For the last seven years — after way too long in New York — Jean-Marc Flack has been creating a wonderful garden in Carmel that now fully surrounds the charming 1790 farmhouse he shares with his husband, the choreographer Stephen Petronio.
“Once I started, I really couldn’t stop,” says Flack, an executive in the fashion business. “After being able to only garden on an 800-square-foot terrace for seven years, you get antsy for a real piece of land.”
Like many city folk with “Green Acres” ambitions, they drew a circle around the city and began to house hunt. “I hadn’t really heard of Putnam,” Flack says. And now they couldn’t be happier with their 2-acre property in the county. They both live there full time and commute to the city as needed.
On Saturday, y, June 8, Flack and Petronio will welcome visitors into their exuberantly planted garden for the 7th Annual Secret Garden Tour of Putnam, sponsored by Partners with PARC. It’s a wonderful way to spend a day in the country — and see 13 private gardens of all sorts, styles and sizes.
(photos of Jean-Marc Flack and his garden by his sister, Claire Flack)
Based in Brewster, Partners with PARC is a 501 c (3) charity that supports children and adults with developmental disabilities throughout Putnam. Contributions to their fundraisers, like this garden tour, are tax-deductible, says Rand Bridget Otten, director of development and outreach.
Also on Saturday, the historic Boscobel House & Gardens in Garrison (www.boscobel.org) will open its gardens to tour guests. Stonecrop Gardens (www.stonecrop.org) in Cold Spring, with 63 acres of grounds and gardens, will also be open and free for tourgoers.
Flack and Petronio first got married in California in 2008, during the 4-month window when same-sex marriage was legal, and then last year decided to marry again, at their local courthouse in Carmel. “We were their first gay couple — it was a huge event,” Flack says. “People could not have been nicer. We feel completely welcomed here.”
“I’m the gardener in the family,” he adds. But it was Petronio who had the initial idea to begin converting their oversized acre of lawn into a meadow of native perennials and grasses. Three years ago, Flack ordered 3,000 landscape plugs from a couple of nurseries that specialize in native plants and they had an old-fashioned planting party with 30 friends, neighbors and family members to dig them into the new meadow.
“Now it’s an incredible, moving landscape,” Flack says. “It’s taken on a life of its own.” Next he wants to grab another piece of lawn to create a Mediterranean-style gravel garden.
Some of the shrubs and trees you will see in the garden are quite well traveled, having started with Flack in containers on his terrace in the East Village and then crossed the East River with him to Brooklyn for a 3-year interval before finally getting the country air (and good soil!) they love in Carmel.
So far, he’s tried to live with a few deer in his garden — and choose plants accordingly — rather than fence them out completely. “It’s an ongoing conversation,” he says. “Sixty percent of the meadow is grasses, which they leave alone.” And he has lots of perennials in the mint family, which deer also avoid.
“I’m really focused on plants,” Flack says. “It’s a plantsman’s garden. I’m really into unusual plants. I have sort of a Dr. Seuss approach to plants — the more unusual the plant the more I’m going to like it.”
For tourgoers on Saturday, Flack plans to have plant lists available.
Until two years ago, he was completely self- taught. Now he’s enrolled in an ornamental garden design program at the New York Botanical Garden in the Bronx and eying a second career as a garden designer. Based on how great his own garden looks, we think he’s well on his way.
IF YOU GO …
What: 7th Annual Secret Garden Tour of Putnam, sponsored by Partners with PARC
When: 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday, self-guided, rain or shine
Where: 13 private gardens in Mahopac, Kent, Carmel, Garrison and Cold Spring, plus Boscobel grounds and gardens in Garrison and Stonecrop Gardens in Cold Spring
Tickets: Advance tickets are $30; buy them online at www.PutnamSecret GardenTour.com. Day-of-event tickets cost $40 and will be sold from 9:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. at two locations: PARC, 31 International Blvd., Brewster, or the Butterfield Library, 10 Morris Ave. (Route 9D), Cold Spring.
Information: 845-278-7272, Ext. 2287; www.Partnerswith PARC.org