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Skating Champ Dick Button’s Secret Garden

Dick Button’s garden is carefully choreographed. But what might catch visitors off guard is the level of horticultural savvy plugging into his 48 acres in North Salem. Turns out, the champion figure skater, skating analyst, actor, and author is also a visionary landscape designer. And hearing botanical Latin rolling off the sports commenter’s tongue with the greatest of ease might seem like a stretch, even for the ultimate Renaissance man.

Ask Dick Button, author of Push Dick’s Button (CreateSpace, 2013), about his impetus to purchase Ice Pond Farm back in 1979, and the athlete who won his first figure skating Olympic Championship and World Championship at the age of 18 points to his family and the need for an appropriate place to raise two outdoorsy children. What happened later was just a further spin.

Upon purchase, the property was well-endowed with a check list of old buildings in need of repair. It came fully equipped with a litany of barns, an ice house, outhouse, smoke house, spring house, and farmhouse—all of which remain standing in much better condition than when Button arrived. But just as you would suspect, a pond restoration was one of the earliest projects on the agenda at the “old retired farm.”

The silt-filled pond was in desperate need of a full overhaul as well as a dam to render it skate-worthy, but nonetheless, it was a major factor in the selection of the site. Not far away was an impressive sledding hill for the kids. Winter was given full play on the site. But summer also had its perks.

Actually, the first project upon purchase of the property was a swimming pool for the kids. So, filling the various seasons became a critical facet of the agenda. Even back then, Button was thinking like a garden designer, placing the pool discretely where it would disappear during the nine months when it was not in service for splashing and back stroke purposes. Ultimately, it was framed in a flowing garden. Ditto for the other buildings in residence—they were all given gardens as a common thread.

Dick Button was thinking off-the-beaten-track from the beginning, but not before voraciously researching his options. Button does nothing impetuously. Although he has an arsenal of freestyle plans up his sleeve, he does the fieldwork to test out his theories prior to letting them glide. Of his many interests, gardening began to gradually take priority.

Now, Button is really on the cutting edge of what’s happening horticulturally. He attends seminars, reads books, flips through magazines, and hobnobs with fellow aficionados to tweak his plans before digging in. Not surprisingly, movement through the garden and the staging of the landscape are key.

Of course, balance is also a concept in constant scrutiny by the legendary figure skater. And wit is liberally sprinkled in. Whether it’s a statue that reminds him of a fellow figure skater or the placement of a focal point, Button is always choreographing his presentation, weighing shapes and rhythms of form and color. “I’m forever assessing,” he’s the first to admit. Although he insists that serendipity plays a constant role, fact is, seemingly “happy accidents” are often craftily devised.

The result is a garden of many moods. And Ice Pond Farm is never done. Button often asks, “Doesn’t every gardener rethink their garden continually?” And yet, at the root of his landscape is still the old farm with its structures purchased nearly 40 years ago and the simplicity of its surroundings. “I always think about the whole space,” he explains. As a result, the garden glides along smoothly with an occasional jump, lift, and twirl. Beauty and grace have been woven into Ice Pond Farm in a program that will make your heart flip.

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