Alex Feleppa is the new horticulturist at LongHouse Reserve in East Hampton. He spoke with us about his new position and some upcoming winter events.
How did you become involved in horticulture?
I grew up out here, in Amagansett. As the bad joke goes, I was tired of the service industry. I got my start at Marders in Bridgehampton, doing cashier and delivery work, and every year I slowly built on that. About four or five years later I learned there was a career to have in horticulture. There were so many clever twists of fate over the years, because I thought I was leaving nature behind, and then there was a great green movement taking hold in the city. I was managing a garden store in New York and giving people what I thought was common knowledge. I realized there I had a tendency toward the whole nonprofit thing.
From there I learned about School of Professional Horticulture. The ironic thing about LongHouse, as it relates to my history, I was living in Queens in a mouse-infested apartment, going through this amazing program at the botanic garden, realizing my interest in horticulture and nonprofits when I was invited to a wedding and it was at LongHouse. That was the summer of 2005. It was the first time I’d ever heard of it. I laugh with people that it was so ironic. There I was in the city, and then realized that this oasis existed in my own backyard.
How did you get from a wedding guest at LongHouse to a full-time employee?
My then girlfriend and I married and came out here and realized over the course of a snowy winter that our city life was up. For me being a horticulturist and her a veterinary nurse, we knew we could go anywhere, it was just a matter of where. In Spring 2012 we moved home. The first thing I did was to write a letter of interest to Jack Larsen [founder of LongHouse Reserve] and Matko Tomicic [the executive director] introducing myself, saying I was local, but I had this formal training. I guess the letter went over well, they had me in for a meeting not long after, and we all really hit it off.
It was a matter of funding. At that time it didn’t exist, but they were persistent and amazing. They worked at it and over the course of two and half years were able to come up with the funding for my full-time, year-round salary. For me it was a dream come true.
What are some of your new responsibilities at LongHouse?
One of the many hats I’m wearing is trying to increase our programming to be on more of a year-round basis, because there are four seasons of interest. . Our season is typically late April until late November. The goal is always to reach out to as many people as we can and invite as many people as we can. One great little insight is that there we’re always open by appointment—people can always call. This Saturday I’m leading a winter garden walk at LongHouse.
What can you actually see at LongHouse in darkest February?
As I like to say, winter’s a great time to really see the bones of the garden. Because Jack has been building up the garden since he took ownership in 1970, there are trees and shrubs and garden areas that have beautiful structure and texture and grace in every season. For this weekend, we’ll bundle up and we will look at all different kinds of plants throughout the landscape. The emphasis for Saturday will be the witch hazel collection, a number of different evergreen specimens, which are some of the biggest in the North East and which are really mature and exceptional. We’ll look at some of the sculpture and how the snow takes on a very different look. Right after Juno, I had to walk around and survey the scene—the best way to do it is on snowshoes. I definitely want to do snowshoeing or cross-country skiing at LongHouse in the future.
The winter walk at LongHouse will take place from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Saturday, February 7. The cost is $10, and free for members. LongHouse will hold its winter benefit at the Hearst Tower in Manhattan on Wednesday, February 25. Tickets start at $100. For more information about either event visit longhouse.org