The horticultural heritage of master gardener Beatrix Farrand | Gardening | Hudson Valley


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  • Bird’s eye view through the north gate.

A a well-designed garden can contain a multiverse of plantings, paths and surprises. It’s living art, a dynamic canvas designed with thought and purpose. If left unchecked, it will redraw itself and the original intention can almost vanish as the untamed Mother Nature fulfills her deepest desire: to grow. However, when a relic garden is rediscovered, there is a chance that it can be restored.

Such was the case with the formal garden at Bellefield Mansion in Hyde Park, designed by master gardener Beatrix Farrand (1872-1959), a pioneering horticulturalist whose landscaping work in the late 1800s and early 1950s. 1900 were revolutionary. “Her passion for gardens and their importance for the quality of our lives have led her to an extraordinary determination to make a career through thick and thin”, explains Anne Cleves Symmes, former horticulturalist (1998-2017) and current garden educator at the Association des Jardins Béatrix Farrand (BFGA). “This energy has served her well in breaking down the barriers women of her day faced and has supported her prolific work of over 200 commissions spanning 50 years.”

Located at the Franklin D. Roosevelt National Historic Site, Bellefield Mansion is the former home of early 1900s State Senator Thomas Newbold and his family. He hired Farrand, her cousin, to design a garden in 1912. By the time she started working at Bellefield, she was a well-respected designer. She was not even allowed to pursue design studies at university, as universities prohibited women from entering the field. Instead, she traveled to gardens in Europe and North Africa, following Charles Sprague Sargent, founder of the Arnold Arboretum at Harvard. At 27, she was asked to be a founding member of the American Society of Landscape Architects, a rare honor for a young woman.

A state of suspended animation

The Bellefield Garden has been designed so that the mansion’s patio doors open onto a terrace overlooking 3,000 square feet of hemlock hedges, walled perennial borders, seasonal flowers, walking trails and a wild garden beyond its doors. “Mr. Newbold wanted a walking garden to wander through, out of the gate and out to his neighbors, the Roosevelts, on a daily basis,” says Symmes. “It was like an intimate family space, and there are some wonderful archival photos of Newbold’s children and grandchildren playing in the garden, showing off their pet chickens, trike on the patio, and even having fun battles. snowballs.”

The house was donated to the National Park Service in 1975 without a warrant to maintain the garden. “Park staff removed the trellis and put on black plastic to deter weeds,” says Symmes. “The garden was in this state of suspended animation.” It wasn’t until the 1990s that the plot was recognized as a Farrand design, and in 1997 the Beatrix Farrand Garden Association was formed, in partnership with the Park Service, to preserve its legacy.

The restoration of a historic garden came with its tribulations, including the search for the rare plants used by Farrand. “A lot of the plants were no longer available,” says Symmes. “We started before Google was there, so it was a lot of word of mouth. Maybe a little nursery in Idaho had a rare iris. It looked like a scavenger hunt. We had to find some. modern substitutes, sometimes asking us: “What would Beatrix do?”

The original design plans were lost, so they adapted a design for a similar garden. “Although we use a number of iconic Farrand plants like bulbs, irises, peonies, phlox and asters, we know our plantings are suited to the realities of the modern garden,” says Symmes. “Factors such as limited time, scarce resources, unstable weather conditions and entire families of groundhogs are at play.”

The garden is at its peak in early June, when the lush peonies are in full bloom and colors abound. In August, you will see Japanese lilies and anemones. Rich purple asters bloom in October, contrasting beautifully with the yellows and oranges of the surrounding fall foliage. “There is always something going on during the season, but it’s nice even in winter when the snow covers everything,” says Symmes. “It’s a garden to walk around and be, letting everything invade you. It’s simple, contemplative, calm and serene. We all need a place like this to go.”

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An image taken from the eponymous documentary produced by the Garden Beatrix Farrand - Association on the pioneer horticulturalist.

  • An image taken from the eponymous documentary produced by the Association Jardins Beatrix Farrand on the pioneer horticulturalist.

According to Symmes, Farrand has done other projects in the area, including the landscape of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Tivoli and residential work in Pocantico Hills, but they have been lost in time. The restored Bellefield Garden is his only remaining project in the area. Some of his greatest works live across the country. Dumbarton Oaks in Washington, DC, would be his masterpiece. She also teamed up with John D. Rockefeller, Jr. to beautify Acadia National Park in Maine, even arguing for its designation as a national park. Maine is also home to a horticultural design education center at his family’s former summer home, Reef Point, in Bar Harbor. As a child, Farrand spent afternoons at Reef Point playing in the forest, digging up plants and transferring them to a garden next to the house.

More information about Farrand and the Bellefield Garden can be found at the FDR Visitor Center. The BFGA also produced a documentary, American landscapes by Beatrix Farrand, featuring the work of Farrand and famed modern garden designer Lynden B. Miller, a Farrand devotee best known for her restoration of the Conservatory Garden in Central Park in 1982. The hour-long documentary will premiere on 1 and 2 June at the BFGA Farrand / FORWARD Event: Symposium on the Future of Public Landscapes by Beatrix Farrand. The Association is actively working on additional local screenings.

“Farrand has been very frank that gardening is all the arts in one. It’s like a sculpture, but dynamic over time. Shape, line, color, everything changes,” says Symmes. “The more you study his work, the more you can see the thought, the choreography. This garden is more than a pretty place. It’s about his life, his history and his work. It is his legacy that is what sets him apart. is accomplished. ”

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