Stepping Out

Old Westbury Gardens embraces springtime


Spring beckons with the first burst of blooms. While signs of the season are all around us now, there’s no place better than to welcome the season than at the always-glorious Old Westbury Gardens.
The landmark 200-acre estate, which officially re-opened April 1, is ready to delight visitors with its glorious gardens, a refurbished Westbury House, and a busy schedule of programs and activities.

This year promises to be especially exciting for President Maura Brush (in her first full season heading the beloved landmark), staff and visitors, as the estate — the former residence of lawyer John Shaffer Phipps, an heir to the Phipps family fortune — marks its 65th anniversary as a public home and garden.

“When the gardens opened to the public, Peggy Phipps and her friends probably carried it through many of those first years, that transition from private to public,” Brush says. “Sixty-five years is a big deal for an organization. I feel a great deal of energy going into this year. We’re really hitting our stride now.”

Brush describes her organization as an independent nonprofit that’s managed to hold its own in a place like Long Island that has so many things to offer people.

“So, the fact that we’re still here 65 years later with higher attendance — a higher rate of membership than ever before — speaks to people’s support of us,” she says. “We have our own special place in Long Island history, and our own special place in the horticultural world.”

That “specialness” is evident from the moment visitors enter through the gates. The first signs of the season have made their presence known.

“April is so exciting, with so many flowers ready to appear,” Brush says, enthusiastically. “Every type, size and signs of blooms are so cherished.”

The lake area is a favored place to check out in early spring.

“In the beginning of the year, it’s those outlying areas around the lakes where the waterline sort of meets the grass that’s so pleasant to visit,” Brush says. “It’s contemplative. With the trees not leafed out yet, the sun kind of shines off the water. I’ve noticed people are looking to get the sunlight. In the later months, they want to escape the sunlight. But in April, they want to turn their faces up and bask in that sun after winter.”

Over by the lake, you’ll find early blooming shrubs like Cornelian Cherry and Viburnum, along with Flowering Quince, the multi-stemmed deciduous thorny shrub that produces short-lived red, orange, white or pink flowers and shiny, dark-green foliage.

“They are beautiful this time of year,” Brush notes.

Plus, an early spring visit to the lake area is an ideal opportunity to observe the estate’s wildlife.

“The lake is fun this time of year,” she says.“The ducks are there and you see turtles in the early part of the season sunning themselves on the logs and on banks. They congregate around the lake areas on the property. They really seem to enjoy being there.”

Also don’t miss the Primrose Path, Brush’s favorite spot at the start of the season.

“It’s at its best from April through mid-May,” she says. “It’s particularly interesting from a horticulturalist standpoint. There are so many things that naturalize on their own in there, and its nice to see nature having a part of the painting. You know the Walled Garden is beautiful, but it’s done by man, whereas the Primrose Path is a nice merge between man painting with our brush and mother nature painting with hers.”

Of course, its namesake — the showy, early blooming primrose — is certainly the star of that spot. Also forget-me-not and other spring ephemerals add to the springtime display.

“It’s a wild counterpart to the more formal gardens,” Brush adds.
She notes that the landscape is ever-changing and continuously bursting with color.

“Every week there’s a rollout,” she says.

From the cascades of cherry blossoms, the delicate frittillaria, daffodils, cheerful viola to, of course, tulips, shrubbery and trees, it’s all carefully conceived and executed by Brush’s team.

“We have a really well-curated display of bulbs that you’ll not see elsewhere,” she says. “So much time and care has been put into curating these bulbs. We utilize them in such a way that the combinations are so interesting. The Walled Garden is particularly exciting.”

Along with the colorful blooms, the extensive schedule of programming springs forth. This month’s highlights include the season’s first concert by Old Westbury Gardens’ resident chamber ensemble, Poetica Musica, April 13, at Westbury House. Dog lovers can look forward to the popular Dog Friendly Weekend, including the Spring Dog Festival, April 20-21. Pooches and their pet parents enjoy exploring the grounds (leashed of course), and meeting up with fellow four-legged visitors.

“The calendar is so full this year there’s barely a blank square,” Brush says. “We consider this a year-long celebration of everything old Westbury Gardens has to offer.

“We always like to consider that you are guests in our home. We invite everyone to join us in celebrating this milestone as we showcase the beauty and splendor that have defined Old Westbury Gardens for generations.”