Photography by Philip Jensen-Carter
The fact that it was once a stable means everything to the garden’s fertility, especially benefiting the vines that climb the arbor made of old porch parts.
When Carol Goldberg moved to North Salem in 1972, she had horses on her mind rather than gardens. And, for a good long time afterward, that is where her focus remained. But, gradually, gardens crept into her life. When a girl lives in Westchester County, that can happen to her.
Goldberg’s first brush with her North Salem farm came in 1960, when, as a teenager, she spent summers in the 1870s house on the property. Coming from Norwalk, Connecticut, and too young to drive, she boarded on the property. “I stayed in a bedroom on the third floor of this house and rode their horse. I even remember wishing it was my house.” Thus, when, in the 1970s, opportunity knocked and she had a chance to buy the property, she answered immediately, keeping the focus firmly on horses. And that’s where she was a few years later when she married Jesse Goldberg, an antiques dealer specializing in American Federal furniture and accessories.
Carol Goldberg lounges with Tia and Rudy in a 1930s lawn chair.
In the beginning, Goldberg named the property Artemis Farm (for the Greek goddess of the hunt: “I was keeping fox-hunt horses at the time,” Goldberg says), and its surrounding 10-plus acres were generally unadorned, with no gardens of any kind. But then Page Dickey, the famed garden guru, neighbor, and friend, happened by. Casually, she mentioned that a stone wall might be the perfect backdrop for a garden. “Great,” Goldberg said. “Let’s do it.” Little did she know that she was starting the momentum of a massive snowball on a steady roll.
It all started innocently enough. Goldberg began cluelessly, by digging a few daylilies from the road and transplanting them in front of the stone wall. Then, she asked Dickey to visit, expecting to be showered with compliments. Dickey came, saw, and demurred. She politely pointed out that there might be other, more interesting options. And those options weren’t necessarily to be found along the roadside.
So, Goldberg, a real estate agent specializing in horse farms and luxury properties, spent the next two winters or so plowing through magazines and books, getting up to speed on the possibilities. And before long, her car would frequently be fully loaded on the way back from area nurseries. She got plants in all sizes and height levels to ratchet up the drama and the color. She put in phlox, iris, echinacea, yarrow, roses, dianthus, and alchemilla. And before she knew it, she found herself extending that original border beyond its former bounds.
The gravel garden looks out on Goldberg’s cairns stacked on the stone wall.
When she decided to tear down a 12-stall horse barn beside the house (Goldberg had another 13 stalls elsewhere on the property), she knew exactly what she wanted to do with the space: create an eight bed formal garden defined by a boxwood hedge with a pergola constructed of architectural salvage. She filled the beds with multiples of plants such as delphiniums, geraniums, coreopsis, centaurea, sedum, and lychnis, which have a blowsy, country feeling and would be studded by blossom spires. They all thrived. In fact, they did so well that she’s now trying to referee between the artemisia, daisies, and bee balm. Let the best plant win.
But that wasn’t the end of it. “For me, the fun is in the creation process,” Goldberg says. “The reality of taking care of it comes later.” By 2002, Goldberg had adorned the property to the point that she was showing it annually for the prestigious Garden Conservancy Open Days Program (check gardenconservancy.org for upcoming tours). During one of those tours, she had her aha! awakening—or more accurately her oops! moment. Rounding the corner of her house with a group of adoring garden gawkers, she realized that one exposure was seriously lacking. “Okay, it was just plain ugly,” she admits. On one side was a picture window that predated the Goldbergs’ tenure in the home. On the other was a windowless expanse of wall that had no aesthetic personality whatsoever from the outside. “That’s when the bell went off—this needs a major remake.”
Rudy guards the back door in the shade of a massive black walnut tree.
What Carol Goldberg came up with is no less than brilliant—and it’s functional as well. She installed a pergola with an outdoor dining area and plenty of antique plant stands and adornments to give it a sense of décor and personality. Size-wise and functionally, it reads like a room. For that looming blank wall, she found a mirror and flanked it with old metal grates. Antiques serve as furniture. “On warm, not-too-buggy nights, that’s where we are.”
The plots continued to thicken—and spread. Behind the garage, a garden sprouted in the gravel using more antiques to lend it mood. It might have started with painted mushroom statuary, but troughs, two lion heads that were formerly New York City cornerstones, six stone balls, and a stone hitching post now impart character. For plants, she enlisted the sort of performers that would thrive on automatic mode without constant care. Sedums, hens and chicks, strawberries, and penstemons thrive amid the statuary, but require minimal intervention on her part.
Then Goldberg installed a vegetable garden with plenty of plant supports and lots of finesse. But still her hunger to garden was not sated. That was when she made the “mistake” of journeying to Charleston. The gardens there, many of them behind closed gates, sent a clear message. “I needed a ‘secret garden,’” she says. So, she filled a secluded, insatiable space with hostas, heucheras, aruncus, hellebores, and all the other obvious shade-loving suspects. And it’s become a favorite destination during the garden tour. “Thank God for the tour,” she says. “You’ve got a party—you have to polish the silver and iron the napkins.”
This year, she used the tour as her finishing goal for getting the rock sculptures she’s begun creating on the stone wall back in gear. About a year ago, Goldberg started building balanced stone creations—reminiscent of cairns but more complex and precariously weighed. They come down during the winter due to the elements, but she recreates and increases the quantity for the tour. “No matter what I do,” she says, “I do it overboard.” Thanks to the Garden Conservancy, we all benefit from her excess.
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 she blogs at plantswise.com.