Marjorie and I spent the first two weeks of September on a road trip, touring some of our favorite gardens and historic sites. It was a vacation of sorts, but also a sentimental journey, and a voyage of discovery that we intend to share with our readers in the coming months.
Americans are fortunate that some of our most successful businessmen and public figures saw fit to create, restore or preserve some of our architectural, horticultural and historic landmarks. The exceptional sites we toured were made possible by private citizens who amassed great wealth and power, and then devoted huge portions of their wealth to their love for plants, art and architecture for us all to enjoy after they were long gone. It was a great counterpoint to the calls we constantly hear for “equity”; without exceptional achievement by individuals none of these places would exist today.
Our first destination was the Jasna Polana estate in Princeton, New Jersey where I once worked as an estate gardener. Much has changed on this estate in the almost fifty years since I’ve been on this property, which has been transformed into a world-class tournament golf destination. I worked on the grounds crew while this estate was still under construction, and I have a lot to report about the changes since.
Next we spent a day and evening at Longwood Gardens, a world-famous destination garden in Kennett Square, Pennsylvania. Our visit was timed for the second Bruce Munro “Lighting the Gardens” art installation, a breathtaking light show similar to one we saw there years ago. The huge conservatory is being expanded, so construction was underway on a large scale. Still, we were able to wander hundreds of acres of beauty, and we’ll fill you in on the details in future columns.
Our next stop was Winterthur Museum and Gardens, in the suburbs of Wilmington, Delaware. Winterthur remains my favorite garden, less elaborate and formal than nearby Longwood. Its thousand acres seem to have achieved their beauty and harmony naturally, almost by accident, but in fact they were carefully planned by Frederick Law Olmstead, the same landscape architect who designed New York’s Central Park. The 175-room mansion, a museum full of historic furniture and antiques, was spotlighting Jacqueline Kennedy’s restoration of the White House, for which Winterthur provided much inspiration.
We proceeded south to historic Colonial Williamsburg, and spent several days walking its streets and touring its buildings. It was interesting to discover that, in its heyday as Virginia’s capital, this village was devoid of trees. We were able to enjoy the cool shade of tree-lined streets as we explored, thanks to the vision of the Rockefeller family, who funded the reconstruction and restoration of Williamsburg almost one hundred years ago.
Finally, we spent a day at Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello plantation. Again we saw the vision of a creative genius in the magnificent mansion and grounds, courtesy of later wealthy patrons who rescued the site from decay and funded its restoration. We also hiked the nicest walking trail we’ve ever had the pleasure of enjoying; just one section of an amazing trail network in the hills adjacent to Monticello.
For readers of this column, we plan to revisit each of these destination gardens in greater detail during the months ahead.
Steve Boehme is a landscape designer/installer specializing in landscape “makeovers”. “Let’s Grow” is published weekly; column archives are on the “Garden Advice” page at www.goodseedfarm.com. More information is available at www.goodseedfarm.com or call GoodSeed Farm Landscapes at (937) 587-7021.