Al and Debbie Kyle
The Emily Post house, on Fuller Street in Edgartown, has a glorious garden in the front yard for all passersby to enjoy. It's an iconic, well-tended cottage garden that comes alive in late summer when the dahlias are at their peak. The story goes that when tour busses stopped to view the garden, the first lady of etiquette would occasionally surprise the tourists by inviting them for tea. For over forty years the garden has been tended by the Post family gardener, Tony Bettencourt. The current owners, Al and Debbie Kyle, are honoring the legacy of this beautiful spot by continuing to hire the same master gardener.
I’d photographed this garden from outside its white picket fence for many years – it’s easily the most photographed garden on the island. Wanting to get on the inside of that fence, several years ago I proposed a photo essay and feature story about the garden to Martha’s Vineyard Magazine. That year, from mid-August into early fall, I returned to the garden time and time again, mostly on very still early mornings, while the plants were still covered with dew.
My photographic objective was first to capture the overall feeling of the garden, since that’s where it’s most obvious beauty lies, but then afterwards to come in close and concentrate on the dahlias themselves. Every fall, Tony digs up each dahlia bulb, carefully labels it, and until recently stored them for the winter in the root cellar. Some of the very same dahlia bulbs that once flowered in Emily’s garden are still flowering today. When photographing the individual dahlias, I tried to isolate single blossoms in a way that gave them the importance I thought they deserved. And I found I was not looking for the “perfect” blossom you might find depicted in a seed catalog, but rather the ones that had more “personality.” These might be the flowers that were just beginning to unfurl, or had a twisted stem or a missing petal.
In addition to the magazine spread, I ended up adding many of the photos of the individual blossoms to my Flower Series of fine art images.