Vacations are always busmens’ holidays for gardeners. Whether it’s a tropical paradise, a stateside resort, or a European capital, gardeners can’t help but notice what’s planted, where it’s planted, and how well it’s designed. We don’t actually work on the gardens where we stay, but we’re doing it in our heads.

Over the past week, I’ve been on holiday in New York state: Skaneateles, Clayton (1000 Islands), Lake Placid, Saratoga Springs, and Geneva, on a more-or-less circular itinerary. And what a beautiful set of localities they are. We’ve visited a few of these places before, and I have to say the plantings (and other amenities) just get better and better.

Number #1 is the Mirbeau property in Skaneateles. The buildings (meant to resemble French country architecture and succeeding remarkably well) surround a large lily pond, filled with koi. All of the areas between the buildings and the pond are thickly planted. Though the inspiration is (loosely) Monet’s gardens, hence all the waterlilies, the surrounding perennials are mostly native plants, including Rudbeckia, Echinacea, Eutrochium, and (my favorite) magnificent stands of Vernonia (ironweed). There were other natives, as well as hosta, hellebore, and hemerocallis. The thing I love most is that very little effort seems to have been made to maintain the ordered beds one usually sees at resorts, such as those found at a later stop in Lake Placid, the Inn at Mirror Lake. At Mirbeau, the plants run riot, as one of the gardeners we spoke to readily admitted, with some compunction. (There are about 4 maintaining the roughly 2.5 acre property.)


Elsewhere we saw goofy heart-shaped beds of annuals (at the creepy but magnificent) Boldt Castle, wild native lilies (along the roadside) and everywhere, gigantic hydrangea. This is the biggest hydrangea season I’ve seen in many years. And I don’t want to diss ordered beds: Mirror Lake does a great job on theirs. With a gorgeous lake right there, surrounded by mountains, it’s not necessary to compete too strenuously.

Inn at Mirror Lake

New York state has been looking pretty good to me these days.