four-acre Walled Garden at the Biltmore Estate is abloom
with thousands of daffodils and Dutch tulips in the spring.
Frederick Law Olmsted, the foremost landscape architect
in the country, designed the magnificent gardens, parklands
and managed forests that comprise this 8,000-acre Vanderbilt
estate that opened in 1895. Not to be missed are the formal
Italian Gardens decorated with classical statuary, the Rose
Garden's collection of 2,300 roses and the 20-acre
Azalea Garden that is home to more than 1,000 azalea plants.
Some of the most beautiful residential garden landscapes
in America were created between 1890 and 1940 at the great
country estates of wealthy industrialists during what is
known in American garden design history as the Country Place
Era. Sparing no expense and strongly influenced by the majestic
European estates that they frequented, magnates such as
George W. Vanderbilt, John D. Rockefeller, Jr. (see Cover
photo of Kykuit), Pierre Dupont and Henry Huntington worked
with the finest landscape architects of their day to create
gardens on an ambitious scale that are a unique combination
of Italian, French and English styles. Edith Wharton's
book Italian Villas and Their Gardens, published in 1904,
was influential in advocating the adaptation of Italian
garden design ideas to American landscape architecture.
According to Wharton, gardens should be architectural compositions,
divided into rooms focusing on a particular color, planting
or theme, and should complement the house and the surrounding
Although the majority of these gardens did not survive,
many are maintained in much of their original splendor and
continue to be an inspiration to gardeners today. All are
dedicated to maintaining the highest standards of horticulture
and offer many educational programs for both the amateur
and professional gardener. The following pages highlight
some of the more spectacular historic estate gardens open
to the public.
life-sized topiary fox carved of yew that is
part of the Hunt Scene at the Ladew Topiary
Green Animals Topiary Garden contains a collection
of animal figures, including a camel, a giraffe
and a bear shaped from California privet and
Temple of Love, one of many garden ornaments
at Old Westbury Gardens, was brought over from
Europe and sits at the far end of East Lake.
In the spring the path circling the lake is
lined with daffodils.
Considered one of the finest English-style country estate
gardens in the U.S., Old Westbury Gardens is the former estate
of the Phipps family. The English design of its magnificent
Charles-II style mansion as well as its 160 acres of formal
gardens, landscaped grounds, woodlands, ponds and lakes were
an effort to recreate the feeling of home for the British
Although the art of topiary is centuries old, it is an important
element in classic English gardens. The Green Animals Topiary
Garden is situated on the seven-acre former estate of the
Brayton family and overlooks Narragansett Bay in Rhode Island.
Eighty pieces of topiary – including 21 animals that
are shaped from California privet, yew and English boxwoods
trees – are found throughout the estate that also includes
formal flowerbeds, orchards and vegetable and herb gardens.
The 22-acre Ladew Topiary Gardens were the lifework of Harvey
S. Ladew whose elevated social circles in combination with
his passion for foxhunting exposed him to the great estate
gardens of England (Ladew spent 20 winters foxhunting in England)
and, particularly, to the art of topiary. Some of the more
than 100 topiary designs reflect Ladew's love of the
hunt and include the famous Hunt Scene of topiary horses,
riders, hounds and a fox. Garden rooms were also extremely
popular in England at the time, and Ladew recreated them in
his famous Rose Garden, White Garden, Yellow Garden, Garden
of Eden, Sculpture Garden and Iris Garden.
Dupont developed the spectacular five-acre Main
Fountain Garden at Longwood Gardens between
1928 and 1931. In addition to its regular daily
fountain shows, the garden hosts evenings of
fireworks and fountain displays.
Wedding Place located in the Walled Garden at
Filoli in bloom.
formal gardens at Vizcaya combine the three
major elements of Italian garden design: greenery,
water and stone.
Vizcaya, the former winter residence of James Deering, heir
to the International Harvester fortune, is famous for the
34 opulently decorated rooms containing European antique furnishings
and art objects from the 15th through the 19th centuries.
Its equally well known formal gardens now set on ten acres
were inspired by the great Italian Renaissance gardens and
include a walled Secret Garden, a Theatre Garden, a small
garden in the form of an Italian outdoor theatre, and the
Fountain Garden, a large circular garden with a 16th-century
fountain at its center.
The 16 acres of formal gardens within the 654-acre Filoli
estate in Woodside, CA, are also Italian Renaissance-inspired.
Designed between 1917 and 1921 by Bruce Porter and Isabella
Worn, the gardens consist of a series of classical garden
rooms, which include a Sunken Garden, a Walled Garden, a Rose
Garden with more than 500 varieties of roses, and a Woodland
Garden containing a selection of camellias, azaleas and rhododendrons,
as well as flowering dogwoods.
Pierre Dupont's extensive travels exposed him to the
great gardens of Italy and France and the technological innovations
exhibited at world fairs. He combined these two interests
to create highly theatrical fountain gardens (based on famed
Italian water gardens but updated with illuminated jets) and
a magnificent conservatory (enhanced by the music of its massive
pipe organ) at Longwood Gardens.
in 1912, the Japanese Garden at the Huntington
Botanical Gardens includes a traditional Japanese
house, a moon bridge and reflecting ponds.
most famous feature at Naumkeag is Steele's
Blue Steps, a series of deep blue fountain pools
flanked by four flights of steps and overhung
by white birch trees that mirror the white railings.
Sunken Garden at The Elms features French parterre
beds of boxwood borders filled with pink begonias.
The Huntington Botanical Gardens, begun in 1903, were developed
over a 40-year period by gardener William Hertrich in collaboration
with estate owner Henry Huntington. The gardens, set on nearly
150 acres, contain 15,000 types of plants. Many are displayed
in specific themed gardens. One of the most impressive is
the Desert Garden, set on 12 acres that now contain more than
4,000 species of desert plants.
The eight acres of formal gardens at Naumkeag, a property
of the Trustees of Reservations, were created between 1926
and 1956 by the renowned landscape architect Fletcher Steele.
Although trained in the classical garden forms, Steele was
influenced by the modern design of French gardens of the 1920s
that incorporated the influence of Cubism and introduced colored
gravel, concrete and mirrors. He experimented with form and
color to create modern versions of classical garden rooms
such as the Afternoon Garden.
Reminiscent of the classical gardens from the Italian Renaissance
and 18th-century France, the gardens on the grounds of The
Elms feature terraced walks with marble and bronze statuary
and a sunken garden with elegant pavilions and fountains.
The Elms estate, which was completed in 1901, served as the
summer residence of Mr. and Mrs. Edward Julius Berwind of
Philadelphia and New York. A team of architects, landscape
designers and gardeners created the gardens over a 14-year
period. In 2001, The Preservation Society of Newport County
completed a $2.5-million restoration of the sunken garden,
its fountains and marble pavilions.
The Huntington Library,
Art Collections and Botanical Gardens
San Marino, CA
image 1: courtesy of The Biltmore Estate, image 2: courtesy
of Ladew Topiary Gardens, image 3: courtesy of the Preservation
Society of Newport County, image 4: James Large, image 5:
courtesy of Longwood Gardens; photo: Larry Albee, image 6:
Saxon Holt, image 7: courtesy of Vizcaya, image 8: courtesy
of The Huntington, image 9: Amanda Merullo, image 10: courtesy
of the Preservation Society of Newport County.
The semicircular Rose Garden in full bloom at
Kykuit, the famed Rockefeller estate in Pocantico
Hills, NY. The beaux arts gardens with their stone
terraces, grand staircases, grottoes and statuary
are reminiscent of those found in the famed villas