Hitch Lyman’s Temple Nursery Garden

– Posted in: What's up/blooming

greek revival house

Mr. Lyman's quintessential Greek Revival house as seen from the road

I visited Hitch Lyman’s garden in Trumansburg, NY. on May 8th. It was one of the Garden Conservancy’s Open Gardens, as I mentioned previously. His Temple Nursery is the only U.S. nursery that specializes in snowdrops. The snowdrops were long gone, but lilacs and species peonies were blooming.

Hitch Lyman has a wonderful Greek Revival home. I am a big fan of this building style, which was very common in upstate NY in the 1800s, so it was a pleasure just to look at his house. Greek Revival gets its name from the fact that it is influenced by the architecture of classical Greece. The gardens surrounding Lyman’s home have that same classical feel, without being so formal as to seem high-falutin’ in its rural location. Consider this fountain on the south side of the house:

fountain in a round pool

Careful attention to sight lines and the geometric shape of the pool give this side garden a classical feel.

The fountain is bracketed by the two tall, relatively narrow trees in the background, yet there is a certain wildness beyond the low stone wall reminding you that civilization only extends so far. When I took this picture, my back was to the house, so I imagine you see this from some of the windows.

Pretty nice, huh? However, we were told the main garden was in the back, behind the temple. Yes, it’s a potting shed, looking more Greek than his Greek revival house. It’s on the further side of a small farm pond.

Replica of Greek temple on other side of the pond

As viewed from the house: the classic rural pond juxtaposed with the classic Greek temple.

You circle around the pond, and, as promised, discover the gardens behind the temple.

grass path bordered by hedges

The main entrance to the garden behind the temple.

Lyman makes use of yew hedging to delineate the structure of the garden. The grid-like design reminded me somewhat of Montrose, the more formal garden I had visited in North Carolina. Both gardens have a more cottage garden feel in the individual beds, while the straight paths provided the sight-lines perfect for showcasing a spectacular container or specimen plant.

Multi-Variety Apple Espaliers

In the previous photo, you can catch a glimpse of two apple espaliers, one on each side of the path, second row back. Here’s a closer look at one of them:

dwarf apple tree on metal framework

There are five apple varieties grafted onto this espaliered tree.

Mr. Lyman said he purchased them from Miller Nurseries a number of years ago. There were five different varieties grafted onto each tree, but one graft died, so he has nine different varieties. I had never seen a cylindrical espalier before. The two trees become sculptural elements in the garden as well as a practical way to enjoy a lot of different kinds of apples in a small space. Here’s another look at the framework:

Metal framework that supports an apple tree

The metal framework of the espalier is more easily seen in this photo.

While we’re on apples, I fell in love with this double pink crab, Improved Bechtel:

Double pink flowers

Improved Bechtel Crapapple won me over

After a little searching online, I think the full name is Malus ioensis ‘Klehm’s Improved Bechtel’, a native prairie tree that likes it on the moist side.


Lilacs were the big draw in this garden, blooming everywhere you turned. But these were not the old-fashioned “barnyard” lilacs (Syringa vulgaris) you would typically find around a house of this age. Most of the lilacs blooming there were hyacinthiflora hybrids (properly written as Syringa x hyacinthiflora). It is a hybrid cross of S. vulgaris and S. oblata. They bloom earlier than straight S. vulgaris, and the individual florets in each cluster are larger than the common lilacs. I was really taken with ‘Sister Justina’. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a whiter white:

white flowered lilac

Sister Justina

It was dazzling in the sunshine (and leaning because of the wind). Another one I loved was ‘Krasavitsa Moskvy,’ a very fragrant light pink.

pale pink lilac

Krasavitsa Moskvy

My sister and I fell in love with another lilac called ‘Priscilla‘, but Lyman told us it was not available in commerce. It was originally bred by Bill Utley of Grape Hill Farm in Clyde, NY, and Lyman has provided cuttings to other lilac nurseries, who may eventually be able to offer it for sale.

It is worth doing research before buying a lilac, because so many of the better ones are not readily available in a big box store. I reviewed two lilac books that will help you make an informed choice, and the internet will help you locate a grower who sells that choice.


The peonies in Hitch Lyman’s garden were just starting to bloom. Both lilacs and peonies are very commonly found around Greek Revival farmhouses in this area, but once again Mr. Lyman kicks it up a notch: not common lilacs, and not common peonies. These peonies were bred by A.P. Saunders, a professor at Hamilton College in upstate NY. The foliage is more like species peonies, and the flowers have an elegant, simple form. Tom Fisher, former editor of Horticulture magazine and currently head of Timber Press, writes in detail about Saunders’ peonies on his personal website. If you are turned off by the big, blowsy peonies that you remember from Grandma’s garden, you’ll want to seek these out. I’ve long had my eye on ‘Athena,’ which I didn’t see in Lyman’s garden, but have drooled over in catalogs.

More Pictures of Lyman’s Garden

While visiting Lyman’s garden, I met up with Lynn Yenkey of Sin City to Slaterville. You should read her post about Hitch Lyman’s garden. She took photos from an entirely different perspective, including a few from inside that temple/potting shed.

More About Saunder’s Peonies

More About Lilacs

More About Snowdrops

About the Author

Kathy Purdy is a colchicum evangelist, converting unsuspecting gardeners into colchicophiles. She would be delighted to speak to your group about colchicums or other gardening topics. Kathy’s been writing since 4th grade, gardening since high school, and blogging since 2002.

When dealing with frost it is always best to be paranoid. In the spring never think it is too late for one more frost to come. And in the fall never think it too early.

~Rundy in Frost

Comments on this entry are closed.

Frank Moro February 25, 2012, 8:32 am

Nice info on the gardens. Much appreciated that the gardens are still alive. Our company Select Plus Lilacs also offers many lilacs for those of you who are looking for rare varieties

Kathy Purdy March 23, 2012, 9:32 am

Your site looks wonderful–the lilacs and the Itoh peonies! I have added it to the list above. Thank you for stopping by

commonweeder May 26, 2010, 11:28 am

The photos are beautiful – and so is this garden. I love all the Garden Open Today opportunities that are coming up. I have the Beauty of Moscow lilac and it is always much admired. thanks for all the extra sources at the end of your post. Very helpful.
.-= commonweeder´s last blog ..The Latest on My Wisteria =-.

ro May 25, 2010, 8:42 pm

St. Lawrence Nurseries has Bechtel Crab (not improved) in their catalog. I want to mention that Fedco has different Lilacs every year, often on the recommendation of some Lilac guy, maybe from the Arnold Arboretum?

Teresa May 25, 2010, 1:39 pm

I too thank you for the reference to the Improved Bechtel Crabapple. That tree was stupendous, and as my yard has its share of moist spots, perhaps one like it would like to come to my house to live. Also, thanks for opening my eyes to things I looked past during my visit… for example, the trees bracketing the fountain. What a nice composition.

Leslie May 25, 2010, 9:03 am

Great potos and commentary One of my goals is to visit Hitch’s garden. One point the email with this post arrived as a “test” without the photos Thought you should know. Also thanks for the crab apple of my dreams or nightmare as this is a plant that I cannot seem to find yet!

Kathy Purdy May 25, 2010, 2:19 pm

Leslie, I was having trouble with WordPress last night & contacted my webhost for help. In the process of troubleshooting they published that test post, and the formatting was screwed up on it. Since they did their troubleshooting when I was asleep, I didn’t discover and fix it until this morning. I bet you get a second email with the corrected post.

Chiot's Run May 25, 2010, 9:03 am

What a beautiful garden. I’ve always loved semi-formal gardens and the house it quite lovely. I’m a huge fan of white houses in just about any style (except the new McMansion style).

I’m hoping to get some snowdrops this fall so I can have a few blooms in the spring.

Lynn May 25, 2010, 8:29 am

Thanks for the link, Kathy. And I really appreciate reading more in your post about what I was seeing in the garden but didn’t talk to Lyman about. I’ll be following those peony links now.
.-= Lynn´s last blog ..Happy Monday: Photosynthesis with TMBG =-.

Kathy Purdy May 25, 2010, 8:37 am

I really appreciated your superior photos from that garden visit. I think it heightens the pleasure to see two views of the same garden.

Lynn May 25, 2010, 10:10 am

Me too. That’s something I love about all our blogs–all these different views. Thanks again!
.-= Lynn´s last blog ..Happy Monday: Photosynthesis with TMBG =-.