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7 July 2020

Q&A: A Tale of Two Women Gardeners, Lisa Stamm and daughter Vanessa

Homestead Lisa Stamm Vanessa

I can relate to Lisa Stamm. I bet there are many of you out there who will too. The story is familiar: Woman meets land, falls in love with it, dreams of taming it in the right places, so despite the flaws (overgrown acreage, crumbling cottage) buys into it wholly. She and late husband, distinguished architect Dale Booher, sunk their souls into it, transforming what was into an Edenic swath on Shelter Island, New York. What they also found in the untamed wilderness is a calling. The pruning, pulling, planting and espalier’ing led to The Homestead Garden & Design. The couple’s daughter has now joined her mom in running the family business.

Where are you from?

Lisa Stamm: Born in NYC and moved to Shelter Island (off the end of Long Island) in 1980.

How long have you been designing gardens on the East End of Long Island?

LS: Since we moved here in 1980.

How did you find your calling in gardens —what made you pursue this line of work?

LS: I was working in the Theater in NYC and read ‘How to Make Things Grow’ by Thalassa Cruso which sent me to New York Botanical Gardens to pursue a new career in plants and gardening. I then worked at Greentree, the Whitney Estate on Long Island, apprenticing for Don Richardson. After that I worked in NYC on rooftop gardens for 10 years before moving to Shelter Island with my husband, Dale, who was a cofounder of The Homestead. Our daughter, Vanessa joined The Homestead in 2018, coming from 10 years working in the art and design world. (Read more about The Homestead in The New York Times).

Vanessa Parsons: I grew up on Shelter Island, with the sounds and smells and colors of a natural wonderland designed by my parents, and I think that has stayed in me, sleeping, for many years. With the birth of my daughter came the need to reconnect with reality, life and nature, and so began my re-education (re-training) that will continue for years to come.

Homestead Lisa Stamm Vanessa Parsons

What’s one of your favorite resourceful/inspirational books on gardening?

LS: I’d say probably what I’ve used the most over my career is a good oldie, ‘The NYBG Illustrated Encyclopedia of Plants’ by Thomas Everett. It is 10 volumes. I studied with him and loved every minute of it.

VP: I’m the beginner student and have loved reading Derek Jarman’s Garden and Piet Oudolf’s Dream Plants. I’m currently reading Founding Gardeners by Andrea Wolf.

What’s your favorite season?

LS: Oh, I can’t choose. Waiting for spring is so wonderful, it’s about nature’s reemergence and the return of the Osprey. It is utterly thrilling. But then again, the light and color in the fall are extraordinary.

VP: I love early summer. It goes so quickly, but those days where you feel the humming of life in full swing, everything in its groove, nature rejoicing – those days just feel like heaven.

Homestead Lisa Stamm Vanessa

What’s your top 3 favorite roses (or other flowers?) and why? Ie., for fragrance, disease resistance, design, color etc.

LS: White Narcissi in the spring because the parade of flowers lasts 8 weeks; Viburnum plicatum tomentosum ‘Shasta’ in the summer for its lateral branching and profusion of white flowers. Or Viburnum dilatatum ‘Erie’ for its foliage and fruit; The native tree, Nyssa sylvatica in the fall for its spectacular scarlet foliage.

What plant gets no love (is underused) and why should we pay more attention to it?

VP: Fothergilla and Enkianthus are two shrubs that I’d love to see more of. Enkianthus has a beautiful leaf, flower and extraordinary fall color. Fothergilla is full of personality – it has bottlebrush-like spikes in spring and also vibrant fall color.

Homestead Lisa Stamm Vanessa

Photo by Michael Moran

What’s the aesthetic of your personal garden? What are some of your favorite “rooms”?

LS: Our house is on a peninsula with water views on four sides, so in many ways the natural landscape around us is our most dramatic garden. We have a small, enclosed flowering shrub and perennial border where we can use the plants we love that don’t fit into a rough natural setting. In this garden we use color, texture, and balance to create a romantic and personal refuge.

JM: Do you have an edible garden?

VP: We have a garden laid out as a vegetable garden with four beds, in which we grow herbs, lettuce, and tomatoes, but it has been given over to mostly dahlias. We have to indulge in the drama of the dahlia! I also have a small cutting garden in this area. It’s my tiny plot for experimenting on my own. I have cosmos, poppies, and sunflowers. Also, the hollyhocks from last year are coming up. I’m growing sesame from seed, which has quite a beautiful flower similar to digitalis.

JM: Any new the herbs or edibles?

LS: I love purslane for salads. Our space is limited, so we try and keep it easy. Arugula comes back every year, which is just wonderful. We are trying aspabroc (broccolini with an asparagus stem) this year and growing Long Handled Dipper Gourds for my granddaughter, Hazel.

JM: What’s the one garden tool you can’t live without?

LS: A soil probe

VP: The Hori Hori blade is indispensable—from dropping Plant-tone into a hole before planting, to cutting pesky roots and planting bulbs in cold and tough soil. It is endlessly useful.

JM: Any tips for deer, or other wildlife problems?

LS: In addition to deer, bunnies are also a big problem. I sprinkle red pepper flakes around the plants. I also spray Deer Off repellents after every rain or every 14 days. These methods both work for both deer and rabbits

VP: Use more natives and note the plants you see growing roadside. There are lots of good ideas and beautiful plant options that are generally deer resistant. Spireas, ferns, pieris, ornamental grasses, and grey herbaceous plants to start.

Homestead Lisa Stamm Vanessa

What gardens have you visited recently that you loved? Or what gardens have influenced your work?

LS: Sugimoto’s Odawara Art Foundation in Odawara, Japan, Le Jardin Plume, northwest of Paris and Le Jardin de la Louve, south of Avignon.

VP: Wave Hill in NY is extraordinary. On every scale there is something to see and a new perspective to consider.

When is the last time you hugged a tree? Or what’s a sign of respect that you give to nature’s green beings?

LS: I kissed a Beech tree last week on my way back from an evening walk.

VP: Walks in the woods are my favorite way to enjoy nature’s large and small elements. I am working hard to tune into to trees, learning to identify species based on characteristics shown in different seasons. This helps me really pay attention and stay in the present.

What’s new or coming up for you in 2020 that you’d like to mention?

VP: We have some very exciting projects for this year. We are starting work on a native garden on Shelter Island and a memorial garden for my dad, which will be at The Madoo Conservancy in Sagaponack.

How have you been coping with the shelter in place situation?

LS: I’ve never had as much time to focus on my own garden, and that has been incredibly cathartic. And I’ve been sitting on my front porch reading.

VP: I spend a lot of time with my 2-year-old daughter and my husband, which I would never have had so much of in a normal spring season. A lot of time kneeling in the garden as well, learning from every moment spent there.

Homestead Lisa Stamm Vanessa

Vanessa Parsons wearing the Janet Mavec Seed Savers Love Story Pin and Lisa Stamm wearing the Janet Mavec Large Peace Pendant.