Blue painted iron gate opening to a lawn and garden beds

The Madoo Conservancy

618 Sagg Main Street
Sagaponack, NY

June 13, 2017

There’s something magical about The Madoo Conservancy. Maybe it’s the grove of ginkgos and pruned boxwood enveloping the garden’s central walkway. Or the Chinese bridge overlooking a bubbling pond ringed by stewartias, cryptomerias, and rhododendrons. There’s definitely something magical about the brightly painted doors and gates leading to a sunken terrace, secret garden, and English potager.

Started in 1967 by artist, gardener, and writer Bob Dash, Madoo is celebrating 50 years of organic gardening in Sagaponack, NY, this summer. This former piece of “tractor turnaround land”—agricultural property that wasn’t farmed during the 20th century—now features Tudor, High Renaissance, early Greek, and Oriental garden influences and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Madoo is proud of its long-term organic status, proudly proclaiming its commitment in its mission statement: “We seek to continually engage, educate, and inspire our visitors within this ever-changing, entirely organic environment.”

“[Being organic] is one of the things that makes Madoo special,” says Alejandro Saralegui, Madoo’s Executive Director. “It shows people that you can have an ornamental garden using organic principles. And ours are very basic: no synthetic pesticides, no chemical fertilizers. It’s more passive, almost.”

Alejandro and his staff keep all organic material on the property, recently installing a row of large compost bins to process the large volume of leaves and brush collected every year. They produce all of their own mulch and leaf mould, and use very little water, even on the lawns. With a wide array of perennials and flowering trees, the garden is naturally in bloom all season.

Ginkgo Grove

Though Madoo stands out as a pioneer in the recent organic gardening movement in the United States, Alejandro acknowledges that it’s not without precedent.

“All of those gardens that we admire—all of those gorgeous Italian gardens, French gardens, Dutch gardens—all existed without ‘being organic’ for 400 years. And they’ve done very well for 400 years, many of them are still ‘organic,’ and we still love them today,” he said.

Madoo’s passive approach to organic management sounds easy, but it requires patience, persistence, and a dash of creativity.

“The biggest challenge in being organic is seeing something not do well and feeling like you can’t do anything about it. But that’s nature. You live with it,” said Alejandro.

For example, he pointed out a crabapple tree, planted by Bob Dash decades ago, that is slowly succumbing to cedar-apple rust. Rather than treat the tree chemically, he plans to plant a strong clematis to climb it, and eventually use the striking whirling dervish shape of the dead tree as a framework for the flowering vine.

“That’s until the tree rots, but it buys me some time to figure out what fun thing to do next,” he said.

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All photos courtesy of Mick Hales.

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