a gar­den in east hamp­ton de­fies the odds – and con­ven­tions – in­cor­po­rat­ing el­e­ments of english, Ital­ian and east­ern tra­di­tions and sen­si­bil­i­ties in its plant­ing

In the most un­ex­pected lo­ca­tion, a lush coastal gar­den cham­pi­ons a global ap­proach


At the end of a wind­ing lane bor­dered by a tan­gle of honey­suckle and wild roses lies a mag­i­cal gar­den far re­moved from a tra­di­tional East Hamp­ton man­i­cured show­piece. To the sounds of waves crash­ing on the beach, this one un­folds like the petals of a flower in sur­pris­ing and de­light­ful ways, a plea­sure still fresh to its own­ers, Katharine and Wil­liam rayner. If Kathy had asked any­one whether it might be pos­si­ble to cre­ate an in­tri­cately elab­o­rate gar­den on the lee­ward side of a sand dune be­tween the roar­ing at­lantic and geor­gica Pond, she would have been told no. But Kathy didn’t ask – she went ahead and did just that.

af­ter rent­ing Woody house for eight years, Kathy bought it in the late eight­ies not long be­fore her mar­riage to Billy, and fixed it up just in time for the ar­rival of hur­ri­cane Bob. In the decades since, the slop­ing ter­rain’s cut­ting gar­den and few flower beds have evolved into a mag­nif­i­cent con­fec­tion of spa­ces, paths, vis­tas, bow­ers, and fol­lies that in­voke the gar­den cul­tures of eng­land, Italy, Per­sia and In­dia. not lack­ing in a gar­den pedi­gree – her mother, anne cox cham­bers, cre­ated, with Peter coats, rose­mary Verey, and ryan gainey, the cel­e­brated six­teen-hectare grounds of her Provençal home, Le Pe­tit Fon­tanille – Kathy nur­tured her in­ter­est in hor­ti­cul­ture by vis­it­ing sto­ried es­tates and read­ing vo­ra­ciously on the sub­ject. she ad­mits to feel­ing most af­fected by the mem­oirs of Babur, founder of the Mogul em­pire, and the writ­ings of Vita sackville-west – rep­re­sent­ing a span of five cen­turies.

so she was very much at home within the walls of the Per­sian gar­den, as wo­ven into an­cient car­pets, long be­fore she trav­elled to Iran her­self in au­tumn 2015. Vis­it­ing the leg­endary gar­dens of Italy, Kathy un­der­stood that their re­liance on ar­chi­tec­tural el­e­ments would be com­pletely in­ap­pro­pri­ate if di­vorced from their stone vil­las, though some things could be bor­rowed. From siss­inghurst, she not only im­ported the idea of a White gar­den, she re­al­ized that its tiny pas­sages were just what she should adopt on Long Is­land be­cause an in­tri­cate ev­er­green struc­ture would help tame the winds and pro­tect the plants.

she moved the orig­i­nal cut­ting bed to make way for an open Ital­ian gar­den, com­plete with a shell-en­crusted grotto cre­ated by si­mon Ver­ity from tufa, lo­cal seashells, quartz and lime­stone, with drip­ping foun­tains and mas­sive shell chairs on ei­ther side. In­spired by Villa Medicea di castello in Florence, the gar­den makes a per­fect spot for din­ner on a moon­lit night, with lanterns around the shim­mer­ing pool and the grey-green leaves of olive trees, sil­ver-leafed licorice, and Artemisia glint­ing across the wa­ter.

an ex­ist­ing walled herb gar­den be­came a Mogul en­clave, in­spired by In­dia’s re­sponse to Per­sian in­flu­ence and thus re­flect­ing two cul­tures at once – there’s only so much space on a sand dune. a pair of mar­ble ele­phants greets vis­i­tors at the gar­den’s up­per level be­fore they de­scend by a small, dou­ble fly­ing stair­case – evok­ing the one at swan house in Kathy’s na­tive at­lanta – that en­cir­cles a carved foun­tain in the shape of the hindu de­ity gane­sha. his spout­ing trunk is the spring of a bridged rill run­ning down the gar­den’s cen­tre, planted with lo­tus, wa­ter lilies, and wa­ter let­tuces and lead­ing to an­other foun­tain in the shape of a lo­tus flower lazily gur­gling cool­ing wa­ter over its mar­ble sur­face.

This is a folly in the true sense of the word. don’t be sur­prised to one day see a purely Per­sian par­adise squeezed in some­where, just as a new veg­etable gar­den, with en­clo­sures wo­ven from the in­va­sive phrag­mites that edge the pond, is al­ready in the works. The project never has to end, be­cause there was never a mas­ter plan.

The Mogul gar­den is per­haps the most elab­o­rate of all the spa­ces, and there­fore also where the sound of ocean waves is the most un­ex­pected; but you can step out of it and be some­where very dif­fer­ent at the swing of a gate – per­haps the al­most trop­i­cal-look­ing Mediter­ranean Walk, with its rus­ti­cated oak ar­bor in­spired by the gar­den­ing ge­nius gertrude Jekyll. or the dog gar­den. dogs are im­por­tant to the rayn­ers, who have five, and a stand­ing or­der with the lo­cal pet-adop­tion so­ci­ety, arf (an­i­mal res­cue Fund of the hamp­tons), to send along res­cue Pekingese as they ap­pear. The hoops Walk, an homage to Monet’s gar­den at giverny, is a glo­ri­ous me­an­der­ing grass path flanked by a colour­ful riot of pop­pies, old-fash­ioned hol­ly­hocks, Rud­beckia, and

Phlox, and, over­head, hoops cov­ered in a burst of five kinds of pink roses.

You can walk this gar­den and the chang­ing light will keep you con­stantly en­ter­tained. From the Pear Tun­nel, where es­paliered fruit trees are in­ter­planted with Rosa ‘reine des Vi­o­lettes’ and Clema­tis ‘Étoile Vi­o­lette’ to hang as a pur­ple fringe over­head, you will oc­ca­sion­ally hear the squawks of guinea hens in their en­clo­sure near the guest cot­tage (a for­mer boathouse re­named the Pond house). You might even see a pur­ple martin re­turn­ing to one of the tow­er­ing clus­ter of houses be­yond the green­house, hav­ing eaten its daily quota of mosquitoes.

roses are ev­ery­where in th­ese gar­dens, and guests flock to visit, guided by Kathy’s ac­com­plice of fif­teen years in mat­ters hor­ti­cul­tural, John hill, who of­fers a litany of their names. The prove­nance of one beauty may not be on their cur­ricu­lum: This stranger caught my eye on a cor­ner trel­lis near the front door. Kathy tells me it started out as a name­less Korean-deli pur­chase, left be­hind in its lit­tle foil-wrapped plas­tic pot af­ter a birth­day lun­cheon. she took it home and put it in the ground. It has climbed up the trel­lis and opens its buds to look more like the Tu­dor rose of her­aldry than Rosa

‘York and Lan­caster.’

cell­phones don’t work well here, and more than once has a stray vis­i­tor kept the oth­ers wait­ing to sit down at the ta­ble. It is a play­ful spirit that has cre­ated th­ese gar­dens, in con­sul­ta­tion with both friends and highly re­spected pro­fes­sion­als who share a sim­i­lar pas­sion, bandy­ing about ideas like shut­tle­cocks in a never-end­ing game of bad­minton.

You can walk this gar­den and the chang­ing light will keep you con­stantly en­ter­tained

the path from the white gar­den to the mediter­ranean walk, lined with rosa ‘mayor of cast­er­bridge’ and ‘vel­vet cloak’ smoke bush op­po­site page the hoops walk, with pop­pies, hol­ly­hocks, nepeta and roses, among many other plants

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