Hidden Hamptons: Madoo Conservancy

An escape that conjures instant enchantment

Established almost 50 years ago by artist, gardener, and writer Robert Dash, Madoo Conservancy is a two- acre oasis of lush greenery and historical structures in the heart of Sagaponack. The horticulturally diverse, ever-changing garden is a beautifully designed environment like no other, a testament to its visionary founder, who died in 2013.

Along with historically significant structures such as a circa 1740 barn and a migrant shack, it is the inventively arranged gardens featuring Tudor, High Renaissance, early Greek, and Oriental influences that really make the place special. “The word that everyone uses is ‘magical,’ says Madoo Executive Director Alejandro Saralegui. “You’re in the Hamptons, it’s pretty darn orderly, then you come to Madoo and it sort of feels like you’ve fallen into the rabbit hole in Alice in Wonderland; it’s a very quirky garden made up of lots of little gardens.”

Saralegui, who has been at Madoo since 2009 and worked alongside Dash for four years, acknowledges that although the overall layout of the space is pretty much set, “we refresh the garden a lot, making a few changes here and there.” In the case of an area called the Magnolia Bosque, a recent enhancement fulfilled Dash’s wishes. “It’s a collection of about ten different magnolias in a circle; a very random mini park within Madoo that it had been growing there for a long time,” says Saralegui. “Bob [Robert Dash] said. ‘I’d really like to clear it out underneath so people can walk around and see the different magnolias.’ So we did that last year, with landscape details; created a terrace in the midst of all of these magnolias with a wonderful marble table in the middle, and some chairs around it. It’s a lovely new area, but still has the trees that Bob planted.”

As with any natural environment, the seasons play a big part in Madoo. One of the areas that is at the peak of its splendor in July is the decorative, formal vegetable garden, which was inspired by the renowned Château Villandry in France. “You can eat almost anything in it, but we go for the more decorative types of plants,” says Saralegui. The harvested vegetables are often used in events hosted at Madoo, as well as in children’s programs. Says Saralegui, “Sometimes I let the kids harvest something like Swiss Chard, which half of them have never seen. We’ll tie the vegetables up and they’ll take little bundles home.”

Madoo is a wonderful place for children in general. “Kids are very respectful of gardens so it’s great to have them here,” says Saralegui. “They can run around and basically not get hurt, their parents can take a map and have a self- guided tour or go get lunch.” In fact, the popular Pierre’s restaurant of Bridgehampton recently opened a takeout shop a block away from Madoo, and visitors are welcome to bring a sandwich to the gardens and enjoy it there.

The garden is open every Friday and Saturday from noon to 4 pm, from May 15 until September 15, though private visits can be arranged in advance at other times of the year. Both guided and self-guided tours are available; private tours and refreshments can also be arranged. In addition to various children’s programs, Madoo hosts classes, lectures and other events for adults at various times of the year, listed on the conservancy’s website (madoo.org).

The next time you visit the East End, set aside an afternoon for a visit to Madoo Conservancy, an easy way to experience instant enchantment. (618 Sagg Main St., Sagaponack, 631.537.8200)