First Impressions

I am happy to introduce to you Joe Verstandig, a fellow horticulturist here at Blithewold.  Joe started working with Gail and me this past September.  He is here on the blog to share with you his impressions of Blithewold so far.  Enjoy!

Joe Verstandig

Joe Verstandig

Blithewold first came to my attention when a good friend and former roommate was hired as a summer intern. He was in his first year of landscape architecture at the University of Rhode Island, and his professor had recommended it. Sean Coffey, my roommate, was very excited when he was hired, and I was certainly happy for him. I had never heard of Blithewold before, but upon first hearing the name, it sounded to me like a casino. Far from it. Sean described it as a popular historic mansion and garden. I remember feeling a little bit jealous of Sean, because I was still waiting to hear back from the resort I had worked at the previous summer, and I was a little nervous I might have been passed on. A few weeks later I got the “Yes” from my boss, and the long summer had begun. When I returned the following semester, Sean talked about the summer fondly, describing long days out in the gardens, doing everything from weeding beds to selecting the plants that would go in them. If I didn’t know any better, I would have said he was a gardener.


I was a gardener. That was my title at the Mohonk mountain house, a historic getaway overlooking the Catskill Mountains. For 2 summers, I had planted, pulled, watered and cut. I got up early, and was often asleep before darkness. Plant names spun around in my head, and dead foliage stuck out everywhere I looked. It was such a life changing experience for me. Living in a different place, working to a different rhythm, and meeting people from all over the world were just a few of the buttons I could add to my vest. In a heartbeat, I would do Mohonk all over again. And perhaps most important, I had finally figured out what I wanted to do with my life. Mohonk will never leave me.

Working in the Cutting Garden with volunteers at Blithewold.

After hearing all about Blithewold from Sean, I got an opportunity to visit the site for myself. Sean was going to stop in for a visit, and offered to show me the grounds. So we got in the car, drove over 3 bridges, battled traffic, slipped through an ivy covered gate and parked next to the greenhouse. I introduced myself to his coworkers, Gail and Betsy, who were relaxing after a long day of work in the gardens. It was cool, early autumn afternoon; Blithewold at its finest. Sean took me on the basic tour. We popped outside and you couldn’t miss the gardens. All the plants were at their peak size, and you felt like you were about to be swallowed walking down the path. Now this was back before I had taken plant identification classes. I knew a decent amount of herbaceous material from Mohonk, but I was almost clueless on trees. I don’t quite recall which individual trees Sean brought me too, but I remember feeling very small under the grand structures. We took a peak at the water, and across the way sat a place near and dear to me: Hog Island. It had been a couple of years since I had visited, so I almost didn’t recognize it at first. Good family friends of ours have a house on the Roadless isle, and my time there was one of the key factors that lead me to attend university in the ocean state. Fond memories. Sean said goodbye, we hopped back on the road, and Blithewold was gone

It would not be gone for long. Almost exactly one year later, I would return to Blithewold, this time as something I had been before: a gardener. It’s hard to believe I’ve been here almost 3 months now, but so much has happened in that time. Each day brings new experiences and knowledge. Everyone has been so welcoming, making me feel right at home. I am very thankful to be a part of this beautiful and truly unique place.