Anyone familiar with Ina Garten's cookbooks knows that the Barefoot Contessa often entertains guests in her lush East Hampton garden. What guests don't know—because she famously makes everything look so easy—is that it took the best-selling author 10 years to convince the previous owners to sell her the land. "I'd call them every year," Ina confesses, "but they always said no."
She and her husband, the economist Jeffrey Garten, were living up the street when they spotted a field for sale in a prime location. Overrun with tall grasses, the former pasture was part of a larger farm owned by the Mulfords, one of East Hampton's oldest families. The Gartens bought the property, even though it was a bit small for everything they hoped to accomplish: a new house and expansive garden, an office and a test kitchen for Ina, and a study for Jeffrey. But they knew that the Mulfords also owned the adjacent parcel and hoped that, with a little convincing, the family might eventually let go of that one, too. In the meantime, Ina eagerly focused on realizing her dream of having a proper garden. "We designed the garden before we even designed the house!" she says with a laugh. "I knew I wanted a kitchen garden, an orchard, and hydrangeas everywhere."
In the original section of the garden, which was designed by von Gal, parterres framed in boxwood are planted with white roses, Russian sage, and salvia; terra-cotta pots hold hydrangea standards.
Her friend Martha Stewart introduced her to the landscape designer Edwina von Gal, who was finishing up an installation nearby. For the Gartens' new property, von Gal drew a simple square and divided it into four quarters—one for the house, one for the orchard, one for the kitchen and cutting garden, and one for an open lawn. Although the garden has been renovated and added to over the years, von Gal's basic layout remains, along with many of the original plantings. These include beds of white dahlias mixed with verbena, and boxwood-framed parterres filled with Russian sage, white beach roses, and potted white hydrangea trees. There is also a charming garden shed covered in climbing hydrangea and clematis. The pièce de résistance of von Gal's plan is the orchard, where 25 crab apple trees bloom magnificently each May, creating a fragrant white canopy. Ina still marvels at their size. "When I bought them, they were tiny," she says.
The rear of the house, with tardiva hydrangea trees inside parterres.
The Gartens' new farmhouse on the property, with its classic Hamptons wood-shingle exterior, is almost an exact replica of their former home. When it was completed, with nearly half of their grand plan realized, they approached the Mulfords about purchasing the field next door. To their disappointment, the answer was unequivocally negative. But Ina was not ready to give up. The next year, she ed the owners again, beseeching them to sell. Once more, the response was no. This pattern was repeated annually for a decade until at last, in 2005, the Mulfords relented and the couple were able to connect the two properties. Ina set about building the barn that today houses her office and the telegenic test kitchen where she works on her cookbooks and shoots her Food Network show.
In the vegetable beds, carrots and tomatoes underplanted with nasturtium. A climbing hydrangea overtakes the garden shed, which was designed by von Gal.
Once the two plots were joined, the main challenge was in figuring out how to extend the garden into a seamless whole. "This time I wanted it to be a little more architectural," says Ina, who was inspired by books she had seen on the work of London-based contemporary landscape designer Luciano Giubbilei. For this second phase, she hired Joseph Tyree, who had worked for von Gal. To create a visual connection between the new and old sections of the property, Tyree installed a series of staggered flagstone steps leading from the barn to the Gartens' home. He also came up with a series of outdoor rooms, starting with a simple courtyard framed by tropical copaifera langsdorfii trees surrounding a dramatic steel fire bowl by sculptor Elena Colombo.
In the East Hampton garden of Ina and Jeffrey Garten, which was originally designed by Edwina von Gal and later expanded by Joseph Tyree, an arch covered with clematis jackmanii is underplanted with Annabelle hydrangea and vitex.
A gate leads to a walled shade garden planted with crepe myrtle, ferns, and lily of the valley. From there, a winding path lined with boxwood is punctuated with bright yellow ginkgo trees. Adjacent to the house, a square walled vegetable garden brims with, among other things, tomatoes, carrots, Swiss chard, fennel, and cabbage. You then pass through a clematis-covered archway framed by hydrangea and discover yet another bed of white roses.
Dahlias bloom next to a pergola shaded by clematis, with Limelight hydrangea in the distance; the bench is from the Bayberry nursery.
It's a challenge to choose one perfect entertaining spot in Ina's garden. You can imagine sipping a mojito on a spring evening under an arbor of fragrant wisteria, or enjoying an after-dinner glass of port on the porch of the garden shed while staring at the stars. Each parterre and walled garden has its own character, much like the sections in a well-loved library. Which is just as well, because for all that has been accomplished here, one item remains on the agenda: Jeffrey has yet to receive his promised study. Instead, he will have to be content with being the focus of Ina's latest cookbook: Cooking for Jeffrey, to be published this fall. It's an enviable compromise.
This story originally appeared in the July/August 2016 issue of Siweb.