Since settling upon the rich soils of the Hudson Valley in 2010, Madeleine has always admired the expansive gardens of others in several villages dotting the banks of the mighty Hudson River. In the spring of 2014, she and her husband relocated up from a rental in the tiny hamlet of Garrison to purchase three acres of mountain property in Fishkill, just 12 miles north, where the dream of substantial landscaping became a very loaded reality. By the spring of 2015, vegetables and flowers were planted, chickens were being raised and brand new trails were being cleared to reach the summit of what was once referred to as Fly Mountain. By combining stories from her neighbor with a little paper research, she learned that the property was once a farm, growing tomatoes and grains. On one of the main inclines of the little mountain the rock foundation ruins of barns and/or oxen stalls still lie from what was called Fly Mountain Farm. At the foot of the mountain is a small white cottage atop a rock basement that dates back to the 1700’s and is thought to be the original foundation for the Smith house on Smithtown Road, as found through research from very old maps and deeds to the property.
During her ’70’s-’80’s childhood Madeleine was deeply inspired by nearly two decades of her grandmother’s tireless work in multiple vegetable and flower gardens on their huge family farm near Savannah, Georgia. Not gardening herself until raising two toddlers in the early 1990’s, Madeleine immediately found great satisfaction in working the soils, starting simply in a rental house with potted plants on a small brick patio and creating small perimeter trails for her two children to wander around before owning a home and acquiring the higher skills of mastering a formal garden complete with a six-foot fountain that she built over a large swimming pool. Fast forward to now, as research continues in order to learn more about the origins of the Smiths, the cottage and the farm, Madeleine has thrown her mind and body into creating varied landscapes that fit into the natural waves and tiers of the grounds, working feverishly on her own to build multiple trails, lush flower beds, woodland gardens, art installations, wildflower meadow paths and even an outdoor classroom.
Unfortunately, in May of 2018, a microburst tornado directly hit the property, causing extensive damage, for which the land is still recovering from numerous downed trees, which ruined parts of the Crystal Forest, the Conifer Forest and blocked spots on some of the mountain trails. It was during this time of destruction that Madeleine also lost her father, leading to an extended period of grieving for both family and land in which little to no gardening tasks were satisfied. Not until months later was any new effort pushed into rebuilding and making new plans for areas where it seemed nothing could be saved. Since then, certain areas were completely redesigned and new plants are still being established by way of Madeleine’s sheer determination of not wanting to be defeated by Mother Nature. Working with an extremely low budget and through very busy work and performance schedules, injuries and days of severe fatigue or inclement weather, it comes as no surprise how anything ever gets accomplished for only one person to be maintaining these three acres. However, small miracles seem to happen through deep devotion to her multiple projects. Her only regret is that her grandmother is not alive to see her creations.
Madeleine’s husband also contributes to the outdoor property with his building efforts. Over the past six years, he has built a potting shed, chicken coop, woodshed, rose trellis and a large dining table. Most recently, he was rather forced into building two new barn doors due to a storm blowing the original doors completely off, hinges and all. He is rather gifted with special skills to work with wood and Madeleine is always rather astounded by the amazing results of his many projects. The property is enhanced by his beautiful work.
NOTE: As with any private property, visits to ours is by personal invitation only. If you are interested to take a personal tour with me through the many trails, nooks and crannies, please contact me directly by email or phone. garrisonconcierge at gmail dot com or 917.536.2033 and leave a voicemail if I don’t happen to answer in person.
The property now includes a collection of themed garden areas, as listed below.
The Kitchen & Chircken Gardens – Vegetable & Herb Beds – This is the only fenced in area. It includes multiple beds of edibles, as well as many flowers, various trees, shrubs and vines. Along with the beds is a chicken coop, old garage/barn and adorable potting shed.
*NEW – Rose Courtyard – Previously, this was an unmanageable cutting garden, Currently, this side courtyard will become a more tame focal point from the large kitchen windows with a collection of roses with delicate hues ranging from creams to soft peachy pinks and yellows to deep black and burgundy velvets.
*NEW – Rock Incline Garden – This area is in the process of becoming reflecting pool garden filled with bearded irises, globe alliums, false blue indigo, yucca, bleeding hearts and various ornamental grasses and ground covers. It also includes rock steps and winding paths all leading up to the Crystal Forest.
The Crystal Forest – In the works for about four years, this special shady area is becoming an interactive woodland forest with secret nooks and crannies. It is filling up with ferns and other native plants that one might find growing naturally in a NY mountain forest and has countless crystals twinkling from tree branches. It also includes many hidden hanging keys, a sugar maple with hanging bells referred to as The Bell Tree, a highly active woodchuck tunnel, a massive root ball with branch tunnel path, animal statues and buried treasures — all to delight children and encourage them to enjoy exploring the outdoors.
*NEW – Outdoor Classroom – Currently, a very challenging clearing is in progress for two upper spots of the Crystal Forest to create an outdoor learning area for specific adult programs offered about organizing, zero waste, natural gardening, etc.
Thistle Meadow, Wild Blackberry Patch, Fruit Trees & Cedar Bistro Nook – In a larger area of the lower gardens where a former owner started a tiny orchard on a steep grassy lawn, we decided to change the landscape by planting wildflowers and allowing the lawn to grow wild with tall grasses. As a result, this area feeds countless small wild birds in a rainbow of colors— as well as making wild turkeys and our free range chickens very happy. It also includes a secret path to a small bistro table and chairs and chandelier all hidden for a quiet sip of tea under a shady juniper tree.
Saucer Magnolia & Sitting Lawn – Passing the large saucer magnolia tree at the top of the first incline you find an area that is suddenly quite level with a lovely lawn. It is here where two chaise lounges are based for relaxation with a partial view of Mount Beacon.
The Conifer Forest – With a mix of fir, pine and spruce trees, this tight and tiny forest has a bit of water and wind damage that is to be repaired as soon as can be given proper attention. This is the site of the new Zen Meditation & Sphere Garden and a small stream will be built to reroute flooding that happens every single year.
*NEW – The Zen Meditation & Sphere Garden – What was once a meditative shade garden of metal spheres resting in tall grasses, this small area was completely ruined from a tornado racing through the Conifer Forest. This area is being reestablished during the late summer and early autumn of 2022. It will be an on-going project once the drought clears and it becomes safe to plant anything without it dying.
*NEW – The Natural Labyrinth – This is also in the process of being created by using the plentiful dead branches that have been collected over the years, as well as from professional tree cutters, who recently cleared fallen trees (again!) from recent storms. This project will resume in the autumn of 2022.
*NEW – Campfire Site – For several reasons, this circle of Adirondack chairs surrounding a rock campfire was relocated from the first set of old farm ruins over to the entrance area for the new Zen Meditation & Sphere Garden, as of mid-summer, 2022.
Flat Land – An overlooked level area where future plans are to clear all overgrowth at the edge of the Conifer Forest reaching the lawn that may later be used for a rock labyrinth design.
Fly Mountain Forest Trails – Here begins the routes of multiple incline, crossover and rock climbing exercise trails within a boundary of historic rock walls all the way up to the summit where panoramic views of Mount Beacon and several other mountain peaks on both sides of the river can be enjoyed during the winter months.
La Voix Céleste – This is a collection of Madeleine’s experimental and interactive art installations, a zero waste project using old church organ pipes that she salvaged from St. Philip’s Episcopal Church in Garrison. Thus far, there are four in-ground sculptures called The Druid Crescent, The Tin Soldiers, The Starburst and The Zipper. Also installed are The Icicles and other pipes of various sizes which either hang from branches or are wrapped around live trunks or placed into hollow trunks. For more information about Madeleine’s artwork and these outdoor installations, please use this link: DeNitto Art
Madeleine gardens almost exclusively with native perennials in the themed garden areas. Only in the vegetable beds, front patio containers, the kitchen window box and sunflower bed does she ever plant annuals. About three fourths of the perennials were already on the property, while the remaining fourth of plants were purchased from nurseries, local garden club plant sales or gifted from fellow gardening friends in Garrison. Madeleine strongly believes in sharing plants with friends who visit and often sends them home with pots of seedlings.
During the months of late April, May and June, the property is especially fragrant from the flowering fruit trees, the lilac tree, roses, peonies and bearded irises in the gardens, as well as wild honeysuckle vines and rose multiflora shrubs throughout the entire property. However, it is not until the months of late June through early September when the gardens reach their most colorful peaks, filled with many different flowering plants, bushes and trees.
Recently, rather than to continue to kill herself trying to combat the one weed that she detests the most –wild mustard garlic– she has made the decision to make it her mission to gradually replace them with other invasive plants, such as rudbeckia, mint, lemon balm as well as wild blackberry and multiflora rose shrubs as suffocating fillers.
Madeleine and her husband are both serious birders and provide food, water and shelter for wild birds. Each year, they have regular bluebirds, hummingbirds, gold and purple finches, grosbeaks, woodpeckers, cardinals, just to name a few— but have been very fortunate to also enjoy both Baltimore and orchard orioles, as well as an occasional indigo bunting passing through. They also regularly observe other wildlife, such as deer, red foxes, cottontail rabbits, woodchucks, skunks, turkeys, opossums, raccoons, bats, tree frogs, owls and other large birds of prey, certain types of snakes and occasionally, coyotes— or they, at least, hear them. They like to attract birds, bees, bats and butterflies to the property for full pollination, which is essential to environmental conservation. The property includes multiple feeders, baths and houses to encourage the good health of flying wildlife.
For years, Madeleine has also been a photographer and over the past 30+ years, she has shot many gardens and other landscapes. Many of these shots can be found in several of her photo albums on her DeNittoArt Facebook page: Photo Albums
The property was certified through the National Wildlife Federation in April of 2014. Madeleine is a former member of The Philipstown Garden Club and is a new member of The Verplanck Garden Club.
For more current photos, use this link.