Leslie Rose Close


This garden doesn’t just grow. It explodes.

At the start of the season it’s a study in orderliness—a neat rectangle, halved, then quartered by intersecting paths. Spiky little onions march in neat rows. Small clumps of strawberries prepare to puff up and spread out. Trellises and support structures grab a brief opportunity to reveal their artful designs before they disappear under a proliferation of peas, berries and flowering vines.

“It disappears every year and then it comes back,” says Leslie Close of her garden and, like all gardeners, no matter how seasoned, she is thrilled and amazed every time. By July, she says, “it pretty much buries the house.”

Hers is a mixed vegetable/herb/berry garden with not a few ornamentals thrown into the mix. And it is in every sense her creation–carved (literally) from a site that was too steeply sloped and too windy to put plants at ease.

“So I ‘cut’ the garden into the grade,” she explains, “and essentially leveled and lowered it several feet.”

That was 20 years ago, when she first planted it with greens and peas, beets and berries, every imaginable herb and just about everything edible with the exception of squash, which, she says, “I won’t devote space to.”

“I love to cook and I do a lot of it,” she says. “I grow most of what we eat from May to October.”

Though the garden has been in the same place for 20 years, a major renovation to the house in 2002 required that “virtually every plant in the garden be dug, potted and replanted.” The disruption had an upside, however, since the added wing, together with Chuck Close’s studio, now provides an almost continuous wall along the north side of the garden, making it a sheltered island of calm even on breezy days.

If you can call such a seething center of plant activity calm. Once things get going, the asparagus soar to full height; clematis, hops, Dutchman’s-pipe and wisteria reach for the sky; tomatoes climb their tall cages and a wall of blackberries makes its annual appearance. Some plants tend to go overboard, but not for long. Their seeds are collected and they are encouraged to do their over-achieving elsewhere, in an open field behind the house that slopes down to a pond. There, space-hoggers like fennel, oregano, malva, lemon balm, nepeta, hollyhocks, echinacea and angelica are subjects of a horticultural experiment in naturalization, which is showing promising results.

One year, when the Close’s hosted a wedding, the field was planted entirely with sunflowers. “I tend to love tall flowers,” she says, citing a particular affection for hollyhocks—“they really take off and almost cover the property”—and angelica, which can reach as high as eight feet and produce “spectacular flowers” as well as handsome seed heads.

The garden is completely organic—not easy but necessary. There are compost bins beyond the blackberries, outside the garden, and when the last cabbage has been harvested and the action is over, the entire garden is mulched with salt hay for the winter.

“Some say not pretty,” she says, “but I disagree.”