There's not a dull corner anywhere at Madoo, artist Robert Dash's two-acre Sagaponack garden, 46 years in the making. Follow meandering paths through a series of strikingly different garden rooms, many based on historical precedents and all colorful, creative, and unconventional. Curbed Hamptons columnist Cara Greenberg spoke with Madoo's administrative staff of one, Alejandro Saralegui, about the past, present, and future of what he calls "a very romantic, poetic garden."
What's a madoo?
Madoo is Old Scot for 'my dove.' Robert Dash named it. We've always had a little madoo bird kicking around ? this funny little drawing that Bob did, that shows up occasionally on invitations and on the website.
How did the garden come about?
Robert Dash started as a poet, active in the Beat era of the '50s and '60s. He moved into painting and purchased this property in 1967, which was completely barren. Little by little he started building the garden out from the houses, renovating and moving bits and pieces of them around -- a lot of them were just sheds -- and just started planting. Things were more formal and structured then, but the garden has definitely gotten looser. Some people are shocked at the difference. All the material came in at six feet or under. This isn't an instant Hamptons garden at all.
Is Bob Dash still adding to it?
The garden is all about change, whether within the seasons, if a tree falls, when something gets shaded out. It's in a constant state of flux. We occasionally add new major elements. The last one was probably five years ago: the new gingko grove. The old gingko grove has box balls, the new one chamaecyparis. It's totally original; the gingko grove is probably Bob's biggest contribution to garden design in the 20th century. It's sculptural and dramatic year-round, with foliage color that turns over the season and then drops all at once. It's a remarkable all-gold area in the garden.
What are some of the historic influences on the design of Madoo?
There's a little Elizabethan knot garden, and the rill references the Alhambra, with forced perspective from the Renaissance. Its width changes from 8 to 6 inches over 120 feet to make it seem longer. The exedra, a curved seating area at the end of the rill, is a classic piece of Greek architecture. The garden is 1.91 acres, yet it seems much larger because it's made up of lots of little elements carefully woven together. There's no start and stop, it flows from one to the next. And there are lots of hidden vistas. You turn, and all of a sudden, you see something completely different.
The Wall Street Journal recently called Madoo 'little known.' Would you agree?
We probably get 1,200 visitors a year. It's difficult to get the word out, and for people to not go to the beach and come to a garden. Or they come once and think that's all they need to do. We're open 8 hours a week, from noon to 4, Friday and Saturday, from May 15 to September 15. But within the gardening world, Madoo is very well known. It's been published in major magazines throughout the world, and regularly appears in garden books.
What's going to happen with the garden in years to come?
We're celebrating our 20th anniversary as The Madoo Conservancy, a nonprofit foundation, next year. The conservancy technically owns the land, and Bob has lifetime tenancy. When he passes away, he's leaving the buildings and their contents, including artworks by Alex Katz, Willem deKooning, and himself. He says he doesn't want the garden preserved in amber, so it will continue to change. Whether it becomes a gardening study center or something like Yaddo, where we bring in fellows in painting, poetry, and gardening, it will be a place for a lot of creativity.
This Saturday, September 15, is your last chance to visit Madoo in 2012; the Members' Fall Cocktail Party from 5-7PM is also open to the public (non-members $30). RSVP to firstname.lastname@example.org.