2009 Green Awards: Reed Hilderbrand

2009 Green Awards: Reed Hilderbrand

January 20, 2010

1,500 gallons of compost tea, one hundred cubic yards of green waste. Fifty-six acres of sustainable earth-friendly gardens, meadows, prairies and knolls. And all this just an hour outside Manhattan.  

Fed by their desire for a low-impact landscape that provides a daily bounty of fresh flowers, fruits and vegetables as well as seductive wide-open spaces for roaming and wandering, the owners of this Westchester County, New York, property took on the daunting challenge of gardening organically on a grand scale. "The homeowners have an avid interest in horticulture and are on the board of the New York Botanical Garden," says Doug Reed of Reed Hilderbrand of Watertown, Massachusetts, the firm that created the original and current landscapes on the property. "They are also serious foodies with a love of outdoor entertaining."

Easy on the eyes and easy on the earth, the resulting gardens are spectacular. Just steps from the house, a 60-foot-by-80-foot vegetable garden is studded with rows of tall, clean-lined towers for beans and tomatoes. Nearby, long, deep perennial borders provide cut flowers, a shrub garden offers up three seasons of interest, and a sleek channel of water in the perennial garden adds soft sounds. Here, modern luxury pairs successfully with country-house simplicity. Just a short walk and you're in the woods. Beyond that, the sweeping vistas of meadows and terraced fields beckon.   

The magic here, however, is a bit less Mother Nature and a lot more handyman. In order to efficiently and effectively garden such a large property using organic methods, a matrix of loop-closing on-site systems was created. Now, all green waste is composted and that compost turned into a liquid fertilizer (compost tea) that is automatically fed back to the plants. To better use water resources, the sprinkler systems were retrofitted to work with greater efficiency.

Nonnative intruders are routinely removed and desired species encouraged, particularly in the open grasslands where a regular early-spring mowing routine dampens the enthusiasm of more-aggressive plants. 

At every step, the designer and the homeowners have stealthily incorporated technologies and techniques to reduce the impact on the environment. And, with none of the tiresome crunchy-granola hyperearnestness that can accompany a good-works garden. Love it? Says Reed: "Nothing done here can't be replicated on the smaller scale of an average American backyard." We couldn't agree more.