Guild Hall’s ‘Garden As Art’ Is This Saturday

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The first time David Seeler visited The Bayberry, it was not willingly. The last place the 18-year-old wanted to visit on his afternoon off from his Quaker high school was a fledgling nursery and garden center in Amagansett.But Mr. Seeler’s best friend at the Friends Academy in Locust Valley, New York, convinced him to check it out, and so the two boys were off.

It was 1959, and founder Russell Milton was just getting The Bayberry off the ground. It was a half-acre property, once a small field, that the new owner purchased from a Mr. Schellenger, sitting astride his mare, with a simple handshake.

Even in its humble beginnings, Mr. Seeler was unexpectedly moved. Walking through The Bayberry, he thought to himself, “Someday, I’m going to have a place that looks exactly like this.”

By age 30, he did. The Bayberry was his. And two years later, so was the house behind it—a “rather ugly, modern, low-slung house with white gravel on the roof,” Mr. Seeler recalled last Wednesday during a telephone interview, and after a visit to his property. “I only bought it because it was adjacent to my business.”

More interested in exploring than rebuilding, he spent two decades traveling four months of the year to the most extreme and exotic corners of the world before extensive renovations to the house began in 1990.

The only reason he didn’t knock it down was because he loved the spaces, he said. Instead, he masked the flat roof with a swooping, Asian-inspired bonnet with overhangs to create what he calls an “Arts and Crafts Thai” home surrounded by a naturalistic landscape, which will be on view during Guild Hall’s “The Garden as Art” annual tour—this year themed “House and Garden: Forming A Perfect Union.”

On Saturday, August 24, six gardens in Bridgehampton, East Hampton and Amagansett will explore the relationship between landscape and home architecture. But some will go even beyond that theme. Andrew Sabin’s estate, which stretches from Bluff Road to Montauk Highway in Amagansett, is tame and well-tended in the front, but wild and overflowing with organic vegetables in the back.

Pygmy goats, chickens, rabbits, pheasants, a pea hen, beehives and Wally the Pig are housed around the property, which also attracts the largest colony of purple martins on the South Fork, according to Mr. Sabin. Pairs of dogs, cats and parakeets live inside the home, a good distance away from the four 22-year-old boa constrictors that reside in his nearby office for Sabin Metal Corp.

“I love all nature,” Mr. Sabin said on Thursday morning during a telephone interview after a visit to his home, the sound of waves crashing in the background as he walked the beach. “I’m like the home for wayward animals. They know I’m a sucker when it comes to providing housing.”

The quarter-acre vegetable garden is Mr. Sabin’s personal escape.

“Essentially, it’s my therapy,” he said.

He grows 15 varieties of greens, five types of corn and a countless list of plants: peppers, tomatoes, cucumbers, string beans, watermelon, eggplant and numerous herbs.

“One of the reasons I bought this house back in ’77 is that it was important for me to have a place to garden,” he said. “Even as a little kid, I used to grow pumpkins in my backyard on Long Island, 12 years old. Rather than live in a house in the Dunes, I wanted a place that had that Long Island potato soil.”

When Tristana Waltz bought her East Hampton manse nearly two years ago, it was less about the house and more about the land—in terms of her focus, she said. With the help of Charlie Marder, they transformed the sparse property into a lush oasis with whimsical vignettes—a small beach garden, a fish pond and a waterfall, and a vegetable garden for her 4-year-old daughter, Remington.

“They brought the boxes and my daughter and I planted everything,” Ms. Waltz said last week during a telephone interview following a visit to her home. “I wanted her to have the experience of planting the vegetables herself and to understand where they come from.”

Behind The Bayberry, Mr. Seeler stuck to the property’s roots—keeping the 2-acre field where Mr. Schellenger and Mr. Milton met just that. Daffodils and narcissus start off the spring, followed by a winding list of wildflowers through the summer and ending with golden grasses that glow under the low autumn sun.

In 2006, Mr. Seeler created a half-acre pond with a center island planted with cedar trees, which was simply part of the field until the homeowner dug out around it. Not long after, former East Hampton Town Natural Resources Director Larry Penny paid Mr. Seeler a visit.

When he walked into the background, he remarked, “This is unbelievable. Usually, I hate ponds, but this looks like it was always there,” Mr. Seeler recalled hearing Mr. Penny remark.

“From Larry, to me, that was a big compliment,” he said. “Because as far as I’m concerned, he’s the best of the best.”

Since then, the property has evolved—as all gardens do, Mr. Seeler said—but only with small tweaks and edits. Still standing is the familiar, steep pitched-roof cottage covered with wisteria in front of The Bayberry, built 54 years ago by Mr. Milton, the same year Mr. Seeler saw it for the first time.

“He was like a father to me,” Mr. Seeler said of the founder. “He stayed with me for the first year to make sure the client connection was good. He was a fine gentleman. I was lucky.”

He paused, and chuckled. “Where you end up, it’s amazing sometimes. Really amazing.”

Guild Hall’s annual “The Garden as Art” event will kick off on Friday, August 23, with a patron and benefactor cocktail party from 6 to 8 p.m. at the Bridgehampton home of artists Alice and Allan Ryan. The next day, a continental breakfast, lecture and panel discussion will precede a self-guided tour of six area gardens on view from noon to 5 p.m. Tickets are $100, or $85 for members, which include the tour, breakfast and lecture. Patron tickets—which include admission to the cocktail party, tour, breakfast and lecture start at $300. Benefactor tickets, which include all of the above as well as a Saturday luncheon, begin at $500. For more information, call 324-0806 or visit guildhall.org.

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