“It’s as cottage as cottage can be,” says garden designer Alex Chapman of the 1875 home he shares with his partner, designer Zach Motl. “People want to do incredible gardens on Long Island—estate plantings and 200-year-old trees—but our garden is intentionally wild and unkempt. We see what takes and let it go,” he adds nonchalantly, channeling what he dubs a “laissez-faire approach” to its curation. But his breezy spirit belies the amount of work, done entirely by the couple, that has gone into creating this most delightful of alfresco spaces.
When Motl, a Bellport native, purchased the house in 2013, there was little more than lawn, but meeting Chapman in 2015 changed everything. “We’re both Cancers,” they say in near unison, and together they have realized a series of outdoor “rooms” on less than a third of an acre. “We created zones and it fell into place,” explains Chapman. “You walk through a fence to get to the house, but you can get lost along the way.”
Irresistible meanders include the shade garden, where flowering trees shelter hostas and hellebores; a grassy expanse with a pool and sun loungers (rescue dog Ginger’s favorite nap spot); and a gambrel-roof barn-turned-home office surrounded by billowing white hydrangeas. Pathways edged with echinacea and lavender lead to the gravel court’s dining area and raised vegetable beds. (“Having friends over impromptu and making a salad—that’s luxury,” he adds.) And the home’s stone terrace is an equally rewarding destination, it’s vintage-style seating upholstered in black with crisp white piping. “My contribution is more the interiors aspect,” says Motl, who is currently working on projects in Manhattan and Long Island, “but we toggle back and forth, and he’ll help me inside.”
“It’s a happy mix,” adds Chapman, who is busy with seasonal refreshes for clients out east and throughout the Bellport area. Coming from Pennsylvania (“You could make pottery from the soil,” he quips), Long Island’s sandy, well-draining variety makes experimentation fun, and by creating a microclimate, cutting garden favorites like dahlias can overwinter in their beds certain years. “It’s cheating, but I like to see what I can make last. This is my lab to see what works and what doesn’t,” says Chapman.
And never is there a nicer time to reap their rewards than now. “From late spring to fall, the house expands and we’re outside all the time,” says Motl. In the words of British gardener Monty Don, an inspirational figure for the couple, “Nature doesn’t make gardens, people make gardens. And the story of a garden is always the story of a person.” Just in this case, two.