By Dan Shaw
One of the unspoken fears in our neck of the woods is that our area will eventually become like the Hamptons, with the helicopters of hedge-fund managers hovering over our hills and women toting their tomatoes from the farmers' market in Hermès bags. Of course, residents of the Rural Intelligence
region have been worrying about Hamptonization for decades
. (Are you old enough to remember the New York
magazine cover story "Forget the Hamptons--Now It's Country Chic" in 1981? Or the "Hail, Columbia!"
story in September 1986, when New York
announced that "Columbia County, which was an economically stagnant backwater just three years prior, had become one the hottest second-home real-estate markets in the United States"?)
It's counterintuitive, but Trade Secrets
—the glamorous rare plant and garden antiques sale this year on May 18 in Sharon, CT—has reassured us for the past 13 years that as stylish and trendy as our region may have become, it is definitely, and defiantly, not the Hamptons. While Trade Secrets has the elegance of an old money Southampton garden party, it has the heart and soul of a New England church supper. Entirely run by volunteers—no professional organizer collects a fee to stage this gardenpalooza—Trade Secrets is a major fundraiser for the worthiest of causes, Women's Support Services
(WSS), a non-profit organization that offers free and confidential services to victims of domestic violence in northwest Connecticut, as well as nearby Massachusetts and New York State.
The event has haute/humble roots. It began on the front lawn of Bunny Williams's home in Falls Village, which is nearby the railroad tracks so that the china in her 19th century Greek Revival house vibrates when the freight train passes by twice a day. Her then chief gardener, Naomi Blumenthal, who was a WSS volunteer, suggested that they sell the overflow from the greenhouse as a fundraiser. Bunny and Naomi asked a few favorite antique dealers and nurseries if they'd like to set up booths, too, and Trade Secrets was born and became an instant institution. (Now, there is a waiting list to become a vendor and there are only five new ones this year: Anthropek
, Peace Tree Farms, Peony’s Envy
, Rare Find Nursery, and Windy Hill Farm
Eventually, the Trade Secrets sale became too big for Williams's property in Falls Village, and is now held at Elaine LaRoche's vast Lion Rock Farm
in Sharon with its corn fields, manicured gardens, and panoramic views of the Taconic Range. A second day of garden tours was added, and they are more evidence that we live in the unHamptons because the owners are hands-on gardeners (with hired help to be sure) who have a deep connection to their land and understanding of the physical and emotional challenges required to nurture a garden in our fickle zone. This year's tour features three homes in Sharon. There's Lee Link
's unpretentious but luxurious garden that includes a custom greenhouse on one end and a sybaritic lap pool on the other; Garrett and Ann Goodbody's Mudge Manor
with its breathtaking views of Mudge Pond, a pair of wisteria-draped pergolas, and a pool surrounded by perennial borders; Plum Creek Farm
, Lea Davies and Larry Powers' home that features rock and woodland gardens, ponds, and formal foundation plantings that they've been cultivating for 30 years. And, as always, there is Bunny Williams
's beloved spread in Falls Village with its Adirondack pool pavilion, orchard, parterre, and cutting gardens.
If you're a competitive shopper, it's wise to get the $100 early buyer's ticket (8 a.m. - 10 a.m.) so you get first crack at the antiques and plants that catch the eyes of uber-gardeners like Anne Bass, Margaret Roach
(near left), Carolyne Roehm, and Martha Stewart (far left). But all the vendors
who return year after year come prepared with a wide variety of merchandise, so whether you simply want some annuals for a planter, a rare fern for your shade garden or a topiary for your porch, you will find plenty to choose from. And no matter whether you live in Berkshire, Columbia, Dutchess, or Litchfield counties, Trade Secrets always feels like a homecoming.
Trade Secrets at Lion Rock Farm - May 18
Early Buying: 8 a.m. to 10 a.m. — Admission: $100
Regular Buying 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. — Admission: $35
Trade Secrets Garden Tours - May 19
Admission: $60 in advance or $70 day of tour. Tickets
can be purchased at any of the gardens or at Lion Rock Farm during the Trade Secrets sale.
Nearby restaurants for lunch:
Falls Village Inn
, Falls Village
Harney Tea Salon
, Falls Village
The Sun Shined for Trade Secrets' 10th Anniversary
, May 15, 2010
Trade Secrets: The Ultimate Outdoor Shopping Party
, May 16, 2009
Trade Secrets: Martha Stewart Makes the Scene
, May 17, 2008