By Jill Sieracki
photographs by Eric Cahan | June 23, 2011 | Home & Real Estate
Von Gal tending to her crop of scarlet runner beans.
Von Gal’s vegetable garden provides her with spinach, broccoli, asparagus, arugula, beans, peas, squash and edamame. “I pretty much eat from my garden all summer,” she says.
A Charles Arnoldi sculpture on her Springs property.
“My office is organized chaos. I like it when I walk in and it’s all orderly, but it doesn’t last.”
Von Gal’s office includes a Frank Gehry beaver chair.
Outside her Joseph D’ Urso-designed office.
Edwina von Gal’s home in The Springs has unobstructed views of the marsh.
Edwina von Gal near her dock on Accabonac Harbor
While many of the Hamptons’ architectural marvels have equally exquisite grounds, landscape designer Edwina von Gal hopes you never recognize her work in the way you would a Stanford White or a Norman Jaffe. “You can’t leave ego behind in a landscape if you want it to be serene,” says von Gal. “I’m trying to give people places where they can really feel calm, a refuge. And if they know there are chemicals being used, that’s one thing already that is going to disturb your subliminal sense of peace.”
Thoroughly committed to the environment and sustainability, von Gal is inspired by indigenous plant life, particularly the landscape she sees outside her house and studio in The Springs. “Because my house is very close, basically in the marsh, the view is a landscape I had nothing to do with, and I really like that,” she says. “I can sit and look out and there’s no work looking back at me. It’s so serenely beautiful because nature is the best landscaper of all.”
It’s this dedication to nature that makes the landscaper with an affinity for creating ponds worry about Hamptonites’ proclivity to build without protecting the local wildlife. “They see a field and they say, ‘Well, that’s nothing; what’s the difference if you build a house on that?’ [But] there may be upward of 500 species relying on that patch of grass,” says von Gal, who began working in the Hamptons in the mid-’80s before moving out to the South Fork about a decade later; she’s lived in The Springs full time since 2003. “What I’m trying to do is make sure that the parks we do build provide as much ecosystem service as possible because that will ensure our children at least have seen some birds. I sound increasingly radical, but I’m watching what’s going on and I’m thinking we’re just going to use it all up. There’s a limit to the space we will ever have to build on.”
Today von Gal’s breathtaking work can be seen as nearby as The Springs’ Seedlings Project, a garden classroom based on Alice Waters’ Edible Schoolyard, or as far away as Panama: In the Central American nation, von Gal developed the park space for the Frank Gehry-designed BioMuseo. She is also the president of Azuero Earth Project, which aims to preserve the biodiversity and ecosystem of the endangered Azuero Peninsula. However, she never imagined landscapes would be her career. “My grandmother was a gardenclub and flower-show judge,” says von Gal. “My mom had a garden and my dad had a vegetable garden, so it was always just a part of my life. The last thing I ever thought I would do was make it a career. I thought I would be a scientist.”
June 16, 2017