Monday, February 25, 2008
In my own Backyard: Planting Fields Arboretum, Oyster Bay, New York
Last week David Perry at "A Photographer's Garden" (see sidebar) posted pictures from a guest photographer, Willow, of the Camellia House at Planting Fields Arboretum. Planting Fields is an old haunt of mine. During my horticulture student days it was a one-stop laboratory of cultivated and native plants. At that time I was more interested in the care and culture of the individual plants and not the overall design of the plantings and park. So I was more than happy to spend an afternoon at Planting Fields revisiting the house and garden with my new eyes as an historian and designer rather than as just a grower of plants. I'll share with you a few interesting nuggets from my recent visit. First - the teaser shot... the main greenhouse, first built in 1914 and expanded after 1918 by James Frederick Dawson of the Olmsted Brothers firm. More on that later.
Historical synopsis: William Coe bought an extant house, designed by Grosvenor Atterbury with 460 acres of land in 1914. Guy Lowell designed the greenhouses and Andrew Robeson Sargent (son of Charles Springer Sargent) laid out the initial landscape for the Coes. The House burned down in 1918, the same year that Sargent died. William Coe hired Walker and Gillette to design a new Tudor Style country house and the Olmsted Brothers, James Fredrick Dawson, lead designer, to ammend the grounds, transforming it into an unmistakable Olmsted work.
Here's one facet of the property that I expored during my visit that, in my opinion, reflects the brilliance of the Olmsted view. Follow the progressive changes in the landscape from the distance view of the Beech Copse to a more intimate experience of beech trees. (sorry folks, Blogger is not cooperating with the photo progression). Dawson draws the line from the specimen weeping tree, a linden I believe, to the beech copse in the distance. I was compelled to follow the line to the copse and finally stand surrounded by beeches. From the copse I walked around the perimeter of the lawn through dwarf conifer gardens and a holly walk. Just lovely. I did finally walk back to the camellia house for my annual visit. The camellias were only about a quarter in bloom so I may have to go back next week - rough!