In the early 1900s, Madam C.J. Walker turned her homemadeRead more...
EAST HAMPTON, N.Y. — The rigors of vegetable gardening, for most people, are humble and gritty: planting, weeding, dirtying knees, working up a sweat and maybe straining a back muscle or two.
But here on the gilded acres of Long Island’s East End, a different skill set often applies: hiring a landscape architect to design the garden, a gardener and crew to plant and pamper the beds, and sometimes even a chef to figure out what to do with the bushels of fresh produce. All that’s left is to pick the vegetables — though employees frequently do that, too.
The hardest-worked muscles may be in the hand writing the checks: These lavish, made-to-order gardens can cost as much as $100,000, said Alec Gunn, a Manhattan landscape architect whose firm designs high-end residential, commercial and public-works projects throughout the country.
“And it is not the plants that are driving the cost,” Mr. Gunn said. One 2015 project of his in Southampton with a six-figure price tag includes an underground irrigation system, a potting shed, an orchard and a meadow for a cutting garden. Many gardens require expensive hedges or other barriers to protect them from ocean winds and the ubiquitous deer.
The bespoke vegetable garden, these days almost always organic, has become a particular object of desire in the Hamptons. More clients have commissioned elaborate gardens this summer than ever before, say members of the support staffs who toil on them.
“I put in 10 by July,” said Charles R. Dayton, the owner of an East Hampton landscaping company whose ancestors have owned and worked land here since 1640. “I get a kick out of it.”
About 500 farms remain on the fertile East End, even as more mansions crop up each summer on former potato fields. And the kitchen garden has been a tradition on Long Island estates since the 19th century. But today, growing your own produce is a much different enterprise on what has become some of the world’s most expensive real estate.
Two landscape architects said clients this summer had asked that their vegetables be picked, packaged and put on the Hampton Jitney for use in city kitchens. (The cost, $25 to $50 a parcel, is often more than for a passenger.) One gardener, Charlene Babinski, said she had installed a “juicing garden” for her client’s favorite liquid diets.
Then there are the hostess gifts and holiday honey for guests. “One client asked me to make 27 baskets of vegetables to give to her friends,” said Paul Hamilton, a Montauk farmer who plants and maintains seven luxe gardens.