“Bob’s a big fan of gold plants, things that bring light into the garden,” Madoo’s director, Alejandro Saralegui, said on Friday, mixing up his tenses again.
Robert Dash, the painter, poet and gardener who started planting Madoo in Sagaponack while in his 30s, died there last September at the age of 82. As Madoo reopens for the season on Friday, May 9, it is, of course, no longer correct to refer to its founder in the present.
Yet, as spring splashes Madoo in yellow and green, from buttercups and daffodils and even dandelions to the emerging foliage of privet and other shrubs, one might imagine the plantsman creeping back into a spot of sunlight in his garden.
“You kind of start seeing the picture that Bob was painting with plants,” Mr. Saralegui said as he stepped along a path strewn with magnolia petals. “In the spring, it’s painted yellow,” he said; as the growing season progresses, the green intensifies and “different things pop.”
A current standout is a single flower, a fritillary imperialis, looking a bit like a bright orange pineapple. “It’s the strangest thing this year,” Mr. Saralegui said, explaining that it’s the first time one has bloomed since Mr. Dash planted bulbs, which were a gift, at least five years ago.
Mr. Saralegui pointed out shapes, textures and colors in tree trunks, careful contrasts in height and heft, spots where visitors are unwittingly encouraged to slow down to look as they walk through 17 little gardens connected in clever ways. The late poet and plantsman must have savored terms like “lacebark pine,” “snake’s head fritillary” and what Mr. Saralegui called “funny little ephemerals” that appear and then vanish without a trace.
“We’ve been really trying to channel Bob,” Mr. Saralegui said of himself, five gardeners and the Madoo Conservancy’s board of directors. “You look at what Bob’s interest was when he planted.”
One living sculpture is a grove of pompom-like boxwoods, still wrapped in burlap, that squat below towering gingko trees. Mr. Saralegui said the idea of combining them—often likened to the game of hedgehog croquet in “Alice in Wonderland”—was “probably the most important contribution to garden design that Bob made.”
Guinea hens from the Foster farm wandered into the garden, and a rooster next door crowed every now and then. The 2-acre property was a tractor turnaround when Mr. Dash purchased it in 1967, and it still had a cow in the front barn then.
The artist started planting—nothing over 6 feet tall—in the flat and fertile Bridgehampton loam. “Bob being very intelligent, that is the lumber tree of Japan, cryptomeria,” Mr. Saralegui said, pointing to a row of now extremely tall, fast-growing evergreens with soft needles and tiny pine cones.
With what the director described as Yankee thriftiness, Mr. Dash used mostly organic practices and many such fast-growing plants, like a row of poplars he’d started replacing with beeches that have blocked sunlight for peonies below, which will have to be moved.
The garden’s stewards face never-ending projects and decisions like that, just as Mr. Dash did when he was tending to Madoo. Pruning and maintaining the health and composition of plants will continue to take new twists and turns as Madoo continues to evolve.
“I don’t want to inhibit or prohibit or fix this garden in amber—it must remain vital,” Mr. Dash had said a few years before his death.
“We’re being very cautious in how we are managing the garden—slowly, methodically, and trying to find Bob’s intention,” Mr. Saralegui said.
A memorial service will be held at Madoo—which in old Scot means “my dove”—on May 25. Mr. Dash’s love of gold-leafed plants will be the topic of a lecture at Much Ado About Madoo, which takes place June 13 and 14 at the garden.
Further information about visiting hours and other details can be found at www.madoo.org or by calling (631) 537-8200.