May 2012

I’m not a billionaire — yet — but my editor told me this week that Le Road Trip has sold out of its first run and is going into a second printing so wealth and fame can’t be far behind. So I better take notes on how my soon-to-be-peers live — I want to fit in when we all get together and complain about the 99.9% who live off my job creation, those sluggards. Dim wits. Hoi Polloi. Hey! Not being rich is your own damn fault!

But I digress.

Once a year, a certain hedge fund billionairein Westchester, New York opens his garden on behalf of the Garden Conservancy. So I moseyed up to Katonah to get a look at my soon-to-be-neighbor.

The first thing I noticed was the zebras. Note to self: Billionaries need zebras in the back yard.

Note to self: Also, find out where to buy a zebra saddle.

And then there were the camels.

These are the two-hump kind of camels which, I think, only come from Mongolia. Note to self: start thinking of cute names for pet camels. Ullan and Baator? Marlboro and Kent?

I was told by one of the 20 attendandts who were there directing traffic that they average 750 cars every time this garden is open to the public. Don’t worry: there’s room for 750 cars here. This billionaire has a 55-acre backyard. Plenty of room enough for all these nosey parkers, plus a flock of flamingos:

And monkeys: 

And kangaroos (red and white):

Now, when it comes to kangaroos, this is money well spent. I do love me them kangaroos. So having a dozen kangaroos romping in my backyard is just like being in Australia without all the bother of a 20-hour plane ride.

After the kangaroos, all the emus and ostriches and black swans and other rare birds that were wandering around the backyard didn’t really grab my attention. For the rest of my walk around the property, I only have pictures of the really, really cute pets.

Like this guy:

We weren’t allowed inside the greenhouse where the billionaire grows rare tropical fruits from Asia and India, but we were permitted to stare…

….at the adorable tiny monkeys eating all the rare tropical fruits from India and Asia:

This fella is the size of a Barbie doll.  Cute!

This guy was the size of a very fat Labradoodle:

There was a woman who, upon catching sight of this little piggy ( a capybara, the world’s largest rodent, from South America, weighing about 40 pounds), exclaimed to her husband and kids: “Look! A hippopotamus!”  Secret note to self: It’s worth devoting great sums of money to keep morons away from me and my capybaras.

I almost missed this guy, who was napping with his herd in the Westchester savanna:

It took a half hour, but he finally revealed his full cerval self.

This kitty took an interest in me, and wandered over to my side of the fence to sniff my camera. I tried to get a close up of those infinitely beautiful and hypnotic cat eyes…

…but I only got his chin.

I know, I know:  You want to know what a billionaire’s garden looks like.

For one thing, there aren’t many flower beds except in the one-acre cutting garden (roses and tulips this time of year). Mostly the estate is a series of beautifully landscaped rolling hills to create habitats for the living lawn ornaments. But there is a spectacularly original garden that expresses the billionaire soul; It’s a 5-acre maple grove planted with every species of maple tree.

There are wonderful paths all through this space. And several bridges — this one is the Moss Bridge:

And this one is the Japanese Bridge:

Japanese bridges are usually painted vermillion (Monet either didn’t know or didn’t care about this when he painted his Giverny bridge that blue-green color) and the use of that Japanese maple tree is outstanding. Japanese maples are prized in Japan for their intricately gnarled branches, and this tree has maximum visual interest plus it mimics the arch of the bridge. This exquisite tableau is the mark of a true connoisseur, and represents a very high taste level.

It takes about two hours to walk around and take in a 55-acre garden, for your information. I was very satisfied with the day, having learned quite a bit about the de rigueurs of the Billionaire’s Club.

But there was one last thing I  had to check out. I walked all the way up the quarter-mile long driveway, all the way to the quaint dirt road that this billionaire lives on, because I had to find the answer to a question I’ve always had about billionaires.

Q: What does a billionaire’s mailbox look like?

Now I know.

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I’m still at it. Still flummoxed by gardens. My paintings of them still look like crap. If you remember, when we last left off I was trying to do justice to a small walled garden off the Royal Mile in Edinburgh called Dunbar’s Close:

In the past two weeks I’ve actually tried TWICE to re-paint this, but the results were even worse so instead I went back and made certain necessary corrections to make this illustration a tad bit less crappy:


Having failed so miserably, I decided to take a break and go back to my comfort zone, garden-wise. I did a miniature painting of the secret doorway to Dunbar’s Close on the Royal Mile (miniature being my preferred canvas):

This secret entrance is almost totally camouflaged as just another alley between nondescript buildings on the Royal Mile:

There are 83 “closes” on the Royal Mile such as this one that leads to Dunbar’s Close. BTW, I know some of you, dear readers, like to see Where I Get My Ideas From. For this illustration, I plagiarized this reference photos:

Another wonderful garden that I love is in Key West. And when it comes to Key West, I’ve always been very fond of this picture I took in 2005 when Top Cat and I spent a long February weekend there (this is our guest room at the Conch House Heritage Inn, built in 1885):

I love the monochromatic effect of this picture, the long afternoon shadows, and how the orange cat is the only spot of color. So let’s PAINT IT!

First had to draw it:

I had to leave out that second rocking chair — waaaay too complicated for my skill level and I didn’t want to make myself any crazier than I had to.  Of course, there is only one way to paint this drawing: illuminated on my light box:

I really shouldn’t paint without supervision. Thank you, Coco cat.

By putting my 90-lb Canson watercolor paper over this drawing and firing up the light box, the outlines of this sketch show through to guide me as I “color in” the shadows that I see in the photograph. It took me about two hours to paint this:

Yeah, I had to ditch the French door and the window entirely — there was no way I had the manual dexterity to pull that off. It was the rocking chair and the cat that I most wanted to paint any way and if you had not seen the original concept you would think that this was a pretty completely realized composition, eh?

Thank you, one and all, for all your garden book recommendations last week. I’m still searching for the garden artist that I can steal from…I have a specific viewing experience in mind when it comes to garden art, and hoo boy some of the garden books I’ve come across miss it by miles.

Last Sunday I journeyed to the wilds of Westchester County to visit a billionaire’s garden because I wanted to see what a man with an undogly amount of money puts in his garden. Stayed tuned: I’ll  show you, right here, next week.


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You might remember my friend Robert from pages 190 and 191 of my book When Wanderers Cease to Roam, where I talk about how Robert operates the drawbridge over the Eastchester Barge Canal off U.S.Route 1.

He spent 30 years there, planting trees and creating art from the debris that floated his way, hanging hundreds of his “collages” (they looked like wind chimes to me) from the branches of his trees because, as Robert said, ” God put me here to straighten out this part of Earth.”

Robert retired last year and yesterday I went to visit him at his home in Westchester County, on the shore of the Long Island Sound.

No, this isn’t Robert’s yard. This is Robert’s neighbor’s yard. I’m just showing you this for a sense of contrast because Robert’s been as busy in his own acre of Earth as he was at the drawbridge — Robert’s yard looks like this:

Robert’s made his yard into a wonderland garden, sculpted the landscape by installing a staircase, railings, statues, more “collages” set into the ground, etc.

These photos make the place look a little more chaotic than it is — I just love the way Robert adds all these different shapes (like the fans) into the scenery.

And the sinks.

You can get lost in the scale of the surrounding installations here —

—and I didn’t bring a tea bag so I’m pointing to this particularly lovely little vignette to show you that some of Robert’s work is quite diminutive.

This is one of the more elaborate “collages’/wind chimes hanging in Robert’s home garden.

Robert surprised me with a very special gift — a wind chime of my very own!

These keys used to hang at the Eastchester Barge Canal and when a county supervisor made Robert get rid of “all that trash in the trees” Robert saved this one and gave it to me!

Oh! I almost forgot to tell you about the most fantastic part of Robert’s garden! I saw something that I’ve never seen and never could have hoped or dared to see with my own eyes right there, in Robert’s garden. I saw this:

This is a mother blue jay sitting in her nest in Robert’s garden (giving me the hairy eyeball).

As for Le Road Trip, I must give thanks to the kind reviews that have appeared this past week in the Sunday Mail in Brisbane, Australia ;and the Oklahoman of Oklahoma City; and the Roanoke Times of Roanoke, VA.

Thanks also to all my dear readers, who are reading both Le Road Trip and When Wanderers Cease to Roam in original hard copy (since neither book can be Kindled), putting up with my old-fashioned idea that a reading experience must include a real book-shaped object.

P.S. I’m looking for good garden books — ones that have great illustrations and stories about gardens and their gardeners. I’ve already ordered , sight unseen but just because I like the title, an out-of-print book called Remembered Gardens…does anyone know of any other good books that get to the heart of the garden experience? Or will I have to write that one myself?

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