See our nursery and take a winter tour
on Martha Stewart's blog
starting in December 2008.


The Landscape Diaries:
Garden of Obsession available at

or purchase it here through Paypal


And... Take a look at the Rocketboom video with Joanne Collin!


What reviewers are saying:




While I find inspiration in myriad things, two of the most likely sources are great friends and great books. These two publications, both full of passion and artistry, have given me some wonderful ideas for my gardens. Perhaps they will strike a chord with you as well.

Gayatri Carole Rocherolle / RUDER FINN PRESS


My close friends Michael and Judy Steinhardt own an exquisite 54-acre garden featured in this book.  Along with more than 400 cultivars of maple, the property includes woodland plants and flowering shrubs, moss-covered bridges and ponds, and a collection of exotic animals and waterfowl. The photographs capture this garden’s beauty throughout the seasons. As I’m developing my maple woodlands in Bedford, I hope to one day have my own bevy of birds.



December 20, 2007 The Journal News, Life & Style section
(Westchester, NY) article by Bill Cary

If you've got a gardener on your list, you can't go wrong with a big, fat gardening tome to keep them amused and out of your hair for the next three months, until spring begins to break and they can get outdoors again.

Here's a look at give gardening books on a wide range of topics that have come across my desk in recent months.

"The Landscape Diaries: Garden of Obsession" by Gayatri Carole Rocherolle, with photos by Richard Felber (Ruder Finn, $24.95). Many fans of great gardens in the Hudson Valley know Rocherolle and her husband, Jerome, as the brains and brawn that led to the creation of Michael and Judy Steinhardt's magnificent 55-acre spread in Bedford. Who knew she could write, too?

This very personal and quirky book takes readers along for a funny ride through a childhood of great wealth and privilege as an heir to the Avnet fortune (with a Renoir in her bedroom) that eventually led to the parking-lot launch of a Pound Ridge/Stamford, Conn., nursery that's now considered one of the best sources in the country for bonsai. Against her family's wishes, she ran away to London for the final voyage of the Queen Mary, no less, in 1965 to marry Jerome. The book chronicles their wonderful marriage and how they fell into the world of high-end garden design and maintenance. We also learn lots about the Steinhardt garden and how it came to be, with spectacular four-season photos by Felber and Carole Rocherolle.



The following review appears in the July/August 2007 issue of
The American Gardener magazine under Recommended Garden Books.

For a divergence into a world of limousines and French chateaus, there's The Landscape Diaries: Garden of Obsession (Ruder Finn, 2007, $24.95). Aptly named, this engaging tale reads somewhat like a private diary in which Carole Rocherolle, daughter of the late business magnate Lester Avnet, describes how she literally ran away from her privileged youth to marry a member of French nobility. However, after she and her new husband, Jerome, fall into the nursery and landscape business, they are no strangers to hard work and the rewards it brings. The book follows the 30-year trajectory of their horticultural development, including establishing Shanti Bithi Nursery in Connecticut, traveling the world in search of unusual plants, and the creation of their most important legacy, the private Steinhardt gardens in New York, complete with stunning color photographs.

The following wonderful review of
The Landscape Diaries: Garden of Obsession
appeared in the Lexington Herald-Leader (KY) on June 9, 2007
in the Home and Garden Section, Inside/Out.

The Landscape Diaries: Garden of Obsession
Gayatri Carole

Rocherolle Ruder Finn Press 174pp $24.95

This memoir is a surprising tapestry of an unusually rich life and an extraordinary garden, yet the small stuff with which day-to-day events are built is universally familiar. Stories of loving and losing parents, of family celebrations and the importance of ‘we’ in a marriage, and of personal growth through spirituality and exercise are interwoven with the process Rocherolle and husband Jerome followed in creating their garden and landscaping business, the Shanti Bithi Nursery, and establishing the incredible Steinhardt gardens in Bedford, NY.

Born into wealth, she an heiress to the Avnet fortune and his family residing in a French chateau, they began their garden career together in the early ‘70's selling plants in a deli parking lot. The ensuing years, filled with hard work, world travel and their vision of artful landscaping and attention to small detail were filled with success and yes, obsession. Bonsai, a Japanese Maple collection, rock structures, unique metal-work pieces and gorgeous landscapes are presented in color photos throughout. References to find sources to create your own are included.

This is not an ordinary gardening book, but instead a testament to the creative visions and kinds of gardens that will grow when people follow their passions and walk to the beat of their own hearts.

Susan Smith-Durisek


Myron Porto, our horticulturist, was invited by the Southern Plant Conference to give a lecture and slide presentation entitled “Rare and Unusual Acer palmatum Cultivars." Other speakers included Michael Dirr and Barry Yinger. The conference was organized by the renowned plantsman, Don Shadow, of Shadow Nursery.

Article from House & Garden magazine, March 2006

by Carol Williams


In a 54-acre property just north of New York City, climbing hydrangeas rise 50 feet up the trunks of tulip trees. A gray goose with a green bill and pink legs guides visitors through a grove of scarlet viburnums, and white wallabies hop beneath golden larches. Such a landscape may sound like pure fantasy, but the real wonder is that it seems, almost, natural: like a happy dream.

Michael and Judy Steinhardt’s garden is an extreme case of two, often contradictory, desires familiar to many gardeners: the impulse to collect and the long for harmony. That this reconciliation has been achieved is the result of the long collaboration between Michael Steinhardt, whose enthusiasm for the variety of the plant and animal worlds is boundless, and his designers, Jerome and Carole Rocherolle, whose quest is for a dynamic unity in the landscape. Judy Steinhardt is the tireless advocate for enjoyment, anchoring this Eden in family life.


The Steinhardts have lived at the site since 1978. They acquired 28 acres of hillside with an orchard, a brook, and a contemporary house, to which they added a modest but elegant wing, designed by Myron Goldfinger. Later they acquired two adjoining parcels surrounding a crumbling house, built in the 1920s as Theodore Dreiser's retreat.


By his own account, Michael Steinhardt began as a "gardening primitive." The orchard drew him first. He grew many varieties of apples and berries to harvest and eat, and grapes for wine. These ventures led inexorably to a desire to stay up late on winter nights studying obscure catalogs in search of the rare and strange, to bonds of mutual support with the New York and Brooklyn Botanical Gardens, and to a compulsion to push, in every sense, the boundaries of what might be possible in a Westchester garden.

When Jerome and Carole Rocherolle began work at the garden in 1988, the collecting "problem" - and extraordinary opportunity - had already set in. Quantities of plants had been set out with little meaningful connection between them or with the site. How to make sense of it all?

Fortunately, the Rocherolles are the sort of designers made nervous by master plans. They prefer working organically, over time, with what is at hand. An initial challenge was a collection of 50 Japanese maples, each one a different cultivar, lined up in rows. Since Japanese maples are understory trees, happiest in light filtered through high canopy trees, the Rocherolles' inspiration was to carve out a home for them in the already existing mature native forest of tulip trees, swamp maples, and black birch.

Before moving the maples, they thinned five acres of forest, revoving some trees and limbing others. Pine-needle-covered paths were carefully placed an existing wet spots and streams traversed by graceful bridges.

Since the initial planting of 50 maples, an additional 300 different cultivars have been added and grouped in groves, with concern for aesthetics as much as taxonomy. Beneath the maples is a ground cover of moss and sequences of flowering woodland plants - massed hellebores, bloodroot, woodland peonies - carefully managed by Jerome Rocherolle's sister, Caroline, who designed the flower plantings throughout the garden. In summer the climbing hydrangeas bloom against the dark trunks of limbed-up tulip trees. In fall they provide a mysterious golden-leafed backdrop to the brilliance of the maples.

The Rocherolles have learned to handle the Steinhardts' other plant collections (yellow magnolias, ferns, witch hazels, tree peonies, and more) with similar grace throughout the site. Working with existing slopes, woodland, and meadows, they have made a series of interconnected environments. In clearings, in the orchard and paddocks, and around the ponds, even the rarest plants appear as integrated elements of a single landscape.

Since the site is so large, Caroline Rocherolle uses flowers on a big scale: numerous meadows of single plantings that change sequentially over the seasons. A meadow of sheep's fescue is interplanted with scarlet poppies. One of the loveliest flowering areas is around the carefully preserved stone ruins of the Dreiser house, which in summer is deep in roses, salvias, and sunflowers.

"Planting in" what has become a similarly encyclopedic collection of animals is another landscape challenge. As with his flora, Steinhardt's animal collection began humbly, when he started to stock a pond with snails and minnows. This led to larger fish, to ducks, to one of the world's largest private waterfowl collections, and to cranes and peacocks. The aviary is two flowing ponds (one assiduously protected by black swans) surrounded by viburnumS and crape myrtles and covered by a giant free-form net tent. Jewellike fowls busily conduct their lives; full nesting boxes attest to their health and happiness.

An energetic Vietnamese pond deer, two feet tall and very appealing, was originally acquired to accompany the ducks. Instead, it became the genesis of an animal collection that now includes zebras, zonkeys (a cross between a donkey and a zebra), various species of llamas, dromedaries, Bactrian camels, and lemurs - to name only a few species. "The children love them," says Steinhardt. "Something is always having babies."

Integrating large exotic animals and landscape plants takes skill. The plants may poison the animals, and the animals will almost certainly destroy the plants. The Rocherolles resolve this difficulty by creating space between the grassy paddocks, so that the animals can be surrounded by trees and shrubs without getting too close. Judy Steinhardt and the Rocherolles choose shrubs and trees with large leaves and startling flowers - such as catalpas, silk trees, and umbrella magnolias - that suit the exotic character of the fauna.

A lodge built by the Steinhardts and designed by New York architect Jacquelin T. Robertson on the newer property has now become their home. Paddocks for the animals come within a few feet of the house, so the Steinhardts' breakfast is sometimes observed by alpacas and Sicilian donkeys. Peacocks - some pure white - scratch up the labels of alpine plants, but a happy resolution to even this difficulty will surely be found.


Plant collectors are often ruled by passion rather than aesthetics. Michael Steinhardt and his designers, Jerome and Carole Rocherolle, strive to organize the collections in this 54-acre property into a pleasing whole instead of a horticultural mishmash.

GROUPING The plants are arranged thematically, most often by genus. A collection of Japanese maples would lose its impact if spread out over the property instead of located in a distinct area. In such a setting, the subtle attributes of the different species and cultivars can more easily be compared.

MASS PLANTING Collectors often grow one or two of a plant before moving on to acquire new species. On their large property, the Steinhardts understand that their prized species need to be planted in great masses for maximum impact.

CREATING A SCENE Gardens by passionate collectors often look like a plant nursery. The Rocherolles make sure that even the most unusual species is sited unobtrusively. The family’s menagerie of animals also helps to complete the illusion of the garden as an idealized landscape.


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