A Landscape at Peace With Man and Nature

A Landscape at Peace With Man and Nature

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“I like the play of light you get,” Mr. Beitel said, and as he pointed we saw his client come into focus as well. Standing in the doorway of the house and wearing a rain slicker, he beckoned us in.

With the torrents slowing to a drizzle, we made a run for it. Indoors, the house revealed itself to be much bigger than expected, with cedar-paneled, open-plan living and dining areas that gave way to a long wall of floor-to-ceiling windows overlooking the Peconic Bay. The distant land masses of Robins and Shelter Islands looked deceptively close, a swim away.

The view lured us outdoors, onto an unobtrusive terrace that gave way to a self-effacing deck surrounding a swimming pool. At this stealth house, nothing disturbed the landscape.

While construction of the main house was underway, the clients and their children stayed in the guest barn, where low retaining walls of fieldstone from Upstate New York separate a mostly unmown field from a gravel dining courtyard.

Credit
Eric Striffler for The New York Times

We wandered out to the bluff to look at the bay and to pay homage to a wind-battered native black cherry tree. Hurricane Sandy wreaked havoc on the fragile bluff in 2012. But you would never know it five years later. Mr. Beitel replanted it; today, the steep, sandy slope is covered with bayberry, beach plum, volunteer locust and wild verbascum. “A rugged coastal, sandy landscape where the plants are really survivors is the most beautiful landscape there is,” Mr. Beitel said. “You learn that, growing up on Long Island.”

A garden like this has a positive impact on the environment: The coastal plants are a buffer against erosion and runoff; the hardy perennial grasses require very little water (“and no pesticides,” Mr. Beitel said) and the native flowering plants attract pollinators.

Deer are welcome in the garden, along with the bossy wild turkeys. Deer don’t like to eat plants like Pennisetum, Muhlenbergia, or Stipa tenuissima so there is no need to keep them away from anything but the family’s edible garden, where the fence that stands guard is made of rough, hand-hewed locust poles. (“I wanted to do it in the rustic way I remember my grandfather doing it,” Mr. Beitel said.)

A crushed gravel ribbon driveway follows the contours of the land.

Credit
Eric Striffler for The New York Times

The rain stopped as we walked toward the guest barn, where the family slept for months while their new house was under construction. We stopped to admire a proud old dogwood tree, whose progress Mr. Beitel monitors throughout the seasons, sending his clients photos in spring. (“I don’t want them to miss it in flower,” he says.)

Mr. Beitel knows, day to day, everything that happens in this garden. He drops by often, and sometimes the visits are for himself as much as for the garden: “If I’m really stressed out, I’ll stop by. It’s calming.”

“It’s beautiful,” I agreed.

And then the sun came out.

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