Rocky Hills, one of the best private gardens in Westchester, will no longer become a county park upon the demise of its longtime owner, Henriette Suhr.
On Thursday, the county’s Board of Acquisition and Contract voted unanimously to terminate a 2000 agreement among Suhr, the Garden Conservancy and Westchester County in which Suhr was to donate her 13-acre Chappaqua property to the county for use as parkland. As part of that agreement, Suhr was to provide a $500,000 endowment for the maintenance of the property.
But in this era of belt tightening, the county no longer wants the financial responsibility of maintaining a grand private garden that boasts thousands of specimen rhododendrons, azaleas, peonies, tulips and roses.
“We’re being a bit more real on private partnerships and how they’re funded,” says Peter Tartaglia, deputy commissioner of the county’s Parks Department. “It was mutually agreed upon — we still have a good relationship with her.”
“It’s a beautiful piece of property,” he adds. “We want what’s best for the property.”
The decision to terminate the deal, which was initiated by Suhr 13 years ago as a way to preserve her great garden and keep it out of the development stream, is mutual, but it’s clearly not Suhr’s choice, who had hoped her home and garden would become a public strolling garden and horticultural center.
“You think I like it? No,” says Suhr, who has been designing and creating the garden for more than 50 years. “But we had no choice. They told me they couldn’t take care of it. You can’t have a garden and not maintain it.”
“It wasn’t my doing,” she adds. “I didn’t bring this about.”
(Suhr in her driveway, shot last year. Mark Vergari photos.)
The Garrison-based Garden Conservancy will retain its conservation easement on the land on Old Roaring Brook Road in Chappaqua, which keeps it from developed. Rocky Hills has been a mainstay on the Garden Conservancy’s Open Days Program since its inception in 1995. Her Open Days usually draw 300 to 400 visitors.
“I just hope we find somebody who would want a ready-made garden — and might take care of it,” Suhr says. “Maybe a land trust, maybe somebody who would want to come in and buy it.”
“It’s really left us in a pretty ugly situation,” says Suhr, who turned 97 in October. “My time to do anything is extremely short.”