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An Estate's Edible Garden
By Mike Dahl, LC/DBM



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In Millbrook, N.Y., Mark Eliot Design was hired to enhance the grounds on a 40-acre estate. Besides cleaning up vast forested areas and maintaining 16 acres of turf that had never before been thatched, fertilized and overseeded, the landscape company owned by Mark Sosnowitz designed, installed and cared for raised beds filled with fruits and vegetables. To match the perspective of the estate's large residence, six of them were built, and each designated for specific plants. The only ornamentals in the beds were marigolds, which according to Sosnowitz, act as a natural pesticide as their scent repels bugs.


As a master gardener, Mark Sosnowitz has installed and cared for many types of botanical plots in his long career. One of the most interesting was at a 40-acre estate in Millbrook, New York. There he was tasked with putting in and maintaining a raised fruit and vegetable garden, as well as upgrading the unkempt grounds by grooming the lawns and opening up the woodlands.

The house on the property was quite sizable so Sosnowitz decided that the garden should be of similar scope. Instead of one large plot, he settled on six separate ones in a fenced-in area that already had nine fruit trees. And along with the contract to design and install the planters, and improve the rest of the grounds, came an agreement for his company, Mark Eliot Design, to nurture and harvest the bounty and manage the care of a total of 16 acres of the estate.

The first step after the design was approved was to stake out the gardens' areas and rototill the ground down to the bare dirt. Next the irrigation lines, fittings and risers were installed.



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In the woodlands around the perimeter of the property, the landscape company removed trees to thin the areas out. They also pushed the woodlands back 40'-50' from the edges by taking out all the trees (except the best hardwood ones in those areas), pulling the rocks out, filling the holes, and then seeding. This created an extra 3-4 acres of turf areas. Also, there was an abandoned basement foundation that was 13' deep and half filled with water, which the property owner wanted removed for liability reasons. Sosnowitz used a rented backhoe to collapse its walls and then filled it in with dirt.


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Without care for years, the turf areas needed to have underbrush thinned out and then rough cut to 3"-4" using a small tractor with a 72" rotary mower attachment. The areas were also dethatched, aerated, seeded and fertilized. Every 5 days during the growing season, a 4-man crew would spend a day grooming the turf with string trimmers, a walk-behind rotary mower, and the tractor and mower attachment. For convenience, the equipment was stored in one of the buildings on the site and transported around the property on a trailer.


The planters were built with 2"x14" boards that were attached with long screws. For extra stability, the landscape crew "pegged" the boards with 2"x2" pieces of wood driven about 30 inches into the ground, flush against the interior and exterior surfaces of the boards.

After filling the beds with topsoil, the irrigation system was finished by installing the heads at the optimal heights in the corners of the planters.

Sosnowitz selected the plants with zero input from the owners. This included 93 tomato plants in two of the beds.

"The grower had 31 varieties of tomatoes," remembers Sosnowitz. "And I said to him 'send me three of each variety.' So we had every variety of cherry tomatoes, every variety of plum tomatoes and every variety of large salad tomatoes."

The other four beds were also earmarked for specific plants: herbs and spices in one, melons and berries in another, a wide variety of peppers in the third and leafy vegetables in the remaining one. The gardens took two weeks to complete.

Besides this labor of love, the landscape crew did a lot of work to enhance the rest of the estate's grounds. This consisted of renovating the lawns, removing about 40 trees that were 60 to 70 feet tall, planting and pruning others, doing drainage work, trenching to move pool equipment, installing sod, thinning out the underbrush on an additional eight to nine acres, and demolishing an abandoned structure to reduce the property owner's liability. The total fee was "well over $200,000."

On top of that, Mark Eliot Design was awarded the maintenance contract, which required a 4-man crew to trim, weed and mow every five days during the growing season of mid-April through July, and then less often after that. The biggest challenge was just the sheer size of the land under their care. For instance, when confronting the dethatching job, Sosnowitz was struck by the task at hand.

"I looked at it and said 'we are going to be here forever,'" he recalls.

To help shorten that time, Sosnowitz found, at a tractor supply store, a six-foot-wide dethatching unit (he described as being "like a spring rake") that could be pulled behind his small tractor, bought three of them and affixed them together with attachment mechanisms he created.

"It worked like a charm," he says and when asked to sum up the results, the Michigan State University graduate enthuses, "I really got a thrill to watch the place come around. I was very proud of it."



As seen in LC/DBM magazine, February 2017.






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