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A visit to Hitch Lyman’s garden, Trumansburg, NY

May 9, 2010

Saturday was the county’s first Garden Conservancy Open Days tour, at Hitch Lyman’s garden in Trumansburg. He may be best known to the garden community for his snowdrop obsession–he sells from his large collection through his Temple Nursery catalog. The New York Times profiled him recently, and he’s quoted in a Wall Street Journal article as saying, “The snowdrop crazies are crazy, and they love the smallest difference. And since I’m one of them, I’m aware it’s not a normal preoccupation.” I’m lucky to have a few bulbs that a generous member of the rock garden society gave as gifts at our last meeting.

But Lyman’s a man of many passions, as the description of his garden promised: “a collection of peonies, both wild species and the early hybrids of Professor A. P. Saunders should be in flower as well as x hyacinthiflora lilacs. The Greek Revival farmhouse was built ca. 1848. Trillium, Cypripedium, Daphne, Camassia and naturalized Taraxacum in abundance.

His several hundred lilacs are a profuse mix of the delicate and blowsy, and you just can’t help but stick your nose in them. They’re often interplanted so that white, pink, lavender, and purple flowers mingle in the breezes. But our early warmth has not hastened the peonies. Several were in bloom, but the number of closed buds left me with the feeling I was passing by the windows at a party that was just about to begin. The Camassia, too, withheld all but one white bloom. Interesting tulips were planted in small bursts throughout, and there were plenty of plants I wanted to know names of. Mr. Lyman was graciously speaking to many visitors, and probably would have answered any plant question.

Something I appreciated well, and mean no disrespect whatsoever in saying, is the tumbledown nature of the place. Unless you were really looking, you’d miss it from the road. In front the grass is high and the shrubs have a half-wild feel that together make a nonchalant screen. The house paint peels, but the look says “shabby chic,” not, “crumbling.” Wild fields clamber at the borders, but as soon as you enter the fenced garden proper, you’re in the realm of espaliers, lines of sight, edges, and metal tags. Even there it doesn’t take itself so seriously as to deny dandelions and shaggy grass.

The symmetrical side garden planted sparely extends the formality of the house, and I bet has seen many a summer evening gathering. Most everyone seemed to want to stop here for a while, as we did, just before the storm swept in. And I dream of one day having a little architectural folly like his little temple someday, a place fit for shovels and chandeliers.

Check out lots more snapshots in the slideshow. And try to get there next year!
Update: Kathy Purdy has a really descriptive post up about this garden, including what makes the lilacs so special. And we both use the word, “blowsy.” Go visit her.

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15 Comments leave one →
  1. May 10, 2010 4:50 am

    Thanks for the peek into Hitch’s place this time of year. I’ve only ever been there in snowdrop season, which was great. But I had to use my imagination to fill in what it was like the rest of the year.

    • May 13, 2010 8:37 am

      Sure thing, Craig! I saw a pic of the temple folly surrounded by glorious fall color, so I’m trying to imagine the rest of the year, too. I’d love to see masses of snowdrops blooming in the garden. Seems like he’s open to tours a fair amount, which is generous. I’d love one of the inside of the house!

  2. Kylie permalink
    May 10, 2010 6:02 am

    I am sooooooo jealous! I’ve met hitch through the first owners of The Plantsmen Nursery, and have always wanted to see his garden. Thanks for the photos. Your pics are the next best thing.

    • May 13, 2010 8:38 am

      Thanks, Kylie. He seems like a pretty interesting guy to know: artist, plantsman…

  3. May 10, 2010 11:13 am

    nice documentation lynn! i thoroughly enjoyed the open day tour at hitch’s place two years ago, finding many lovely horticultural and architectural details as well. i’m so glad that folks like hitch open their garden worlds to crazies like us… appreciators of the smallest of details.

    • May 13, 2010 8:38 am

      Aww, wish you could have been along for this one. I’m grateful for the open doors as well. Lots of inspiration out there!

  4. Teresa permalink
    May 11, 2010 3:14 pm

    Reading your description of our visit made me see what I already saw with new eyes…and I was happy to see the photo of the “interplanted” white, pink, lavender and purple lilacs against the blue sky. Your eye is an eloquent as your words.

    • May 13, 2010 8:42 am

      It was made more special by having you to share it with in person. Thanks for pointing out the layers of lilacs to me. And for the very sweet words.

  5. May 17, 2010 6:49 am

    I never even thought to go in the Temple. Having attempted to take pictures myself, I congratulate you on yours. Between the wind and the bright sun I found it difficult to get good shots.

    • May 17, 2010 7:17 am

      Thank you, Kathy. It was a challenge for photos–the sun kept peeping in and out, too! I’m interested to hear your impressions in a post.

  6. May 25, 2010 8:34 am

    Quite lovely! Love the view from inside the potting shed.

  7. May 26, 2010 12:14 pm

    Beautiful photos – thanks for posting! A second Open Day in Tompkins County takes place on June 12 in Ithac, Lansing, and Spencer – see our website for details.

  8. November 3, 2010 5:32 pm

    What a garden! I love peonies and especially enjoyed your slide show. I am excitedly looking forward to Spring 2011 when the 95 peonies I planted at my peony farm will be in bloom. Wish I have your talent for picture taking. I could use it on my Peonies on Parade event.

    • November 3, 2010 6:19 pm

      Thank you! Best of luck with your farm–that must be quite a sight!


  1. Hitch Lyman’s Temple Nursery Garden — Cold Climate Gardening

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