A his­toric gar­den now rid of in­vaders, and sus­tain­able.

The owner of an iconic Arts & Crafts house in Hast­ings- on- Hud­son rids the old prop­erty of nui­sance plants.


CLARK AND PRU MONT­GOMERY were just the third own­ers of this hand­some stone house when they bought it in 1972. The prop­erty had been part of an early 20th-cen­tury sub­ur­ban ex­per­i­ment: a 17-acre de­vel­op­ment in Hast­ings-on-Hud­son in Westch­ester County, not far from New York City, where thirty lots were set to at­tract ed­u­ca­tors and pro­fes­sion­als. Sub­stan­tial, well- de­signed homes were built in the once-au­ton­o­mous com­mu­nity; not sur­pris­ingly, many were in­flu­enced by the Arts & Crafts move­ment.

Ar­chi­tect Wil­liam Sanger (hus­band of Planned Par­ent­hood founder Mar­garet Sanger) de­signed this house for Columbia Univer­sity chem­istry pro­fes­sor R.G. Ben­nett. It has sig­na­ture Craftsman de­tails: lo­cal stone, ta­pes­try brick in the fire­place, in­glenooks, art-glass win­dows. The house was in ex­cel­lent con­di­tion when the Mont­gomery fam­ily moved in and named it Lo­cust Hill House. The gar­den—10 per­cent lawn and 90 per­cent over­grown thicket—was another story.

Pru did her best to con­trol weeds for many years un­til she had an epiphany while lis­ten­ing to a lec­ture about in­va­sive species. Seek­ing fur­ther ed­u­ca­tion, she at­tended a con­fer­ence, where she met Larry Weaner, the land­scape de­signer who is an ex­pert on na­tive-plant ecosys­tems. “You need to un­der­stand the process of change,” he says; un­like con­ven­tional gar­dens, his habi­tats are meant to evolve. “Na­ture takes its course.” Weaner's lec­ture was il­lus­trated with siz­able projects, but Pru had the courage to call his of­fice about her .8 acre. “The truth is,” says Larry, “the majority of my gar­dens are small yards, where na­tive-plant gar­dens work beau­ti­fully.”

The Mont­gomerys were very hands-on. Pru wanted a gar­den where her grand­chil­dren would learn how to host the birds and in­sects that na­tive plants bring. Con­ver­sion plant­ing of the up­per gar­den was done from fall of 2002 into spring of 2003. Then came in­stal­la­tion of the lower meadow and pond, where they left rem­nants of the gar­den's old iris, rud­beckia, and other old-fash­ioned fa­vorites in a cut­ting gar­den. Close by is the New World meadow fea­tur­ing bee balm, sweet Alexan­der, Joe Pye weed, and na­tive grasses. Around back, the land slopes down, pro­vid­ing places for mead­ows, path­ways, a pond, and a small wa­ter­fall. Rus­tic per­go­las share a common theme with fences and rail­ings around the prop­erty.

The front yard is merely a sliver along the street. Weaner says the se­cret to suc­cess­ful de­sign in a com­pact area is us­ing plants with smaller leaves and an airy com­po­si­tion. “There's a fine line be­tween wild and over­grown,” he says.

Pru had ini­tially hoped for spe­cific ecosys­tems to host

spe­cific plants, but learned “you can't keep na­tives in lit­tle spots. It's about in­ter­min­gling." Some na­tives grew ram­bunc­tiously and mus­cled out less ag­gres­sive neigh­bors. But there were ben­e­fits no­body pre­dicted. In one case, in­va­sive, non­na­tive Ja­panese knotweed had cre­ated a moist en­vi­ron­ment that bred mos­qui­toes. When the knotweed was ban­ished, the mos­quito pop­u­la­tion di­min­ished.

So far, Pru says, the la­bor re­quired is about the same as for a con­ven­tional gar­den. She's learned some fa­vor­able tac­tics. Rather than pulling “the bad guys,” which brings weed seeds to the sur­face when the soil is dis­turbed, she cuts the stems of un­wanted guests, some­thing Weaner taught her. The scheme will even­tu­ally re­sult in less weed­ing.

Mean­while, Clark and Pru are en­joy­ing the sus­pense of a space that con­tin­u­ally changes. “You're not in­flict­ing an ar­range­ment,” says Larry Weaner, “you're fol­low­ing along.”

TOP, LEFT TO RIGHT: Gates marry rus­tic twig- work to a rec­tilin

ear frame painted mossy green. The ever

evolv­ing, nat­u­ral­is­tic lower meadow fea­tures a pond. Ivy soft­ens the ma­sonry on one side of the house. FAR LEFT: Vines soften a wall.

TOP: Dense thick­ets have been re­placed by man­aged nat­u­ral­ism.

ABOVE: Ferns and wild ginger frame a stone stair.

TOP LEFT: Leaded glass in a win­dow bay is but one hand

some fea­ture of the old house. TOP RIGHT: The “coun­cil

ring” made up of sal­vaged New York City curb­ing al­lows the fam­ily to gather around a firepit. FAR RIGHT: Clark and Pru Mont­gomery. Rus­tic per­go­las support na­tive wis­te­ria

over a gar­den walk­way.

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