As colorful today as they were in the past, each of these spots has its own place in history.
By Mildred Jailer-Chamberlain
With spring arriving throughout most of North America, it’s time to think of gardens once again. Discovering a serene and cheerful collection of plants always is pleasant, and the experience can be further enriched when the plantings reflect the tastes of past generations. Many times, these offer rarely seen combinations and overall patterns that are enchanting and new to modern-day eyes.
Following are several long-lived gardens in the United States that continue to be lovely, regardless of their age. The next time you travel, or are preparing a trip, consider looking for historic sites that offer something pleasing outside as well as in.
Minutes from the White House in Washington, D.C., is the handsome Federal-style mansion called Tudor Place. Its 5-1/2 acres of gardens punctuate the historic significance of the nation’s capital and highlight the gracious historic qualities of Washington’s Georgetown neighborhood. In fact, the 8-1/2-acre property, now a National Historic Landmark, was attained in 1805 by Thomas Peter and his wife, Martha Custis Peter, a granddaughter of Martha Washington. Martha Peter used her inheritance from George Washington to make the purchase. Construction of a Neoclassical style mansion was completed on the property in 1816.
Direct descendants of the Peter family lived in the mansion until the last owner, Armistead Peter III, died in 1983. So, throughout the years, a chronology of styles were introduced. Despite the newer additions, Armistead Peter III wrote that everything he did in the garden was with an eye to the choices his great-great-grandparents would have made, had they been there.
Today visitors can revel in the original atmosphere of an old-fashioned Southern garden nurtured since early in the 19th century. Sweeping lawns are shaded by trees, some believed to be 200 years old. On the sloping South Lawn, where cattle once grazed, are original tulip poplars; a magnificent American holly; and the ever-blooming China rose bush (“Old Blush”) planted by Martha Peter. In early May, sago palms, descendants of a specimen brought from Philadelphia in 1813, are removed from the conservatory and placed along the brick walks.
The North Garden, fronting the mansion, is a formal design of terraces and rectangular plots on either side of an axial center path. The original boxwood bushes in the East Garden form a box parterre that the family called the “Flower Knot.” After being plundered for use as Christmas wreaths by Civil War trespassers, many of the remaining boxwood bushes were moved to another location. In 1923 they were returned to their original spot.
Everywhere amid the lawns, terraces, and gardens are the colors of blooming trees, shrubs, and flowers, enhanced by distinctive garden decorations. A statue of a young boy holding grapes watches over the lily pool in the Bowling Green Terrace, where a bird fountain also is positioned. A 19th-century semicircular seat with a wrought-iron back is on the Lower Walk that leads to the Dell.
Tudor Place is located at 1644 31st St. N.W., and is a 20-minute walk from the Dupont Circle or Foggy Bottom Metrorail stops. Metrobus stops are nearby also. The gardens at Tudor Place are open Monday through Saturday from 10:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. Guided house tours are available Tuesday through Friday from 10:00 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. and Saturday from 10:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. Admission is charged. Phone (202) 965-0400 or visit www.tudorplace.org for more information. And remember to leave your motorhome at the campground and take public transportation to visit this site.
North of Washington, D.C., in Pocantico Hills, New York, is the 1908 home built by Standard Oil founder and philanthropist John D. Rockefeller. The vast estate affords a breathtaking view of the Rhinelike Hudson River. Appropriately, Rockefeller named his mansion Kykuit (pronounced Kie-kit), Dutch for “Lookout.”
An extensive series of landscaped terraces and formal gardens is crowned by the four-story stone mansion that was home to four generations of the Rockefeller family. It is now a property of the National Trust for Historic Preservation.
Visitors can choose to take the House and Garden Tour, or a tour that includes only the garden and outdoor sculptures. The House and Garden Tour doesn’t include as much exterior art, but takes visitors into the home, which contains fine furniture, art collections, and decorative art objects.
The gardens at Kykuit are regarded as some of the greatest in America. They were designed by landscape architect William Welles Bosworth and installed early in the 20th century by John D. Rockefeller and his son, John D. Rockefeller Jr. Bosworth combined the formal Beaux Arts style, defined by axial paths leading away from the house, with the English notion of rolling parkland around the home.
Broad terraces are designed to look over the estate’s golf course and provide an incredible view of the Hudson River. Paths wind and curve, with many enclosed within stone balustrades accented by graceful urns. You’ll see the walled Inner Garden, the Brook Garden, the intimate Morning Garden, and the formal Rose Garden. Decorative elements include sculptures, pools, fountains, and classical and modern sculpture. Those who take the Garden and Sculpture Tour will see Picasso’s “The Bathers” in an open grouping of small trees. A tiered, statuette-topped fountain gives added eye-appeal to the Rose Garden; Aristide Maillol’s “Bather Putting Up Her Hair” stands in the Inner Garden; and pieces by Alexander Calder, Max Bill, and others also inspire.
Tours of Kykuit begin at the Philipsburg Manor/Kykuit Visitors Center on State Route 9 in Sleepy Hollow, New York, only 45 minutes north of Manhattan. Admission is charged. Visitors may not drive their vehicles onto the Kykuit grounds; rather, they board a shuttle from the visitors center. Tours of the home are not recommended for youngsters under 10, and strollers and baby backpacks are not permitted. Kykuit is open daily except Tuesdays from late April to early November. A ferry line provides boat trips to Kykuit from Manhattan and New Jersey; phone (800) 533-3779 for ferry schedules. For more information about Kykuit, phone (914) 631-9491 or visit www.hudsonvalley.org.
Also on the East coast is the amazing 1790 Codman House, located in Lincoln, Massachusetts. The estate remains in much the same country setting that was enjoyed by the Codman family when they moved there at the turn of the 19th century. The parklike, English-style surroundings are marked by specimen trees and plantings, flower gardens, and a handsome mansion.
Partly hidden in a glade at the side of the house, the Italian-style garden was a result of the inspiration “” and hands-on efforts “” of 57-year-old Sarah Codman and her children who, in 1899 and for the next two years, toiled to create the outdoor room. The giardino segreto, or secret garden, was a popular feature with wealthy Americans in the late 19th century. No detail was overlooked. As befits a garden in this style, Sarah heightened the beauty of blooms and greens with a lily pool, columns, and a fountain beneath a pergola.
In 1969, when Codman House came under the ownership of the Society for the Preservation of New England Antiquities, restorers discovered the damage caused by a 1938 hurricane. Columns were shattered or toppled; structural elements were missing; decorative pieces were damaged; and the landscape was in disrepair. However, with the support of a grant from the Massachusetts Historical Commission and the Ogden Codman Trust, the mammoth task of reconstruction was completed in the spring of 2001. The fountain, modeled after one in Florence, was painstakingly reproduced and is once again the focal point of the garden entrance. Marble columns, salvaged from a Codman-owned building, frame a 100-year-old statue of Bacchus.
The Codman House is open June 1 through October 15, Wednesday through Sunday. Admission is charged. It is the site of special events such as an antique auto show each July, and an arts and crafts festival in September. Hourly tours are offered between 11:00 a.m. and 4:00 p.m. For more information, phone (781) 259-8843 or visit www.lincoln-ma.com/town-groups/codman.htm.
Now turning to well-aged gardens in the western United States, we come to one of the most famous in all of California: the Japanese Tea Garden in San Francisco. The teahouse holds the distinction of being part of an exhibit at the 1894 California Mid-Winter Exposition (World’s Fair) at Golden Gate Park, and also somehow escaping the ravages of San Francisco’s devastating 1906 earthquake.
The original fair exhibit was approximately one acre in size and called the Japanese Village. When the exposition ended, a decision was made to not only retain the garden, but expand it. Japanese artisans and goods were imported, and the garden was built to include impressive statues and a shrine. Even the goldfish for the shrine moat were imported.
Unfortunately, the advent of World War II brought about a decline at the park. Many of the original statues were stolen or vandalized, and plants died or were relocated. Today, however, much is still available to enjoy. The garden is an oasis of beauty and respite “” a miniature four-acre world. From late March into April, it is graced by the gentle colors of cherry blossoms, azaleas, and flowering shrubs. A quiet pool is protected by dense but immaculately sculpted greenery and topped by an arched “wishing bridge.” Pools and streams, statues, a pagoda, and the huge 9,000-pound Lantern of Peace “” a gift from Japanese schoolchildren “” can be seen.
The Japanese Tea Garden is open daily from 8:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Admission is charged. A teahouse that serves snacks and, of course, tea, is open between 10:00 a.m. and 5:15 p.m.
At more than 70 years of age, Arizona’s Boyce Thompson Arboretum State Park is the oldest and largest botanical garden in the state. It offers brilliant blooming cacti, blue myrtle berries from the Mediterranean, golden-flowered agaves, desert lupines, and much more.
William Boyce Thompson was a mining magnate and botanical enthusiast who created the arboretum during a six-year period, from 1923 to 1929. It now occupies a 35-acre spot east of Phoenix, near Superior, Arizona.
This garden in the desert is filled with a wondrous variety of trees and plants from around the world that require very little water. The mosaic of plantings and natural areas lies along an intermittent desert stream and is nestled against the base of 4,400-foot Picketpost Mountain.
During a World War I Red Cross mission to Russia, Thompson was impressed with mankind’s dependence on plants. He soon thought of creating an arid arboretum where plants from the world’s deserts could be brought together and cataloged; their uses inventoried; and their seeds distributed. The arboretum is now a National Historic District cooperatively managed by Arizona State Parks, the University of Arizona, and a private nonprofit corporation that owns the physical facility.
The arboretum collection includes 3,201 different types of living plants belonging to 306 genera in 76 families. The Cactus Garden; the Taylor Family Desert Legume Garden; the Demonstration Garden; and the Wing Memorial Garden all promise surprises. The cacti, for example, occur in many sizes and bizarre shapes, such as skyscraper-size saguaros, paddle-shaped prickly pears, globular barrels, and tiny pincushions. Most of the 800 types of cacti at the arboretum are on view in the Cactus Garden and the cactus greenhouse.
The Demonstration Garden features water-efficient residential-theme gardens showing how desert plants can provide shelter, color, and privacy in urban settings. The scents of oregano, thyme, rosemary, dill, chamomile, and dozens of other flowers, herbs, and aromatic plants lure visitors to the Wing Memorial Garden. The Taylor Family Desert Legume Garden contains a variety of legume trees, shrubs, and herbs, such as peanuts, mesquite, alfalfa, beans, palo verde, ironwood, and clover. The garden demonstrates the value of these plants as providers of soil-enriching nitrogen, and their importance as sources of protein-rich food, medicines, timber, dyes, and oils.
Walking enthusiasts will enjoy the trails at this garden. The Main Trail, for example, opens into a shaded, fragrant area of plants from arid lands, including a deep grove of broadleaf trees, conifers, and palms. And those who enjoy shows and special events will want to check the park’s calendar, for it includes plant sales, an herb festival, special educational talks, and other activities.
Boyce Thompson Arboretum State Park is a scenic one-hour drive east of Phoenix via U.S. 60 (Superstition Highway). It is open daily from 8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. Admission is charged, and picnic grounds are located on site. For more information, phone the arboretum at (520) 689-2723 or visit www.ag.arizona.edu/bta/.
The next time you’re looking for something “new,” visit an old garden. You’ll probably be surprised.