Wednesday, May 21, 2014

I Am a Lawn Man

My next serious post, "Inside Castle Hill," isn't written yet, but I couldn't let a week pass without posting something. Today's post is about my lawn. The Polar Vortex has receded, the leaves have burst forth, and my lawn is growing. I searched for a good lawn quote but the only ones I found came from people who mow (or mowed) their own. I do not mow my lawn. I do own the mower (which is bigger than a Smart car) and house and support (at least partially) the man who drives it.

I confess it: I am a lawn man. Some people condemn big lawns, others feel guilty about them, I revel in mine. It's too big for chemical enhancement, which I suppose is the usual ecologist's gripe. As a result, it is rife with imperfections - brown spots, crab grass, weird unidentified plant life, etc., etc. - but it looks fine from a distance. Since Daheim is a place where many things are viewed from a distance, this works well.

Three large outdoor rooms adjoin Daheim on the west, south and southeast. The broad lawn in first image above lies to the west. The gate in the image below leads to a walled orchard on the southeast.

In this wet spring weather, my grass quickly loses the manicured look that Bill and I - on mower and policy desk respectively - labor to produce each year. The orchard, whose walled enclosure covers approximately two acres, was, until the 1920s, closely cultivated with vegetables and flowers. When I came 30 years ago, it was an impenetrable mass of interlocking honeysuckle bushes, impossible to even walk through. It all had to be cleared and burned, which took a couple of summers. Of the few ancient apple trees that had survived to that point, only one is with us still. The back wall of a small tennis pavilion is visible at midpoint on the west wall.

Three large greenhouses, their metal framing donated in the 'Forties to the war effort, bordered the orchard on the east. Dressed stone stairs lead to vanished Victorian doorways. This one has a date of construction tooled into the threshold.

The ogee ghost on the wall of the powerhouse (a huge steam-producing boiler once lurked in its basement) shows the shape of the original glazing. A charming finial, deliciously green with age, survives atop the roof.

Beyond this gate is a flight of stone steps that leads up to the tennis lawn.

There used to be a tennis court (lawned over long ago) on this side of the circular fountain. The stonework under the trees to the right of the fountain marks the top of the orchard stairs.

Here's the tennis lawn from the other direction - more precisely, from my bedroom window. The tennis house is just visible beneath the tress on the left.

Straight columns on perpendicular axes are the key to an elegant lawn. Mower tracks that roam around in unplanned squiggles don't cut it.


  1. I'm quoting a king, viewing an estate: "Grand, 'ain't it!" What splendid views of "native grasses" you've cultivated!

    My own property would fit neatly within the footprint of your residence, John; however, I don't do the mowing either. And when the lawn lady proposed the use of chemicals, I recoiled aghast: "But what would that do to the Native Grasses...?" I do, in fact like white clover in the lawn.

    Perhaps a croquet lawn someday, somewhere? If only for the sake of having the wrought iron wickets with the candles alight on top?

  2. What a beautiful day to take your pictures. My dogs would love romping around fetching balls and sticks in the tennis yard. And I would love sitting in the sun watching them reading a book and drinking tea. Ah what a fun afternoon that would be. Many Thanks for your posts John.....

  3. I'll take our weeds. They stay green all summer. Nice job. We once turned down a chance to house sit due to the lawn requirements of an intricate diamond design, reversing the direction of the cut each week.

  4. Big old houses are great, but big old estate properties with expansive lawns, stone walls and gates, outbuildings, follies, gardens and old trees and plantings are just as good, and much more rare.

  5. Gorgeous house and gorgeous property. Even if the old dowager is not as pristine as she was in her golden years, the patina of age has graced your property with perfection. Love the wonderful outbuildings and all the walls and stairs.

  6. Wow. I don't really think I need to say more.

  7. OMG! That has got to be my dream home made real. I love evrything about that property. From the architecture, to the landscaping, all the pictures have enchanted me. Thank you so much for sharing this piece of magical real estate to us! :)

    Marjorie McKay @ RE/MAX Real Estate

  8. Having worked in and around Millbrook for years, I have driven past the gate house many times.It's common knowledge among locals that Timothy Leary occupied the estate in the past. Also interesting to see what lies behind the entrance.

  9. It looks fantastic, I wish my husband was this good when it came to keeping up with our lawn. I imagine its hard work but It definitely pays off in the end. Although it is not my husbands fault that our yard is a mess. It is definitely due to our dogs digging up holes in our yard and what not.