The White Garden in South Salem

Photographs by Mary Jasch.


The White Garden in South Salem — widely acknowledged to be one of the finest private gardens in the Hudson Valley — is open to the public in the spring and fall through The Garden Conservancy’s Open Days Program.

“We are so proud to be able to share the White Garden through Open Days,” said Laura Palmer, vice president of Open Days and Special Projects for the Garrison-based conservancy.

“Since 1999, its May display of thousands of daffodils has been a sign that spring has arrived. In the fall, it is just as special with mature native plantings and, of course, the water features, greenhouse and sculptures are enjoyed year-round.”

Picture a mature native oak and hickory forest standing sentinel over a Greek Revival-style stone house surrounded by gardens that fan out exquisitely along trails into the adjacent woods of the 50-acre estate.

Near the house, the gardens are classically inspired and include a pergola, a labyrinth and a theater court. Among the additional hidden gardens are a perennial ellipse, an annual garden, a conservatory jungle garden and an Asian-inspired moss garden.

Not to be missed is a temple to Apollo, the Greek god of truth, light, the arts and manly beauty, which is sited on an island in the garden’s main pond.

Landscape designer Patrick Chasse worked closely with property owners Shelby White and her husband, the late Leon Levy, to create The White Garden.

“They had attended a lecture I gave on the naturalistic approach to gardening and in the early 1990s contacted me about doing major remodeling on their South Salem property. There was a modest existing house, a two-car garage, and some daffodils and other garden elements.”

The owners, philanthropists and collectors of antiquities, decided to build a stone Greek Revival house on the same site as the existing home. “The house got taller, but we stayed pretty much with the original footprint because of wetlands regulations,” Chasse said.  “The first thing I wanted to do was bring a new driveway through the existing driveway and across a brook.”

White and Levy added a large swimming pool and glass-bottom reflecting pool.

Chasse’s garden design called for everything to remain as natural as possible. “We envisioned the Greek Revival house to be like a temple in the woods. In ancient Greece and Rome, temples were often placed in sacred groves on the sides of mountains, and I wanted to incorporate some of this history. We decided to keep the daffodils that had already been planted and have more formal gardens designed to go around the house. We kept the stately old trees near the house and planted some new ones. We also preserved the stonewalls from the property’s days as a dairy farm.

Today, Chasse says, his design project has evolved into a serene woodland garden. “We have grottos, waterfalls, two ponds and all kind of interesting sculpture. We have changed the placement of statues to put them in more visually effective locations and moved a lot of large mature shrubs like rhododendron and mountain laurel to different locations. As a result, the house and garden have become much more organized and easy to enjoy and appreciate.”

Chasse designed simple woodland paths with chips and some wooden walkways over wet areas to link the different garden areas. “I wanted a unifying theme for the property, and I think I have achieved it,” he said.

“(Head gardener/estate manager) Eric Schmidt has been a tremendous help in this area, with his planting of big bunches of massed daffodils and his overall dedication to the property. The White Garden is now almost like a daffodil museum, and visitors can enjoy their old favorites and see many new ones each spring.”

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