In March, Ryan McCallister made a fateful decision. As quarantine restrictions went into effect, he decided to leave his New York City apartment and head to his job as gardener at the Bedford, New York, home of Martha Stewart. “I thought to myself, ‘Why not just stay in the guest house for a few days until this is over?’” he said recently via cell phone from her property.
Forty five days later, McCallister, along with Stewart’s driver and housekeeper, are still at the 150-acre compound. They eat their meals with her, play cards with her at night, and in McCallister’s case, work long hours with her on the estate grounds.
A post shared by Ryan McCallister (@ryanmccallister1) on Apr 5, 2020 at 7:03am PDT
And what an estate it is. Stewart’s domestic and professional accomplishments are well documented, but her legacy as a champion of the American garden may not yet have received its due. Along with her Bedford estate, she owns properties in Seal Harbor, Maine, and East Hampton, New York, and each has a unique and meticulously executed and maintained landscape of her design.
Over several decades, she has also employed some of the most talented garden writers, photographers, and editors and they have produced a veritable canon of aspiration-heavy, technically sophisticated design and horticulture advice for her magazines and books.
McCallister and other gardeners in Stewart’s employ star in segments on her TV show and appear in the pages of her publications and in posts on her Instagram account. In the world of flora, they are the New York Yankees and she the exacting Boss.
A post shared by Ryan McCallister (@ryanmccallister1) on Apr 27, 2020 at 6:36am PDT
“Martha decides what to plant and where it should go,” said McCallister, who began working for her nine years ago. “I’ve been gardening my whole life and studied plants and landscapes in school, but I learn something new from her every day.”
Spring is the busiest time of year for McCallister. “This is actually working out pretty well,” he said. “Since we're at the house all the time we can work earlier and later and we get a lot more things done. And Martha doesn't just sit there and say, ‘Do that!’ She's out there doing everything with you.”
Right now, “do that” means preparing the outdoor vegetable garden and planting trees. “She has hundreds of saplings waiting to go into the ground: maple, oak, chestnut and more,” he said.
McCallister is learning new skills during his confinement. Ordinarily, Stewart has a dedicated film and photography crew shoot her in the garden but Ryan has been filling in on that role. “All the videos you’ve seen of her since March were done by me,” he said. “I hope I’m getting better at it."
Ready, set, mow! Catch @marthastewart48 if you can while she zips around her Bedford farm on the speedy @kubotausa. “What a great new machine - I mowed for hours!!!! @kubotausa has made a zero turn 25 hp engine riding mower. Brand new residential model. Fun and effective and it works fast. Montel Jordan expresses my pleasure well.” Check our more of Martha’s social distancing activities at home on her Instagram 👉🏼 @marthastewart48
A post shared by Martha Stewart (@marthastewart) on May 5, 2020 at 4:15pm PDT
McCallister claims that neither he nor Stewart has a favorite plant. “It’s really about what’s growing and doing well at the time.” But he does admit they both have an affinity for poppies and dahlias and will be paying particular attention to them this year.
A potential downside of his living arrangement? When she’s not gardening, Stewart is cooking. “Ordinarily I can burn off extra calories. But when Martha offers you a cookie you can’t just say no. They're delicious and you eat three.”
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