When I arrived at Jane Castenada's property, I felt as if I had entered another world. An enchanted world perhaps, where summer moments might stand still amidst a backdrop of distant mountains, fragrant rose bushes and hollyhocks in pale yellows and vibrant scarlet.
Her little blue house stands somewhat as if on a pedestal of stonework and garden, and beyond the house, the property gives way to a sprawling expanse of backyard with flower gardens tucked into every nook, a vegetable garden further back, and apple trees dappling an orchard-like field that recedes into the North River wilderness. Jane and nature have worked hand in hand here, and Jane knows when to let nature take its own course.
Jane started gardening on Long Island at her waterfront house before she came to North River.
"I got very into it when I was a case worker in Suffolk County, working with abused families," she said. "I would come home and be terribly grateful for a house and a good backyard. The garden would let me unwind."
When she moved up North, she commenced gardening even before she moved into her house. She began planting cover plants like buckwheat that would help enrich the soil; now she uses oats in an old garlic bed, and turns those over to give the soil a boost.
She pointed to a misty patch of asparagus fronds and said, "I still have the same asparagus that I started 25 years ago."
Aside from her flower gardens, like many people she did much gardening as a food source. "When I bought the house in 1978, I put in the asparagus, raspberry bushes from Long Island, and Josta berries, which are a cross between a black currant and a gooseberry. I have wonderful apples; some of the trees are probably from the 1920's and the others are from the 1800's," she noted.
Jane is a connoisseur of garlic. She goes to a garlic festival in Saugerties every year, where she peruses different varieties and flavors of garlic, and then buys garlic seed by the pound. She particularly likes the Spanish red variety of garlic, but admitted that it is the soil that the garlic is planted in that is really supposed to determine the flavor. Jane has what she describes as a "very small" plot of 300 garlic plants.
Having collected a wealth of gardening knowledge over the years, Jane reads lots of gardening literature, especially the publication "Organic Gardening."
Jane also took a master gardening course through the Cornell Cooperative Extension, which she recommends to any gardener.
Jane told me that her garden is mostly a completed work and that much of her gardening time now is spent thinning plants and giving them away.
"Every garden up here is part of everybody else's," she said.
As with many gardeners, gardening is a passion for Jane; despite the countless hours of labor that go into having a garden, the rewards far exceed the difficulties. "Its hard work, but it's the kind of hard work that you want to do," she said.
There are still a few rose blossoms clinging to the several varieties of rose bushes that dot the yard. Hydrangeas bear puffs of frothy white flowers. Hops vines hug the porch screens, their fruits that resemble fluffy pine cones hang beckoningly, waiting for an eager brewer to pluck them for a batch of micro-brewed ale or lager.
Some of the hollyhocks still hold flowers; mounds of exotic and delicious-smelling Ethiopian lilies nod shyly their white and plum colored heads. Deep red and yellow fringed Galardia mingle with purple and orange Echinacea. Tansy, a sweet-scented herb that grows by her porch steps, is supposed to be an insect repellent.
"Tansy is what they used to throw on the floors of the castles to keep the bugs off the floor" Jane said.
Artemisia, feverfew, wild oregano and catnip surround Viburnum bushes that hold a few bright red berries still, and sedums with frosty mauve tops beset what seems to be the most prolific flower in bloom at present, white, pink and purple Phlox. "The Phlox I tire of because they are too willing, too eager to spread." commented Jane.
At other times during the season you will find many others in bloom, like Red Honeysuckles, False Indigo, Yellow Larkspur, Scarlet O'Hara Peonies, abundant Daisies, and of course there are the Siberian Irises that spread like crazy.
"I have wonderful lilacs that were here when I got her, and are probably 150 years old." Jane noted.
Jane Castenada's gardens are nothing short of magical, and her property with its secluded, untamed charm, lovely mountain views, and unique cottage-like house at the center resembles the vision that I have of the place where I would like to someday live.