The Register Citizen (Torrington, CT)
Gardeners mingle, meet at ‘Trade Secrets’
Martha Stewart shops, then signs new book for guests
SHARON— What is called “the Northeast garden event of the year” is epitomized by a few key people, and captures the spirit of avid gardeners who come from all over the country to find a treasure all their own.
Amid 50-degree, rainy weather and muddy parking, an estimated 2,000 visitors attended Saturday’s 18th annual Trade Secrets Rare Plant and Garden Antiques Sale, held at LionRock, a 600-acre farm at 30 Hosier Road.
Sixty rare plant and garden antique vendors offered guests shelter and chances to see their unique wares. Others took self-guided tours of selected picturesque private gardens in Falls Village and Amenia, N.Y., on a partly-cloudy Sunday. The annual fundraiser supports Sharon’s Women’s Support Services, which assists domestic violence victims.
Saturday’s early-buying tickets (at 8 a.m.) sold for $125; regular tickets purchased after 10 a.m. were $50; and “late bloomer” tickets after 1 p.m. were $25. The cost for Sunday’s threegarden tour was $75. The grounds of LionRock were dotted with tented vendors as well as some inside the structure, whose large reception area contain a cafe and later, in the indoorpool area, hosted several worldwide designers and book signings. More plants and antique vendors were found in the structure’s backyard.
As she is every year, the star visitor was lifestyle celebrity and businesswoman Martha Stewart. While preparing to sign for queued-up fans her book “Martha’s Flowers: A Practical Guide to Growing, Gathering, and Enjoying,” which she co-wrote with Kevin Sharkey, Stewart remarked that visitors came to the annual gardening event rain or shine.
Born Martha Helen Kostyra in Jersey City, New Jersey, in 1941, Stewart was the second of six children and started modeling at age 15 in TV commercials and fashion magazine advertisements. Her mother taught her how to cook and sew, laying the foundation for the design empire she later formed. After marrying, in 1962 she graduated from Barnard College in New York City with a double major in history and architectural history. She later became a stockbroker on Wall Street and moved to Westport, Connecticut, forming a catering business. A catering job eventually led her to making lucrative publishing contacts, who encouraged the publication of Stewart’s first cookbook “Entertaining” in 1982, the first of many home-oriented books throughout the decades.
She later founded Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia, which encompassed ventures in publishing, broadcasting, merchandising, and e-commerce. She wrote numerous bestselling books and is the publisher of the Martha Stewart Living magazine. Since 2016, Stewart has appeared on the VH1 show with rapper Snoop Dogg called “Martha & Snoop’s Potluck Dinner Party,” which features games, recipes, and musical guests.
When asked on Saturday morning what she had discoverred during the early-morning shopping, Stewart remarked she bought several beautiful dwarf Japanese maple trees and assorted conifers. She said one of her favorite plant vendors at this summer’s show was Pondside, a gardening vendor out of Hudson. Stewart also purchased from the antiques booths some hand-crafted rolling pins.
“There are fabulous hardwood turners,” she said of the vendors.
On her new gardening book, Stewart remarked that she’d been writing the current book for 30 years. She explained, “Thirty years ago I had my first garden of flowers and never did I think I would be writing a book on gardening.”
On collaborating on the book with longtime associate Kevin Sharkey, she said, “I have known him for 23 years now, and he is one of the people I really trust.”
Sharkey previously worked on styling stories for her magazines as well as product design. Having given him his first bookwriting credit, she said, “Now he can write his own books.”
On her VH1 TV-show collaboration with Snoop Dog, Stewart said, “We are going into a third season now. Snoop Dogg is fabulous. He is fun and is a perfectionist in his own way. We learn from each other.”
Stewart added that she has a collection of design projects in the pipeline. When asked how she stays organized while so busy, she said, “I have two very good assistants: one in the city, one in the country. Another handles all my speaking engagements.”
Stewart’s newest book provides advice and anecdotes on the planning and enjoyment of gardening. One passage reads: “As I write this, I am in the process of planning my next garden. It will be my seventh garden, and I’ve been collecting images in my head, tear sheets in folders, and names of varieties of trees, shrubs, plants, and flowers that I think will be appropriate in this new and exciting landscape.”
In the book she also reminisces about her first modest garden, which sat in front of a clapboard, single-story cottage in the Berkshires.
Organizing the annual Trade Secrets event is interior designer Bunny Williams, who has done so for nearly two decades, when it started in people’s backyards.
“You always find something each year at this event. It happens because of the amazing community spirit and over 200 volunteers coming in the rain ...”
Bunny Williams, interior designer and organizer of Trade Secrets
“The fact is that when we have Trade Secrets, the times have been half-sunny and half-rainy, and people still come,” said Williams, speaking from under the tent of the Millerton, New York, vendor Hunter Bee.
“If you are a gardener you are not going to let rain deter you,” she added. “You are going to come.”
Born in Charlottesville, Virginia, Williams went to country auctions and assisted her mother in decorating the family house, even as a child. Although she knew she wanted to pursue design in the future, at age 15 she met decorator Dorothy Draper, who opened Williams’ eyes to bright color palettes and wallspanning rococo prints that are considered today as “Hollywood Regency style.”
Williams was inspired to go on to study interior design at Boston’s Garland Junior College. After school at age 2,3 Williams worked as a secretary for the renowned decorator Albert Hadley, and was inspired by the beautiful apartments she saw. In the 1980s Williams moved to Falls Village and started her own interior design firm, eventually publishing several books on design. In 1991 she also opened the New York City store Treillage with antiques dealer John Rosselli, who became her husband in 2004. The store ran for 24 years, closing in 2015. Williams went on to establish the home-furnishing line Bunny Williams Home in its flagship showroom in the Fine Arts Building at 232 East 59th Street in New York City.
Of Trade Secrets, Williams said, “We have new vendors for people looking for quality plant materials. Martha came and has two truck loads of stuff.”
She added, “You always find something each year at this event.”
Williams stressed the importance of teamwork to the event’s success.
“It happens because of the amazing community spirit and over 200 volunteers coming in the rain and carting things,” she said.
“An event like this doesn’t just happen,”she added. “We have volunteers year around and at the day of the event.”
The only thing limiting the event at present is space for vendors.
“In terms of vendors, we are maxed-out,” Williams said. More people want to be part of it. We are very selective. We sell only good antiques and plants.”
She cited an exciting new vendor as Pondside Nursery of Hudson: “Wonderful plants, really special.” Another notable vendor is Botanic Fleurs from Richmond, Virginia.
Many vendors have several items on display. “The ‘late bloomers’ can find bargains as well,” Williams stated.
Sunday’s garden tours included self-guided tours of the picturesque private gardens located in Falls Village and Amenia, New York. From 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., visitors toured the 12-acre garden of Bunny Williams and John Rosselli that includes an apple, cherry and pear; a pool and a Greek Revival pool house; and a contemporary studio sitting high in the garden with view of the village and the Berkshire Hills.
Part of the tour in Amenia featured Wethersfield Garden and Gil Schafer’s Hudson Valley house’s 45-acre garden named Middlefield, which is noted for its wooded hillside nestled in a hollow of land overlooking a stream. A sixacre field provides a setting for the 19th-century Greek Revival house.
Back at Trade Secrets 2018, at LionRock’s 7,000square Main House, Aaron Howard, the farm manager, was calling a nearby farm to procure mulch, hoping to tame LionRock’s driveways made muddy from the rain. “Trade Secrets is always a great event with a good turnout,” said Howard.
While LionRock’s destination weddings and special events packages happen in the farm’s two other buildings, cocktail receptions sometimes are held in the opulent and meticulously-decorated Main Building, which was also the site of the Martha Stewart book-signing. It is also the home of the La Roche family.
Key to the Trade Secrets event is Elaine La Roche, owner of LionRock Farm. Called one of the most powerful women on Wall Street, on Trade Secrets 2018, La Roche commented, “The turnout continues to happen, rain or shine. We continue to grow.”
La Roche purchased LionRock in 1997, and added what is known as The Grey Barn, which is home to the weddings.
“We are booked all year,” she said of LionRock’s busy schedule. “We have customized weddings.” Although it is a place for various events, she pointed out that LionRock is also a working farm producing hay and feed corn, and rye — all GMO-free.
Born Marie Elaine Andree La Roche, she was brought up in suburban New Jersey and earned a bachelor’s degree in international affairs from Georgetown University in Washington, D.C., in 1971. She worked as an administrative assistant to former Ford-administration Chief of Staff Donald Rumsfeld.
La Roche’s Wall Street career began at Wainwright Securities, while completing an M.B.A. at American University in D.C. After working at Citicorp, in May 1978 she sold stocks to institutions at Morgan Stanley, becoming the first woman at the firm in bond and equity sales. La Roche later became managing director in 1987 and served as chief of staff to the Chairman and President from May 1998 to June 2000. She became the highest-ranking woman at the firm.
Following other executive work, La Roche became CEO of China International Capital Corporation U.S. in January 2016, culminating a 30-year career in financial services focused on Asian markets. Locally, La Roche served as CEO of the Salisbury Pharmacy Group.
La Roche said LionRock continues to support the cause that Trade Secrets donates to, as the need for Women’s Support Services continues, she said, in “this beautiful Northwest corner of Connecticut.”
“I thank the volunteers,” La Roche added. “Without them makes a success. And the vendors today as well.”
Another key player in Trade Secrets is Sharon’s Women’s Support Services, an organization that assists domestic violence victims. Vicki Kirkpatrick, event coordinator for Sharon’s Women’s Support Services, said prior to the event that anywhere between 1,500 and 1,700 visitors were expected on Saturday and Sunday, raising several thousands of dollars for the organization at 158 Gay St.
“Even last year with rain, it still went well,” Kirkpatrick said. “We raise a third of our operating budget.”
The Sharon organization offers for domestic violence victims a 24/7 hotline; shelter for individuals and families; and prevention lessons in schools.