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The Secret Gardener

The late Eighties were not the best years for Dianne Benson. First, she had to shutter her smart, avant-garde Dianne B. stores in 1988, then she had to abandon designing her own line. She had a falling-out with longtime friend Issey Miyake, and many...

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The late Eighties were not the best years for Dianne Benson. First, she had to shutter her smart, avant-garde Dianne B. stores in 1988, then she had to abandon designing her own line. She had a falling-out with longtime friend Issey Miyake, and many people she had come to rely on "were suddenly very much not there for me," she says. "It was a very hurtful time, actually."

Benson retreated to her home in East Hampton and made a discovery: the wild, overgrown property she owned with her husband, Irving. She tackled gardening head-on.

"I got a bicycle and started riding around, so I could find out what was behind all those hedges and walls," she says. "I started taking classes, but the gardening crowd is not the most energizing."

Then she started digging. Three years later, her grounds were part of the East Hampton garden tour.

Now Benson has written a book imparting her hard-earned gardening secrets. Entitled "Dirt -- The Lowdown on Growing a Garden with Style," Benson describes it as "the book I was looking for when I started gardening." Clever and irreverent, but to the point, Benson takes great pleasure in laying the groundwork for neophytes. The book is not, she says, for people who want a hybrid named after them. She suggests buying several of the same tool because they get lost so easily, wearing one piece of jewelry while gardening, and having a work vest that can accommodate cigarettes and a lipstick.

"I hope that some persnickety, fussy person doesn't review it," she says. Benson and her book will be feted tonight at New York's Felissimo.

It's hard to believe that the author of "Dirt" is the same Dianne Benson who helped define cutting-edge fashion for more than a decade. But Benson dismisses the incongruities.

"I'm still very aware of esthetics, I always was. I've never worn blue jeans, and I never will." "I did it," she says of fashion. "I did it well. And now I'm doing something else."