×

Surrender to nature: Judy Dunaway’s spiritual approach to gardening

  • A great golden digger wasp works on a mountain mint blossom in Judy Dunaway's garden in Westhampton, Sept. 10. —GAZETTE STAFF/JERREY ROBERTS

  • A dahlia blooms at the home of Judy Dunaway in Westhampton, Sept. 10. —GAZETTE STAFF/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Dahlias blooming in Dunaway’s garden. GAZETTE STAFF/JERREY ROBERTS

  • —GAZETTE STAFF/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Judy Dunaway has been transforming her 6-acre backyard in Westhampton into an organic edible landscape of outdoor rooms. At far left, a patch of raspberries grows in one of her plots.

  • Almonds grow at the home of Judy Dunaway. GAZETTE STAFF/JERREY ROBERTS

  • A labyrinth at the home of Judy Dunaway in Westhampton. —GAZETTE STAFF/JERREY ROBERTS

  • A bumble bee works on a dahlia blossom. GAZETTE STAFF/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Dunaway points out the various sections of her retreat, which is dotted with hammocks and tables and chairs for relaxing and enjoying the surroundings. GAZETTE STAFF/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Many varieties of flowers grow in front of Judy Dunaway’s home in Westhampton. GAZETTE STAFF/JERREY ROBERTS

  • A variety of flowers grow in front of Judy Dunaway's home in Westhampton, Sept. 10. —GAZETTE STAFF/JERREY ROBERTS

  • A Kamil Peters sculpture stands in a garden at the home of Judy Dunaway in Westhampton, Sept. 10. —GAZETTE STAFF/JERREY ROBERTS

  • A Kamil Peters sculpture stands in a garden at the home of Judy Dunaway in Westhampton, Sept. 10. —GAZETTE STAFF/JERREY ROBERTS

  • A Kamil Peters sculpture is among the whimsical touches in Dunaway’s garden. GAZETTE STAFF/JERREY ROBERTS

  • A Kamil Peters sculpture stands near a labyrinth at the home of Judy Dunaway in Westhampton. GAZETTE STAFF/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Judy Dunaway at her home in Westhampton, Sept. 10. —GAZETTE STAFF/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Detail of the labyrinth. GAZETTE STAFF/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Judy Dunaway at her home in Westhampton, Sept. 10. —GAZETTE STAFF/JERREY ROBERTS

  • At far left a patch of raspberries grow in one of Dunaways gardens.

  • Strawberry garden at the home of Judy Dunaway in Westhampton, Sept. 10. —GAZETTE STAFF/JERREY ROBERTS

  • A restful spot for a hammock on the property. GAZETTE STAFF/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Garden at the home of Judy Dunaway in Westhampton, Sept. 10. —GAZETTE STAFF/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Dunaway finds fruit on her paw paw tree. GAZETTE STAFF/JERREY ROBERTS

  • A picnic table and pig sculptures are part of a garden at the home of Judy Dunaway in Westhampton, Sept. 10. —GAZETTE STAFF/JERREY ROBERTS

  • A potato and tomato patch at the home of Judy Dunaway in Westhampton, Sept. 10. —GAZETTE STAFF/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Pears grow in an orchard at the home of Judy Dunaway in Westhampton, Sept. 10. —GAZETTE STAFF/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Lavendar hyssop grows in a garden at the home of Judy Dunaway in Westhampton, Sept. 10. —GAZETTE STAFF/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Hydrangeas bloom at the home of Judy Dunaway in Westhampton, Sept. 10. —GAZETTE STAFF/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Garden at the home of Judy Dunaway in Westhampton.k



For the Bulletin
Thursday, September 28, 2017

When Judy Dunaway, a retired nurse, moved from New Mexico to Westhampton in 2003 to be closer to her daughter, she was inspired by several factors: For one thing, “I was promised granddaughters,” she says. Secondly, the move east would enable her to grow food, something “ethically, I didn’t feel comfortable doing in New Mexico,” she says, where she maintained a drought-tolerant oasis. And finally, her new home offered ample space for an outdoor labyrinth, a round, walking meditation path Dunaway had discovered at a holistic health-care conference in California.

In the 14 years since, Dunaway, 72, has been transforming the 6-acre grass backyard behind her 1840 farmhouse into an organic edible landscape of outdoor garden rooms punctuated by chairs, tables and all manner of sculptures. On the one hand, the property is a vast undertaking, with numerous vegetable and herb beds, active beehives, a berry patch, and an orchard of fruit and nut trees. “It takes five hours to mow,” she says, “and that’s just the mowing!”

But her intention, she says, “is to have viewers slow down and look very carefully.” She tucks sculptures of frogs, ducks, turtles, Saint Francis and more amidst the foliage “just to bring sheer pleasure,” she says. “I love that there are surprises hidden here and there, and the statues never get put back in the same spot. I set things out in the spring and giggle.”

To facilitate slowing down, she also has four hammocks dotting the property and low-toned wind chimes scattered about. “If you’re quiet, you can hear all sorts of things going on,” she says.

There’s a spot, shaded by a white pine, to admire a string of prayer flags and a circular stand of ground nuts, which she describes as “a Native American starch, like a potato.” One hammock faces a pair of oxidized cranes and a round bed of medicinal herbs. She placed another alongside the climbing structure she built for her granddaughters — she has two from her daughter and one from her son — that gets a lot of use from kids during parties, like her annual crawfish boil. “Why shouldn’t parents have a hammock, too?” she asks.

This fall, Dunaway plans to place a table and chairs in the woods and another facing her neighbor’s horse pasture across the road. Each nook is designed to frame a view and offer an opportunity to simply enjoy being outside — instead of focusing on all the weeding, trimming, and other tasks that need to be done.

When it’s warm, Dunaway sits on her Adirondack swing with a gurgling Buddha fountain at her side. And when it’s cold, she takes in the poplars from a 104-degree hot tub on the porch. “You can see my bare footprints coming out through the snow. It’s amazing to feel the flakes hit your head.”

Unexpected delights

“Working the land in a conscious, loving manner,” is how she describes her meditative approach to gardening. “Just talking about it, I tear up.”

For Dunaway, this is a place to surrender to nature and its unexpected twists and turns. “I never planted a single sunflower — they’ve planted themselves — and they bring me great joy.”

A lone butterfly bush has yielded more than 50 bushes — some over 8 feet high. “I put my spirit into the plants, and they have permission to move if they don’t like where I’ve put them,” she says. “So I walk around and say, ‘Oh, so this is coming up here this year.’ The lines don’t have to be straight. I have several things I don’t even know the name of.”

Dunaway also recognizes that every growing season is different. “One of the biggest surprises this year was seeing my hardy almond trees covered with flowers for the first time. I was on my porch and I just gasped and stood in astonishment.” She eats a blackberry, walks a little, then plucks an apple from a tree. “Hello, you,” she says to a passing Monarch butterfly.

In years past, Dunaway preserved jams, jellies and pickles, but these days her harvest feeds friends and family, as well as birds, insects and other wildlife. “Whoever sees the strawberries gets to pick them and eat them,” she says. “I try to plant enough for all of us, but some of the crows are a little greedy.” And then there are the flowers of her black locust tree: “You can dip them in pancake batter and eat them, but the porcupines love them, too.”

No dead ends

Originally from Georgia, Dunaway seeks out edibles that remind her of her youth — from hardy pecan trees to a fruit called a paw-paw that “tastes a little like banana pudding,” she says. “I come from farming people on both sides, so I’m getting back to my roots. What I loved as a child was going to those farms.”

As an adult, the most meaningful spot in the garden for her is the labyrinth, used for walking meditation. “You don’t always have time to sit on the floor and meditate but you can come out here and keep moving.” The first time she tried it, she remembers how she and her fellow nurses were struck by “what a good tool it was to quieten the mind.” She says that some of the nurses were able to have them added to the grounds of the hospitals where they worked. “It’s really a healing experience.”

The design for Dunaway’s labyrinth was adapted from a cathedral in Chartres, France, she says, though she widened the paths to make walking through the circles easier. Dunaway and some friends laid out the design — first with string, then with bricks — then she hired a landscaping company to dig trenches so no one would trip on the bricks. She hosts a monthly gathering of friends with an interest in healing. “It’s not a maze with dead ends — there’s one way in and one way out. People come out and say, ‘How do I do this? I’m afraid I’m going to make a mistake,’ and I say, ‘There are no rules.’ Sometimes I come out here and just lay down.”

Katy McColl Lukens can be reached at katymccollwork@gmail.com