By Francesca Normile
Sitting underneath a shady canopy of old, wisteria arbor leaves, Rick Bogusch, garden manager of Bridge Gardens in Bridgehampton, looked out across the south side of the gardens, checking in on one of his two assistants, Matt Brown. Brown, in a pink shirt, red shorts, and a large straw hat, was tending to the herb gardens.
Bridge Gardens, founded in 1988 by Harry Neyens and Jim Kilpatric, was donated in 2008 to non-profit Peconic Land Trust. The Trust was established to “ensure the protection of Long Island’s working farms, natural lands, and heritage,” according to their website. Bogusch, who worked alongside Neyens and Kilpatric before they left the Gardens, was formerly an employee of The Trust and took the position of garden manager in 2008. He has held that position for three summers now, working with two assistants and living in the Bridge Gardens house, which he says “brings the outdoors indoors with all of its windows.”
“I always say, five acres in Bridgehampton ain’t bad,” responded Bogusch when asked about living in the Gardens. “It really is wonderful year round.”
Finding it difficult to say which part of the Gardens was his favorite, Bogusch contemplated the question for a moment, leaning back in his white plastic chair.
“I think I like the herb garden best at this point,” he decided. “The plants in there tell so many different stories. They bring in science and history, almost all aspects of human culture, with them.”
A tour, “The Herb Garden in Spring and early Summer” will be offered at the Gardens on Saturday, June 19.
From the tall Angelica in the medicinal bed (the seeds of which are used for calming stomach disorders and the stems of which used to be candied for a treat) to the California Poppy (a beautiful, yellow flower that was used by California Indians as a toothache remedy), the multi-faceted history of these herbs become very apparent. Particularly interesting, said Bogusch, was the inconspicuous-looking Woad, a textile herb, which was the only source of blue dye for centuries (anteceding the discovery of indigo) and was what the druids had used to dye their bodies blue.
“Many herbs have more than one use,” he said.
An example he gave was St. John’s Wart, an herb used both in textiles as a dye and medicinally, to combat depression. Each plant, from its roots to its petals to its seeds, held a wealth of information. And that information is what the tours at Bridge Gardens are about.
Each tour is about one hour long, filled with stories of history, science, and culture as told through the beautiful wealth of flowers, shrubs (including some topiaries that were installed years back by Neyens, and which Bogusch says “add a touch of whimsy to, and have become an important part of, the garden”), herbs, bamboo, and other plants that fill Bridge Gardens.
“Our ultimate goal here is to not only have a beautiful garden, but one that is also an educational resource for the public. Showing them the best plants to grow in the garden, how to combine them, how to create gardens that are relatively low maintenance,” said Bogusch.
His advice for local gardeners was that most herbs are very easy to grow. In terms of working in the herb garden at Bridge Gardens, Bogusch said, “there are parts of maintaining it that are very different from what I was used to doing. You have to let the plants do what they want and sort of grow together like a weed patch. Usually I am very controlling in my designs, but this requires a gentle hand.”
Some specific herbs that Bogusch suggested local gardeners grow included his “favorite basil, Mrs. Burns’ Famous Lemon Basil, which has the best, very sweet, lemon flavor of basil, and African Blue Basil, which is kind of a Thai basil with a clove scent to it.” Each require a bit of space, however, the former expanding to about 2-by-3 feet and the latter to about 3-by-3 feet; so don’t pack them in too close together.
To experience Bridge Gardens for yourself, you can visit on Saturdays and Sundays for a tour or, if it is just the herb garden that has peaked your interest, attend “The Herb Garden in Spring and Early Summer” on June 19 titled at 10 a.m. For $20 per person you can learn a three-dimensional approach to planning and planting your own herb garden and begin cultivating a history, like the one at Bridge Gardens, in your own backyard.