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roseview dressage millbrook new york



BY Sue Grumet, Master Gardener Volunteer

“Dressage” is defined as the guiding of a horse through a series of complex maneuvers by slight movements of the rider’s hands, legs, and weight. Not only must these movements by the rider be imperceptible to the viewer, but both the horse and rider must appear relaxed and natural while performing them.

This type of training is a disciplined exercise and requires a great deal of skill on the part of the rider to fully execute. The desired effect is one of seemingly effortless grace, much like a ballet performance, which draws the viewer in with its incredible beauty. One might also say that the same discipline and techniques that are employed in dressage are also evident in the garden design of a pair of local horse enthusiasts with deep roots in the Millbrook community, only in this case instead of using a horse; their maneuvers are achieved through the juxtapositions of their gardens.

The equestrians who enjoy garden design are David and Judy Sloan, owners of Roseview Dressage in Millbrook, New York. But lest you think that the road to these delightful gardens was a smooth one, you would need to know the back story first. What has been achieved here in so short a time is truly amazing.

Seven years ago when David and Judy began their project, their then modest house was located on the grounds of a former gravel quarry. Think steep rock outcroppings with barren soil, certainly not the type of environment that would be conducive to lush beautiful gardens. But before any planting could be done, the first order of business for the couple was to totally revamp their house, taking a 1968 builders special and turning it into a circa 1840’s neo-classical Palladian villa . Once the extensive renovations on the house were complete, the Sloans were ready to tackle the daunting challenge of creating a series of gardens.

There are advantages to owning and boarding horses, and a very important one (especially when you are building up your soil) is the manure that they can produce. Through the generous use of well composted manure David and Judy were able to replenish and amend the topsoil which had been reallocated during the days of the operating quarry.

Slowly and surely the gardens began to evolve around the house, starting with the formal raised-bed garden located on the right side of the entrance. Surrounded by a stately picket fence, parterres of boxwood enclose seasonal displays of flowers in colors that echo those of the house.

Should you think that all these designs are rather predictable and old school, you would be in for a surprise. And here is where the dressage metaphor comes into play; this is a thinking man’s garden, one that has been carefully orchestrated to guide you through the landscape without you ever being aware of it.

It is impossible to stand still in these gardens, as you are always being drawn into the next exciting vista or focal point. In addition to being a talented garden designer, David is also a bit of an alchemist. The Sloans regularly haunt antique stores, salvage yards, estate sales and flea markets, always on the prowl for a unique piece that can be transformed into something magical. They have even been known to go far, far off the beaten path, much to the horror of his wife Judy, should a really interesting artifact catch David’s eye.

A good example of this re-purposing would be the armillary sphere the Sloan’s had crafted from three large scale vintage wagon wheel rims that were welded together, and then placed as a single accent overlooking the lake. One of my favorite “salvage” pieces at Roseview is the former State School Train Station rescued from demolition and recycled into a garden folly just off the arena. Complete with period woodwork, cabinets, and ceiling treatments, the former Amenia NY station now does double duty as an impromptu office to receive conference calls.

Eventually there will be an allée leading to the folly’s entrance that is presently made up of small heritage birch trees. This particular variety of birch was chosen because of its reddish peeling bark, an accent color that also echoes the hues of the barn nearby. These birch trees will eventually be trained to form an arch over the pathway.

Of course, the crown jewel of these series of gardens is to be found when one reaches the barn and stables. Here the Sloan’s have again performed their magic, this time by transforming a barn that is only three years old into a building that looks like it has been standing there for a century. Using vintage windows, shutters and doors salvaged from the likes of the Culinary Institute when it was still a monastery, the structure has achieved the look and patina of a hunt barn from an earlier era. This amazing attention to detail does not stop once you are inside the barn, where the Sloan’s have used formal coffered ceilings, 1890 plumbing fixtures, vintage hardware for tack, and bespoke furniture to create a truly original and interesting space.

The elegant fountain surrounded by a beautiful boxwood hedge, which doubles as a back-up cistern for the horses, serves as a focal point for the barn courtyard and arena. David can’t resist telling us, with a twinkle in his eye, that it was fabricated from a (new) septic tank. Alchemist indeed!

The riding trails have also been outfitted to make your journey on horseback an equally exciting and unexpected adventure. Hidden among trees and rock outcroppings, one will discover ancient looking statuary and old ruins, which help to turn the ordinary Millbrook woodlands into a trip back in time.

In addition to the gardens mentioned above, the Sloans have also created a Pavilion garden (complete with a dove filled aviary and more fountains!), an Asian garden, a steep slope Quarry garden, and a Rain garden among others. It is truly incredible what has been achieved in only seven short years (and many tons of freshly produced “compost” later).

Roseview was also the winner of the “Tailgate Party Wagon of the Year” award given by Polo Player Magazine for their original and amazing transformation of a hunt hound wagon into the consummate party set-up station for polo matches, horse shows and portable formal dinner parties around, and in, the gardens. As stated before, this is a couple who has every detail covered!

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published August 27, 2015

Photos to enlarge

Horse barn, Courtesy Roseview Dressage

Railroad ticket booth, Courtesy Roseview Dressage

Raised bed garden, Courtesy Roseview Dressage

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