Maker of Wind Chimes, Keeper of His Bit of Earth

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?

13 Comments, RSS

  1. You are JUST going to have to write a gardening book. Right away, go on now… (I LOVE the chime- and Robert looks very content. GENUINELY content. We should all be so lucky.)

  2. Deborah

    You’d think I’d have a book to recommend since I have several shelves filled with garden books, but not one of them springs to mind. What does spring to mind is a video: “A Man Named Pearl” — a self taught topiarist (?) who make wind chimes and other garden art.

    Yeah, you have to do a garden book. THAT book would never slip my mind.

  3. Jen

    Thank you for setting up the wonderful foil of the next door neighbor’s yard. That was perfect.

    As for gardening books – I don’t have a particular book, but I have a treasure trove of a website for you: The Gardener’s Eden

    You might find some inspiration or some mossy paths to follow through the interwoods, I mean interwebs. Have fun!

  4. Sandy

    Oh Oh I see the next book in the works!!? Love that blue jay nesting, I have never seen one either. They are so gorgeous and tenatious.

    Robert is a true visionary and quite the artist. I hope he enjoys his retirement.

    I’ll keep my eyes posted on garden books, I have one done in watercolor (a year in the garden??) I’ll double check.

  5. Nadine

    Ma Bluejay made my day. But are you sure it’s Ma and not Pa? Aren’t male birds usually more brightly colored than the female birds? Could Jays be like their flightless cousins, the penguin, and share baby duty? I’m off to search Wikipedia.

  6. Nadine

    The male Blue Jay and the female Blue Jay are the same size and have the same plumage, but only the female broods.

    Yep, that’s Ma Blue Jay in Robert’s garden. Lovely.

  7. Ann Turkle

    What a relief. I have been, on some level, condemning the county supervisor to s particularly sterile circle of hell (would he notice?), so it’s good to see Robert working his magic in a space he can preserve. I wondered if you’d seen A. Cort Sinnes’ In Your Own Backyard? What I love about the book is its deep (and visual) appreciation of what one can do, literally, in one’s own backyard. And the drawings and watercolors coax me into thinking, I could/should do this too. Published in 1992, it’s still available used, I think.
    And Le Road Trip? It’s been the redemption of my end-of-semester teaching blahs. Among my favorites: the inventories. I’ve marked with post-its My Essentials, les fenetres de Paris, the park “furniture,” the charcuterie (oh, the snails!). Thank you for this brilliant book.

  8. jacqui

    I too am visiting a wonderland. I am in the veritable city of gardens, Portland, where it has rained nearly every day since my arrival a week ago. The wonder of color is a water colorist’s dream……from ground level to tree top, it is a dizzingly vibrant rainbow of flowers…there is dogwood, tulip trees, apple blossoms, lilacs, ……cascades of purples and pinks blooming over rocks and hills of front yards, iris, tulips, and so much more. And because I am right here, in the midst of living color, I cannot shake down my “titles” journal for the series of the male author’s english garden books. Can’t even recall his name altho as soon as I read your request images of his book’s gardens came into mind.
    I am happy to know about Robert and when I return I will take a picture for the two of you of our island’s exchange. Robert would love this place because he lives the same philosophy…essentially, reduce, reuse, recycle.
    Something not widely practiced anymore on this planet….because there is always so much more (Junk) that can be acquired new. In my community we have our “EXCHANGE”, located at the county transfer station (dump) where one can bring in what is no longer needed or wanted and take something else you could use or want. We are on an island. We have no Goodwill, Salvation Army, or such places…We have 2 hdw stores in 52 square miles….so we can go find a part for bike repair, or a bamboo shade, or garden pots..silverware…..and yes, all the makings of windchimes. You can use money as the exchange and you get to decide the value and what you will pay. Every year we have an art show using all that can be found at the exchange….I will send you and Robert on your island a photo of some of this island art from our next art show!

  9. Your garden book would be a sheer delight! To the best of my knowledge no one has done what you could do. See below for a few of my favorite garden books and websites (thanks for giving me a chance to finally compile a list).

    – The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett
    – Plant Dreaming Deep (not all garden, but parts are) by May Sarton
    – The New Low-maintenance Garden: How to Have A Beautiful, Productive Garden and the Time to Enjoy It by Valerie Easton
    – Garden books by Penelope Hobhouse (especially “In Search of Paradise”)
    – A Naturalist Buys an Old Farm (not gardening, but gorgeous attention to nature) by Edwin Way Teale
    – Pocket Neighborhoods: Creating Small-scale Community in A Large-scale World by Ross Chapin (not strictly garden, but well worth the read and the pictures include gardens)
    – Dianna Hutts Aston’s beautiful books about eggs, butterflies, etc.
    – Apartment Gardening by Amy Pennington
    – Big Gardens in Small Spaces by Martyn Cox (“At last count, Martyn Cox had more than 250 different plants growing in his 600-square-foot garden in London…”)

    Books I’ve heard about, but not yet read:
    – One Man’s Meat by E. B. White (farm in Maine)
    – The Bucolic Plague: How Two Manhattanites Became Gentlemen Farmers: An Unconventional Memoir by Josh Kilmer-Purcell
    – A Gentle Plea for Chaos by Mirabel Osler
    – Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life by Barbara Kingsolver
    – Tabletop Gardens by Rosemary McCreary

    – You Grown Girl (
    – Patti Moreno’s Garden Girl (
    – Plant Talk (

  10. Tracey

    The Bucolic Plague is a very stressful book. The two guys are both Type A’s (one of them worked for Martha Stewart). Reading the book made me not want to garden. I did like Animal, Mineral, Vegetable.

  11. Rosemary Verey wrote some lovely gardening books. Lots of pictures to browse through in her book “The English Country Garden” and also in the books she edited with Alvilde Lees-Milne, “The New Englishwoman’s Garden” and “The Englishman’s Garden.” The last two have chapters on individual gardeners and the gardens they made. Great stuff.

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