, and the couple was happily living in North Salem when it occurred to them (“rather foolishly,” Lois admits in hindsight) that a parcel of land with a barn down the road might be just the ticket. They were, after all, looking for a way to avoid the expense of boarding their horses. Of course, they would want to live on the property, too, but that was putting the cart before the horse.

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Today, there’s no better vantage point from which to appreciate the property’s Cinderella transformation than on the veranda—with ceiling fans circling above the sofa and massive Boston ferns swaying—while sipping something cool, and zippy. It’s elegant. It’s comfy. It’s brilliantly designed. And it used to be the hayloft.

The property was originally a land grant from King George III to the Keeler family, and had been handed down through the generations for 250 years or so. The last Keeler sold the land to investors in the late 1960s, but remained in the main house until her death more than a decade ago. In 1985, condos appeared to be in the cards for the Keeler farm until a pair of gallant knights galloped to the rescue and subdivided the land into a dozen lots. The Lippmanns (and their horses) became the proud owners of the 15-acre lot that held the dairy barn (but no house) and surrounding pastures.

When Lois Lippmann caught the gardening bug, she swung into overdrive.

The axis from the gardens wanders out a gate and continues through a hay field.

Lois may not have premeditated her garden, but the couple poured themselves into the barn/house renovation and created an unparalleled gem. The resulting house has strength of character; it has strong, smart lines; and it fits into its setting. But it was much too grand to be flanked by nothing at all except pasture. “Not a tree on the place,” Lippmann says. And that seemed criminal to her. “The house couldn’t sit perched here without a stick. The house demanded a garden!”

Lois did know something about working the soil; she’d nurtured vegetable gardens wherever she’d lived. And she was no stranger to herb gardens, either. But in the ornamental realm, she hadn’t really graduated beyond hollyhocks—with a few peonies thrown in. So, she took her knowledge in other areas of gardening, applied that knowledge liberally, and then called up the neighbors.

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In front of the house, overlooked by Ken’s “man cave” inside, the hosta jungle is Lois’s ongoing project.

In North Salem, all you have to do is say “garden” and half the town sends in reinforcements. Or so it seems. In the end, Lois Lippmann officially dubbed the landscape around her pool “the friendship garden.” Neighbors came bearing spiraea, actaea, verbascum, nepeta, etc.  Lois would leave the property to go shopping and come home to find an iris, swaddled in damp newspaper, left on the front porch. And, as it turned out, the neighbors put their plants up for adoption with someone who possessed a flawless eye for design. Those bits and pieces fit like a jigsaw puzzle into her space.

Truth be told, the neighbors sent more than just their plants. They showered the Lippmanns with their expertise as well. In Westchester County, all roads lead to Page Dickey in the garden-design realm, and rightfully so. In the Lippmanns’ domain, she designed several gardens with color themes—a white garden and a green garden. They were (not surprisingly) extremely effective additions to the land’s overall design. Dick Button (also a neighbor, as well as a fanatical gardener) stopped by to offer advice. Some suggestions were incorporated, some are still “on the table,” but everyone’s input has been duly noted and appreciated.

It took a village to create “the friendship garden.”

Meanwhile, plenty of ideas were being hatched “in-house.” For example, Lois developed an infatuation with lilacs that couldn’t be quelled by a few token shrubs. Instead, she put in a lilac allée. (“It used to be the ‘lilac walk.’ Now it’s the ‘lilac lair.’”) That allée continued to grow whenever a new catalog arrived, dangling the temptation of yet another delectable syringa. Solutions to merge the landscape seamlessly into the house also arose. Over the very farm-ish stonewall where the hay was once loaded into the loft, stephanandra now drapes. And camouflaging the chicken yard beside a former corn crib, grapes form an ultra-discreet, tendril-adorned privacy screen.

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To stretch the syringa season, the lilac lair has tree lilacs as well.

The grapes bring us to another unique and delightful aspect of the landscape—wherever you turn, fruit and berries form facets of the design. An apple-tree allée links one space to the next; quince trees serve as sentinels in an ornamental garden. A berry cage (“I call it ‘the palace’; it’s much too fancy to be just a cage,” she confides) nurtures blueberries, while gooseberries, currants, and raspberries (all of which Lois actually uses for baking and desserts). Trees are laden with peaches (both white and yellow), apricots, plums, Asian pears—you name it. And then there’s the vegetable gardens (notice the plural). One immaculate, fenced garden hosts vegetables that “take a lot of room,” such as squash and corn—in tandem with cutting flowers for the house. The other garden hosts all the usual suspects, including arugula, onions, leeks, etc. Handsome wooden tuteurs (freestanding, pyramid-shape trellises) shoulder the beans. Sweet Peet carpets the ground and dissuades weeds. This is testimony without argument that vegetable gardening can be glamorous. Indeed, with all the chickens, geese, ducks, and three new Hereford steers living in residence, the farm has regained its original persona—and then some.

As for Lois Lippmann, she’s clearly gone straight into gardening mode, whether that was the original intention or not. And she proudly displays the results of her labor for the Garden Conservancy Open Days Program (check gardenconservancy.org for next summer’s tour dates). She welcomes the tour to get the garden in gear. (“For six weeks starting in mid-April, I work like a dog. Then the tour happens and I can relax.”) And then, for the rest of the summer, she consumes the fruits of her labor.

Lamb’s ears add texture to the herb garden.
For efficiency’s sake, every tree in the apple orchard has two varieties grafted on its crown.
One of the two expansive vegetable gardens marches rows of potatoes, onions, and tomatoes beside the bull barn.


Tovah Martin is the author of The New Terrarium, among other garden books. An accredited Organic Land Care Professional, she lectures throughout the region (her schedule can be found at tovahmartin.com and her blog at plantswise.com).

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