Beatrix Farrand's American Landscapes
BEATRIX FARRAND'S AMERICAN LANDSCAPES follows award-winning public garden designer Lynden B. Miller as she sets off to explore the remarkable life and career of America's first female landscape architect, Beatrix Farrand. Farrand was responsible for some of the most celebrated gardens in the United States and helped create a distinctive American voice in landscape architecture.
Although she created gardens for the rich and powerful, including John D. Rockefeller, Jr., J.P. Morgan, and President Woodrow Wilson, she also was an early advocate for the value of public gardens and believed strongly in the power of the natural world to make people's lives better.
Through the documentary, Miller journeys to iconic Farrand gardens, engaging designers, scholars and horticulturists in a spirited dialogue about the meaning and importance of this ground-breaking early 20th-century woman. Lynden Miller's experience as New York City's most prominent public garden designer is woven into a wide-ranging biography of Farrand's life and times.
'Insightful and thoroughly enjoyable...Lynden B. Miller, designer of the Conservatory Gardens in Central Park and so many other notable projects, is able to bring Beatrix Farrand's legacy into a contemporary context, revealing that the principles for which her hero stood are as relevant today as they were a century ago. This film is a must view for students of landscape architecture, horticulture, and women's studies. These two giants of landscape design drew on a rare combination of talent and resilience to succeed despite the many challenges they encountered.' Donald A. Rakow, Associate Professor of Horticulture, Cornell University
'Not until I saw Beatrix Farrand's American Landscapes did I feel like I had just been given a gift that I waited decades for. The film is as rich and elegant as Farrand's landscapes. It does her life and work justice, and is a must see for anyone interested in landscape architecture, garden design or women's history.' Katya Crawford, Chair and Associate Professor of Landscape Architecture, University of New Mexico
'A work of art chronicling the intersection between garden history and now. We're talking a deftly researched script tracing Farrand's evolution from her New York City socialite roots to her courageous horticultural education shadowing Arnold Arboretum's first director, Charles Sprague Sargent, at a time when women were emphatically not admitted into the field.' Tovah Martin, New England Home
'Landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted dismissed her as a 'dabbler.' No university would accept her. Her own friends thought her professional ambition was 'a sort of mild mania.' Yet Beatrix Farrand, who lived from 1872 to 1959, persisted. And she became the first female landscape architect, leaving her mark in gardens, parks, and other public landscapes across the country.' Becky Pritchard, Mount Desert Islander
'Lynden Miller's ability as a natural educator and her lifelong career as an award-winning public space designer made her the perfect guide to host the film viewer's journey through some of Farrand's gardens. The juxtaposition of sharing her own process of redesign and restoration of some of the parks and gardens that many of us enjoy today, inspired by Farrand's insight, marries a modern viewpoint to the historic focus of a bygone era.' Madaline Sparks, Rural Intelligence
'This educational resource makes smart use of archival material that is brought to life not only by the storyline but also by footage showing some of Farrand's most notable garden and landscape creations...Beatrix Farrand's American Landscapes makes a small part of the garden world more accessible to a broad audience.' Sonja Dumpelmann, Associate Professor of Landscape Architecture, University of Pennsylvania, Co-editor, Women, Modernity, and Landscape Architecture
'The superbly made documentary matches its heroine's sense for perfection in all details: aesthetic refinedness and technical prowess do wonders in bringing to life Farrand's whole age, while showing her visionary landscapes. The smart intermixing of original photos and 19th-century reels of New York City make for a fascinating story from beginning to end.' Vanessa Sellers, New York Botanical Garden Plant Talk
'While discussing the unpredictability of plants season after season, Miller asserts, 'gardens are the slowest moving performance art.' The components of performance art unfold around her: the large stones marking the beginning of paths unveil the gardens like a red curtain, the flowers at Miller's feet debuting in a larger choir of blooming plants, the varying moss and grasses crunching under steps like applause. Miller introduces each piece like a ringmaster, indulging in their beauty and revealing their origins until the camera pans over the landscape from above like a grand finale...The film really resonated with me and I think other students would benefit from such a thoughtful dedication to two accomplished women.' Jasmine Hanna, Student of Landscape Studies, Smith College
Ives, Stephen (film director)
Ives, Stephen (screenwriter)
DeFilippo, Lauren (film producer)
Smythe, Karen (film producer)
Symmes, Anne Cleves (film producer)
Miller, Lynden B. (on-screen participant)
Editor, Kent Bassett; cinematography, Buddy Squires; original music, Peter Rundquist.
Distributor subjectsAmerican Studies; Botany; Environment; Gardening; Geography; History; Horticulture; Landscape Architecture; Social Psychology; Sociology; Urban Studies; Urban and Regional Planning; Women's Studies
BEATRIX FARRAND’S AMERICAN LANDSCAPES
NARRATOR: In 1907, Beatrix Farrand wrote:
The garden-maker must know intimately the forms and texture as well as the color of all the plants he uses, for plants are to the gardener what the palette is to a painter... He must put his composition down in the open air with the sky and the trees and grass as background, while the painter has but a flat surface on which to create his illusion.
BEATRIX FARRAND’S AMERICAN LANDSCAPES
The camera follows Lynden Miller as she makes her way through the gates of the Conservatory Garden. Super: “Public Garden Designer Lynden Miller”
NARRATOR: I've been working on gardens in New York for thirty-six years beginning with the restoration of this one, the Conservatory Garden in New York's Central Park. Gardens are good for the soul. They make you feel that your city or your community cares about you.
MILLER: Do you come to the garden often?
MAN: All the time.
MILLER: Do you?
MAN: Yeah I'm here all the time.
NARRATOR: I believe in the promise of beautiful landscapes to make people's lives better.
MILLER: Oh look!
WOMAN: With the purple, how cute is that.
NARRATOR: And no one believed that more than my hero Beatrix Farrand. She was a groundbreaking garden designer who overcame barriers for women and earned her place at the top of her profession. She understood plants with an artist’s eye for color and texture, she mastered engineering and formal structures, and she cared as I do about public gardens.
MAN ON BIKE: There’s nothing like Central Park.
MILLER: No Central Park’s the best.
MAN ON BIKE: And you can’t put a price on this. I recommend it to everybody
that I know.
NARRATOR: I have always felt as though Beatrix Farrand was a mentor to me, and as I look back on my work in public horticulture, I want to look at her life too, and learn more about this pioneering woman who made my career possible.
NARRATOR: I have admired Beatrix Farrand for years, but it wasn’t until 2005 that I got a chance to actually work on one of her commissions, the Wyman Garden at Princeton’s Graduate School.
MILLER: I love these babies. And this is lovely. And you're a good, good thing. Very nice. And these are a beautiful color, nice texture with that guy. I'm talking to my plants. Look at those things, aren’t they gorgeous?
NARRATOR: As I was redesigning the Wyman Garden, I tried to think about Mrs. Farrand and what she would have wanted me to do.
MILLER: It's a sundial. And Mrs. Farrand had it over there, and it was in the shade by the time I got here, which was 75 years later. So, I moved it into the sun. And then I designed the garden around it. These things are Mrs. Farrand's. I mean they were on the plan, and I did that to make it look more like her garden.
Over a range of stills that survey Farrand’s work
BACKSTORY – 00:03:55 NARRATOR: She was born Beatrix Cadwallader Jones, on June 19th, 1872. Her mother Mary, always known as Minnie, was one of the Philadelphia Cadwalladers, and a great-granddaughter of a Revolutionary War hero. She was a social reformer, advocating for better conditions in the city’s hospitals, and professional recognition of the nurses who worked there. Minnie surrounded herself with artists, sculptors and writers including her close friend Henry James.
Beatrix's father, Fredrick, was a Jones. A family so wealthy and high on the social ladder that striving members of Gilded Age society in New York were said to be “Keeping up with the Joneses.”
When Beatrix was eleven her family chose to escape the stuffy confines of her grandmother's huge summer “cottage” in Newport and build a house in a more secluded, but no less socially rarefied community, on Mount Desert Island off the coast of Maine. The family named their house Reef Point and it was an idyllic summer refuge for young Beatrix.
PATRICK CHASSE: That was all a laboratory for her. She was known to come
out of the woods with wildflowers that she had dug up, and then planted them
near the house. That was the beginning.
NARRATOR: But the sheltered enclave that so transfixed Farrand was also an extension of the rigid world of New York society, and back in the city, her father was flirting with scandal.
CHASSE: To put it bluntly dad was a cad. And had had very public indiscretions in New York which would just horrified the family and that whole social stratum. Actually the Jones family took up for Minnie, the wife, and the father was sort of put off to the side.
NARRATOR: One of Minnie's staunchest supporters during the ordeal was Freddie's sister, an aspiring writer named Edith Wharton.
PAULA DIETZ: It really is out of an Edith Wharton novel.
MILLER: People didn't get divorced in those days.
DIETZ: You just didn't do it. No. We know the stigma of being divorced in America at that time and being the daughter of a divorced society mother I think had a lot to do with the fact that she felt that she had to make a life of her own that was outside of society.
NARRATOR: Beatrix Jones made her debut in New York in 1890, attending the usual round of parties and costume balls, including one in which she wore a dress inspired by formal garden designs, but no suitor emerged from the season. Even at the age of eighteen, young Beatrix had set her sights on being something more than a society matron.
She came from a family of five generations of garden lovers1, and her childhood on Mount Desert had kindled a fascination with plants. Now, she was determined to pursue a career in horticulture. There was only one obstacle standing in her way. It was not a profession open to women.
At the turn of the century, one journalist had described gardening as “a congenial, soothing, out-of-doors pursuit to which a woman of taste, who loves flowers, cannot do better than turn her hand.” But I think Beatrix Farrand saw herself quite differently. She was determined to be a landscape gardener, what one leading critic of her day defined as, “a gardener, an engineer, and an artist who like an architect considers beauty and utility together.”
CHASSE: No universities were taking female students. MIT took their first
female architecture student in 1902. And she had to take her mother to class as a
MILLER: Oh for god sakes.
CHASSE: But Beatrix met Charles Sprague Sargent and he invited her to
apprentice with him at the Arnold Arboretum.
NARRATOR: Sargent was one of the foremost botanists of his day, and beneath his patrician reserve lay a fierce drive that would transform Harvard’s Arnold Arboretum, into what one writer called “greatest collection of trees and shrubs in the Northern Hemisphere.”2 Over the course of a rigorous year, under Sargent’s demanding
1 Beatrix Farrand obituary in Deitz Reef Point Bulletins p 112 2 Brown 34
supervision, Beatrix studied botany, surveying and horticulture3. “Never was a great teacher granted a pupil more ideally suited to his hopes,”4 a friend of Beatrix later recalled. Near the end of her training at the Arnold, Sargent arranged for her to visit the offices of Frederick Law Olmstead, one of the designers of Central Park.5
CHASSE: She saw all the young men drafting. She thought she needed surveying all these skills that she couldn't get. Columbia School of Minds had drafting courses where women were not allowed, so she hired one of the faculty members to tutor her on surveying at home.
MILLER: And that's what she's so extraordinary for. She knew what she wanted
and she did it.
CHASSE: All the pieces that she needed and she did it.
NARRATOR: “My friends looked upon my studies as a sort of mild mania,” Farrand recalled, “but they have learned now to regard them seriously.” 6 In the spring of 1895, with her course of study under Sargent complete, Farrand took her mentor’s advice, and set off with her mother on a five-month tour of gardens. It was a trip that would prove to be a transformative experience for the young designer.
They visited the Jardin d’Essai in Algiers, and the Palace of Versailles in France, where she was captivated by the work of the famous designer Le Notre. She was not always impressed however. She found some of Rome’s gardens “so squalid as to be melancholy.”7 Parts of the gardens at the Vatican were “a maze of tortuous paths leading nowhere.” But when they visited the Villa Lante, one of my all-time favorite gardens, it made a vivid impression on young Beatrix. [In one of her journals she wrote:] “The beauty of the formal Italian garden lies in its perspectives, effects of space, and the proportions of the parts of the design to each other,” she wrote in one of her journals.
Beatrix and Minnie saw almost 150 gardens during their whirlwind tour, and everywhere she went she took careful notes and pictures – of the scale and scope of the layouts, the parterre patterns, and the resources required for maintenance.
3 Beatrix Farrand’s American Landscapes, p. 17 4 Tankard 19 5 Brown 42, Tankard 20 6 Tankard 27
7 Brown 50
In England, Beatrix visited two places that would have a significant impact on her garden philosophy. The first was Munstead Wood, the home of Gertrude Jekyll, an impressionist painter who turned to garden design when her eyesight began to fail. From Jekyll, Beatrix learned to use sophisticated color theories8, and approach her plant selection with a subtle new palette. At Gravetye, in Sussex, Farrand struck up a friendship with William Robinson, the renowned author of The Wild Garden.
MILLER: What was important about The Wild Garden?
CHASSE: His big point was that the formal garden should only be near the house and then as you went outward from the house, especially in a large property, it should get more natural and more informal. And that was a really big idea. She visited him regularly in England, and he became a mentor and a friend for life.
GREEN TEENS – 00:12:49
ANNE SYMMES: Let's look at the layout. By telescoping this down, Farrand's trying to make it feel like the garden goes on and on and on. And so when you're doing your gardens, think about movement in your garden, symmetry and asymmetry, okay? So if you wanna sketch out some stuff first and erase a little bit, you can.
NARRATOR: The Green Teens are young people who want to help their communities by learning about agriculture. Today, they’re designing their own gardens, with Beatrix Farrand as their inspiration. Farrand designed this garden, Bellefield, for her cousin, Thomas Newbold, and his wife Sarah, in 1912. It was intended to be an intimate family enclosure and included a vanishing perspective that embraced William Robinson’s idea of increasing wildness as one moved away from the house.
GIRL: It’s like walking through a rainbow because like, when you first come in, there’s like pink, but it’s not all the same color. It’s like different—it goes from light to dark and then it, like, makes you go that way towards the white and then
8 Beatrix Farrand’s American Landscapes, p. 66
you come around and then back to the darker colors. Cause like...yeah, it’s like art.
MILLER: I wanna see, I wanna see, oh look at that! Hey, what are the red things you've got?
BOY: The red things, those are picnic tables there.
MILLER: Oh for people to sit and enjoy the place. When I design gardens, first thing I do is put in places for people to sit. It has a message, you know. Come, be here, we want you to come.
MILLER: I think that's very nice.
BOY: Thank you so much.
GIRL: So you go pick some fruit, go to the pond, look at the ducks, walk back, get some fruit, walk through...
MILLER: So it's all an experience?
GIRL: Mhm. And then there's a yoga space, so you can do like, yoga because you know it's like peaceful and quiet.
MILLER: I've been doing this for 40 years. You try to learn, but you can never quite get your hands on time and weather. Somebody said, gardening is the slowest-moving of the performing arts. And you think you might know how that plant's gonna behave, but they always fool you. They always fool you, they do something different every year. Cause they're alive.
FARRAND AND PUBLIC GARDENS – 00:15:38
NARRATOR: In October 1897, fresh from her travels, Beatrix opened her own office on the top floor of her mother's house on East 11th street in New York City.
MILLER: This was quite unusual, for someone of her class to be taking on a profession as a woman.
CHASSE: There was a report in the New York paper that said she was out there in her fisherman’s slicker and boots, and she didn't have a society parasol, directing the crews, and this was just y'know, earth-breaking, literally.
NARRATOR: In the first few years of her professional practice, Beatrix Farrand was able to land a number of important commissions up and down the east coast. “It is work – hard work – and at the same time it is perpetual pleasure,” she exulted, “I do not envy the greatest painter or sculptor, or poet that ever lived. It seems to me that all the arts are combined in this.”
As her career was picking up steam, Farrand was also establishing herself as an outspoken advocate for open space. “It is not too late to urge upon New Yorkers the absolute necessity of acquiring a park system,” she wrote in 1899. “Boulevards, planted with trees and kept free from heavy traffic, should also lead to [the parks] from the densely populated portions of the city.” 9
Farrand’s early work and writing attracted the attention of a group of distinguished designers who were seeking to formalize their new profession.
CHASSE: When they decided to form the first society of landscape architects in the world, and actually coined the term ‘landscape architect,’ she was the only woman signer in 1899, so she's considered the first woman landscape architect.
MILLER: She was a pioneer, wasn't she, Patrick?
CHASSE: I think so. She was even a pioneer among other landscape architects because she was promoting native plants and she wasn't doing what I call facsimile gardens which were big. Everyone was doing Italian gardens or French gardens, and she could do gardens with some of those characteristics, but also could do just wonderful, undreamt of things.
MILLER: Yeah, because she was educated in all those things, but she didn't spit them back out.
NARRATOR: Not everyone was impressed by the new designer. Frederick Law Olmsted had once dismissed her as a dabbler10, and prestigious public commissions, that often made reputations, were still awarded exclusively to men. If Farrand wanted to break down these barriers she was going to have to prove herself again and again.
LYNDEN INTERSTITIAL – CONSERVATORY GARDEN 00:18:46
NARRATOR: In no small part because of Mrs. Farrand, women like me have been able to have a career in public garden design. Mine started when I was given a chance to restore the Conservatory Garden in Central Park back in 1982.
MILLER: (archival) It was all overgrown. It did seem dangerous because there was no one in there.
9 Pearson 107
10 Tankard p. 42
MILLER: (archival) The city was totally polarized, racially and economically. It was in fiscal crisis. And they cut out the funding for park. Finally people started paying attention. I had to teach myself how to raise money, go to people, friends, ask for help.
MILLER: (archival) Of course, everyone said we were mad, “people around here won’t appreciate it,” it just really quite awful. Horticultural snobbism.
NARRATOR: “They!” they would say, pointing in the direction of East Harlem, “they will destroy it.” The outcome was that they were dead wrong. People began to come back. It was so exciting. And it was the plants creating a beautiful space and making people feel happy.
MILLER: (archival) I did collages when I was a painter, and what is this but a collage? Before I knew it I’m painting on a very large canvas which is the city of New York.
NARRATOR: In 1912, Beatrix Farrand at last landed a major public commission when she was hired to design the landscape at the graduate college at Princeton, including the Wyman Garden I restored a hundred years later. Her work was so successful, that by 1915 she would be appointed Princeton's first consulting landscape gardener.
JIM CONSELLOY: She felt that the plants had to be close to each of the
buildings as possible. This gave her the opportunity to create some wonderful
walk spaces and lawn areas and open areas.
MILLER: That were uncluttered with plants.
CONSELLOY: The sustainability of her plant palette meant that she would find
the right plan eventually for the right spot.
MILLER: We're sitting right in front of a tree that she planted.
CONSELLOY: This old castor tree was the ideal plant and planted in the right
place. 100 years later and we're still clipping him.
NARRATOR: Farrand’s ideas for Princeton broke free of the traditional design conventions of her time. She trained novel varieties of trees and shrubs to grow up the sides of the buildings, allowed for elegant and proportioned open spaces, and spent time watching the students, where did they go? And Then she put the paths there. And that is what we now call “desire lines.”
Princeton’s Supervising Architect, Ralph Adams Cram, argued that Farrand’s ideas compromised the architect’s vision for the buildings, and he and other men on the grounds staff dismissed her as the “bush woman,” always out in the field agonizing over the precise placement of trees and shrubs. Not surprisingly, Farrand didn’t back down from her ideas, and usually prevailed. She remained Princeton’s consulting landscape gardener for the next 30 years.
“We all know that education is by no means a mere matter of books,” she once wrote, “and that aesthetic environment contributes as much to mental growth as facts assimilated from a printed page. No life is well rounded without the subtle inspiration of beauty.”11
JOHN BEARDSLEY: She left us great landscapes at Princeton, at Yale, at
Occidental College. They've become part of the fabric of our lives. People grow
up, get educated, fall in love-.
MILLER: And then go off into life and remember those things.
NYBG ROSE GARDEN – 00:23:19
NARRATOR: On a brisk fall day on September 1915, Beatrix Farrand found herself standing in a boggy piece of land in the Bronx, trying to figure out what to do about the roses.
She had been commissioned by the New York Botanical Garden to design a home for what NYBG hoped would become a world-class rose collection.
The fact that Farrand was taking on this kind of a project, at such a prestigious
11 Carmen Pearson, p.128
institution, was testament to the upward arc of her career. In the fall of 1913, she had opened an office at 124 E 40th Street in Manhattan, staffed with an assistant. A few prominent commissions soon followed: landscaping for the New York City home of the banker J.P. Morgan and, through her work at Princeton, a project at the most famous address in America – the redesign of the East Garden at the White House for President and Mrs. Woodrow Wilson.
Despite the awkwardness of the New York Botanical Garden site, Beatrix was undaunted. Recalling a design principle she had learned from her mentor, Charles Sargent, she intended to “make the plan fit the ground and not twist the ground to fit a plan.” 12
CHASSE: This was the bowl, and it was not well drained and roses don’t like wet feet so an elaborate tile drain system went in, and then the beds were laid out in this wonderful triangular pattern. The centerpiece is obviously this gazebo and it makes a hub for the, for the spokes of the paths as well as a prospect from which you can look at the beds.
NARRATOR: At the New York Botanical Garden, Farrand combined the classical forms she loved, with the rigorous botanical principles she had learned from Sargent. The NYBG collection of roses – more than 7,000 in all – were organized by plant family and meticulously catalogued and labeled. “The new garden will be at once a museum of roses and a popular school for all,” the New York Times observed, “whether they wish to grow a plant or two in a home plot or develop a millionaire’s garden, and will offer material for the professional student, florist, or botanist.”
CHASSE: She appreciated geometry, as a cultural artifact, and also science.
Those come together in this which they don’t often do in other Rose Gardens.
MILLER: That’s true, that’s true.
BEATRIX AND MAX – 00:26:12
12 Deitz – The Bulletins of Reef Point Gardens p 112.
NARRATOR: Almost 20 years after entering the profession as a landscape gardener, Beatrix Farrand’s career was thriving, and she had also found someone with whom to share the journey. While she was working at Princeton, she was invited to dinner at the president’s house. There she met a tall, tweedy 44 year old professor of history at Yale named Max Farrand.
A courtship ensued and the romance surprised both families. Max's sister-in-law caught a glimpse of Farrand supervising a large crew of men on the Princeton campus and exclaimed "If that lady really wants Max, she'll get him. Edith Wharton was delighted. "Hold on to the inestimable treasure of your understanding of each other," she wrote to her niece that fall. "Build your life on its secure foundations and let everything you do and think be part of it."
After a brief courtship, they were married at Minnie's home in New York City on December 17th, 1913 and settled down to live in New Haven.
SYMMES: They married late in life, and yet they had a long, long happy
marriage. They had amazing compatibility and a great intellectual connection.
DUMBARTON OAKS PART A – 00:27:49
NARRATOR: On a January day in 192113, Farrand arrived at a sprawling, hilly piece of land looking out over Rock Creek Park in Washington DC. The property, that included a Victorian mansion much in need of renovation, was called The Oaks. It had been purchased the previous year by the American diplomat Robert Bliss and his wife Mildred in June of 1920. As Beatrix walked around the property with the owners, what she saw was a daunting but also exhilarating challenge. With steep slopes of as much as 100 feet, dropping down from the house to the creek below, the garden represented not only a
13 Beatrix Farrand’s American Landscapes p 54, also Tankard, p 144.
monumental engineering test, but also an opportunity to incorporate many of the styles and influences that Farrand had accumulated during her work and travels.
After her tour, Farrand dashed off a six and a half-page report outlining her vision, for what would become known as Dumbarton Oaks – it was a series of garden rooms and carefully orchestrated vistas that moved the visitor effortlessly through the radical topography of the site. “You’ve got it exactly in every respect,” Mildred Bliss wrote back to Farrand, “and I can’t be patient until you get back here and start to realize your and our mutual dream.”
MILLER: I've been coming here since I was a little girl and I've always thought this was the most beautiful place in the world. What's wonderful about this place is that it is a combination of art and plants, color, line, form, texture, repetition, scale. This was really one of her greatest works of art.14
MILLER: What is so unique about the structures here in the garden?
GAIL GRIFFIN: One of the things is the sense of enclosure within these rooms or terraces, and each room has a different flavor. When you’re coming down the hill, you get glimpses into the next room with pieces of ornament or with plants. And so it draws me, even after being here for 20 years, into the next room.
MILLER: Yes it’s kind of a wonderful trick.
GRIFFIN: It is.
MILLER: Adds some suspense.
GRIFFIN: It does. … This garden is outside of time. Its beauty transcends. I notice when I bring people in to the garden, that within just a short period of time they rise above the feelings that they had when they came and are, uh, lifted up.
NARRATOR: Construction on the huge project began in earnest in 1923, but as it progressed Farrand had to keep in touch with her globe-trotting clients as they moved from one diplomatic post to the next. She kept up a steady stream of correspondence, and often sent multiple drawings of every feature, piece of furniture, and ornamental detail. Over 2,000 in all. She built full-scale mock ups of critical parts of the garden, so when the Blisses where on the site they could understand her ideas. Looking back, Mildred observed that, “never were the owners so persuasive as to insist on a design which Mrs. Farrand’s inner-eye could not accept.”
14 ACS check on ellipse
Dumbarton Oaks was underway, but little did Beatrix know that seeing it to completion would take her more than a two15 decades, and represent the most monumental challenge of her career.
CALIFORNIA – 00:32:01
NARRATOR: In 1927, as Farrand was supervising a design studio with a full slate of impressive projects, news arrived that would upend her carefully orchestrated plans.
JUDITH TANKARD: She was really on a roll and then all of a sudden her scholarly husband Max Farrand gets a job offer of a lifetime to be the first director of the Huntington Gallery and Library in San Marino, California. So one can imagine the discussions around the breakfast table about what to do about this. There was no way that he was gonna turn that down.
NARRATOR: Beatrix would now be 3,000 miles away --and a five16 day trip by train -.from the most important project of her career.
While Max found his new post at the Huntington congenial, for Beatrix, California was a professional setback. Two talented designers, Florence Yoch and Lockwood de Forest, dominated the landscape field on the West Coast. Cut off from the tightly knit world that had provided many of her early commissions, Beatrix found herself shut out of many important jobs. Worst of all, the extensive grounds of the Huntington remained under the iron grip of William Hertrich, Henry Huntington’s longtime head gardener.
Beatrix tried to make the best of the situation, redesigning the garden at the director’s house where they lived, working on the master plan for the Santa Barbara Botanic Garden, and finding consulting work on the campus of Caltech.
But Caltech treated her like a volunteer, while paying Florence Yoch for similar
15 Tankard p 146, BFAL, 93.
16 In 1923 it would take 4 to 5 days, sleeping in Pullman Car. 1923 was at near peak service in terms of
number of trains and quality of service available to passengers.
work at the same time. Finally, Farrand coldly informed the university that “my half-
charitable, half-amateur status is not satisfactory,” and moved on.
ROCKEFELLER GARDEN – 00:34:20
NARRATOR: While her prospects in California seemed bleak, Farrand’s girlhood
community of Mount Desert Island in Maine once again proved to be a sustaining, and
nurturing wellspring of her career. Of all the projects she did on the island, the most
ambitious was the one she designed for John D. Rockefeller Jr., and his wife Abby, in
The garden would be set away from the massive hundred room mansion called the
Eyrie, and it would serve as both a destination and a cutting garden, to fill the house with
fresh flowers every week. It was an irresistible challenge for Beatrix, a chance to work
with the native plants of Maine, and to create a breath-taking array of flower borders.
MILLER: When you bring someone here, you take them very slowly down the spirit path. These statues, they're Korean. They're scholars and generals. This is a wonderful spot. The sculpture of it. And the frogs just in the right places, isn't that sweet of him. And then there's all these different kinds of moss, so there are loads of textures, I mean, just look at that. You just can hardly resist patting those babies they're so beautiful. There's a little water going through there, and the moss covers the, I guess it must be, the soil or the rocks. Ah, I love it.
CHASSE: The spirit path was really catalyzed by a trip that Mr. and Mrs. Rockefeller took to Asia in 1922. They'd been collecting Asian art and porcelains and things for years, but they didn’t know about the culture from which it sprang. The Ming tombs made a big impression, the formality of this grand allay of guardian figures. And they visited the Forbidden City palace which was in ruins. It was surrounded by a pink stucco wall with gold tile roofs. That idea came home with them. They wanted, what Mrs. Rockefeller called, a Chinese garden. Mrs. Farrand wanted the spirit path planted in native plants.
MILLER: That was so avant-garde of her. Today people think they just thought it up, but she was doing it then.
MILLER: You go down to the end, and come back. A good garden always has a surprise. There's a raised bed here with the wall behind it, deliberately planted so that you can't see in. Okay so then you come to the gate, and you stand here and then you're bringing a visitor, you turn around and you look at 'em. Because their mouths fall apart and they go "Oh!" You seldom get to see this much color all at once. The smell here, oh my goodness. I've been coming here for 47 years, I never get tired of it. Never cease to feel that great jolt that you get from it. So Mrs. Farrand and Mrs. Rockefeller knew what they were doing, the spirit path was all about serenity and quiet, and then wow!
CHASSE: It's the most ambitious flower garden she ever did. There were 600 plants on the list. It was overpowering.
MILLER: I think that the soul of the visitor is stimulated by all of that wonderful stuff then you turn to this and it's much more peaceful, much more serene.
CHASSE: I think the use of native plants and background of woodlands was unusual. Almost everybody else was trying to Europeanize the American landscape-.
MILLER: --Because that’s chic.
CHASSE: And no one focused on the fact that America had unique landscapes of its own into which you could insert traditions from different cultures.
DUMBARTON PART B – 00:40:10
NARRATOR: In the late 1920s, Beatrix Farrand could have lived quietly with Max at the Huntington, content with an already distinguished body of work. Instead she kept designing and building landscapes at an astonishing pace.
When she visited friends and clients, she would often prefer to stay in a nearby hotel17, so she could work late into the night without disturbing them, and she continued to travel back and forth across the country, often taking an assistant along for part of the journey.
CHASSE: She used to dictate memos and things on trains, and then put the person off at the next stop to take a train back and to type it up.
MILLER: oh I love that.
NARRATOR: The Rockefeller garden in Maine was in full swing, but it was her ambitious plans for Dumbarton Oaks that would highlight Farrand’s unique command of every aspect of garden design.
MILLER: What makes Dumbarton Oaks special in terms of Mrs. Farrand’s whole career?
17 ACS—check where Kent got this?
BEARDSLEY: Well this is one of the most interesting gardens she did because
it’s one of the most challenging.
BEARDSLEY: I mean it’s got incredibly complicated topography. And she had to deal with so many challenging slopes which she resolved in part through terracing and in part through just letting the natural topography appear. She let the forest come right up to the house in some places and pushed the lawn out into the forest in others, so she created this sort of tension between the city and the forest.
LIZA GILBERT: As you descend through the formal gardens, so you would descend down into these so-called ‘wild gardens’ that were designed, but were very, very much based on William Robinson type of planting. And it’s all situated in a natural stream valley.
MILLER: You were telling me that you had bulbs that had started coming up that were there when Mrs. Farrand planted them.
MILLER: They’re beautiful did you think she put these bluebells in here.
GILBERT: This is all her, she planted all of these. The two pieces were obviously designed as a whole. It was also a compliment to the formal gardens, so many of the views radiate out into the wild garden. It was meant to be part of the experience. And in her era, this park was highly maintained, there were thousands of bulbs and stream-side plantings. I mean she really tackled something of quite a large scale.
JAMES CARDER: I think that blending of the sort of European formality with the wild garden concept that the English and the Irish were advocating is unique. In a way, this therefore, becomes and American garden. We’re fortunate that Dumbarton Oaks has survived, one hundred years later we can see exactly what she wanted to do and what she achieved, and it’s brilliant.
NARRATOR: “I want to keep it as poetic as possible,” she said, “and make it the sort of
place in which threshes sing and dreams are dreamt.”
Dumbarton Oaks, and the wild garden beyond its walls, would eventually become
open to the public, and Beatrix Farrand worked diligently to help transform these
exclusive private enclaves into spaces that everyone could enjoy.
MILLER INTERSTITIAL – BRYANT PARK – 00:44:04 NARRATOR: Farrand’s example was on my mind when in 1987 I was asked to design
gardens in of one of the most urban spaces in America, Bryant Park, right in the middle
MILLER – ARCHIVAL: Just as they said you can’t do anything nice in the conservatory garden, they would say you can’t possibly fix Bryant Park. Five acres of degradation. The parks department wasn’t taking care of it.
MILLER -ARCHIVAL: I had no idea there would be such public interest in the
ANNOUNCER: ARCHIVAL: Who did they call on, but the super hero of public
parks, Lynden B. Miller.
MILLER -ARCHIVAL:. There were only two entrances and exits and there were these huge, high hedges and so people felt they’d be trapped in here.
MILLER -ARCHIVAL: I collaborated with the landscape architect Laurie Olin, who opened up the Park and focused on giving people a beautiful, safe space to enjoy. Moveable chairs were added to give them a sense of control. I put lush gardens on either side of the main lawn to bring a connection with nature back to Midtown Manhattan.
MILLER -ARCHIVAL: The more people there are, the safer the place is.
MILLER -LECTURE: The message that people hear is we did this for you and
you’re worth it.
ROCKEFELLER CARRIAGE ROADS – 00:45:32
NARRATOR: In 192818, while still working in California and supervising the ongoing work at Dumbarton Oaks and the garden in Seal Harbor, Farrand took on another challenge. John D. Rockefeller, Jr. had begun building a network of carriage roads on
18 ACS-Check dates
Mount Desert, in what would become Acadia National Park, and he was committed to making them open to the public. Once again he called for Farrand’s help.
The ambitious project, which covered 82 miles of roads and connecting footpaths, and 13 bridges built of stone from local quarries, involved a significant amount of blasting and clearing. Rockefeller hoped that Farrand would be able to restore the roadsides in a way that both healed the landscape and maintained the views and character of the new thoroughfares.
CHASSE: It’s one of her great unheralded projects because they were blasting, which left a lot of rubble and scars. She designed the plantings with 99 percent native plants so that would all be invisible. And she did it on the condition that she would not charge for it because he was doing it out of his own passion and she wanted to try to match that.
NARRATOR: Her collaboration with Rockefeller was a meeting of two strong-minded people, who, to their great delight, saw things the same way. “Please know that there is no road which I build for which I do not covet your gracious interest and skillful consideration,” Rockefeller wrote her in one typical letter.
MILLER: Mr. Rockefeller and Mrs. Farrand went over every square inch of the roads, thinking how to make them more beautiful for the public. She was always painting with plants.
CHASSE: Farrand drew strong parallels between nature and design landscapes and one of the most eloquent arguments she made was for the creation of Acadia National Park. She was an early supporter, and she wrote an article in which she articulates that value of nature and the value of public access to a beautiful place like that.
MILLER: And see, that’s why, that’s why she’s my heroine. I've watched what those places do. I think every person has something inside them that needs a connection with nature.
MILLER INTERSTITIAL – 9/11 – 00:48:36
NARRATOR: I've noticed that during national tragedies, people tend to rely on the natural world to ground them. In 2001, when the World Trade Center Buildings came down, they were only about six blocks from a garden I designed in Battery Park City19.
Despite the devastation, the rescue workers used the park as a refuge during their
lunch hours. Everything kept right on blooming through the smoke and the ashes.
MILLER VO: On September 12th, I was looking out the window where I live 100 blocks away, and thinking about my poor city and something happened that caught the eye of the media.
MILLER – ARCHIVAL: My Dutch bulb-grower called up and said, "I'm so upset about what's happened to New York and what can I do?" And I said, "Hans, have you got any extra bulbs?"
MILLER VO: Within a week he'd found a million of them and he donated them.
MILLER – ARCHIVAL: Yellow is the color we've adopted in this country for
MILLER – VO: Working with the Commissioner of Manhattan Parks, Adrian Benepe and New Yorkers for Parks, we in all five boroughs. In places where they haven't seen a flower in years.
CHARLES OSGOOD: CBS: VO: New York City will be The Golden Apple. The
yellow ribbon of daffodils winding through every borough.
MILLER – ARCHIVAL: We planted bulbs with the families of firemen and
TV VO: Since September 11, J.A. Reynolds has been trying to come to terms with
the loss of his son Bruce.
REYNOLDS: This was his playground, he grew up here when he was 5, 6, 7, 8 years old. He’d gotten back again into the garden. We have to find some way to perpetuate their memory, and I don't think there could be any better way than turning to the Earth.
REEF POINT – 00:50:55
NARRATOR: In March of 1941, Max Farrand resigned from the Huntington, and he and
Beatrix left California and moved permanently to Reef Point, in Maine. They shared a
dream of transforming her childhood home into a center for public horticulture and
"The object of Reef Point," Beatrix wrote, "is primarily to show what outdoor beauty can contribute to those who can be influenced by trees and flowers and open-air composition."
TANKARD: She wanted to open up gardens for people, just ordinary people to come and look at. It was a happy time at last, and the two of them could work together taking a family home and converting it into a landscape study center.
NARRATOR: Nothing like Reef Point had ever been tried before. A privately-run botanic garden, specializing in native plants, that would be open to the public and dedicated to spreading ideas about horticulture.
TANKARD: It was a study garden. Everything was laid out in beds and her barium sheets were made for every single thing.
MILLER: Don’t you wish we could’ve gone there? And I would’ve liked to have been one of her students.
TANKARD: Oh I think so, I think so.
NARRATOR: In a sense, Beatrix was coming full-circle, returning to her horticultural roots as an avid student of Charles Sargent’s at the Arnold Arboretum. And standing behind all her efforts was her husband, whom she called, "My Golden Max."
But in the Spring of 1945, Max Farrand's health began to decline, and in June, he died. Beatrix reflected to a friend about “30 years of happy companionship with a great teacher, a scholar, and a charming gentleman.”20
Without Max for support, Beatrix continued to try and realize their dream at Reef Point.
DIETZ: It developed into really a major botanic garden with herbarium and all the things that you need, all the seed packets from all over the country. I mean who else was doing that as an individual gardener?
NARRATOR: Beatrix began publishing a series of newsletters, and started writing a weekly column for the Bar Harbor Times21. And she opened her gardens to the public in 1945. One visitor recalled that Beatrix "put a sprig of white heather in my buttonhole when we said goodbye."
21 Tankard 195
Then, on September 5th, 1947, a wildfire swept across the island, destroying almost 20,000 acres,22 including a sizable portion of Bar Harbor. Miraculously, Reef Point was spared.
But the future of Farrand’s dream was in doubt. Despite attracting 50,000 visitors overall, there was no endowment for the center and her own resources were dwindling. Amy Garland, her head gardener, was aging, and efforts to find a skilled horticulturist to replace her proved fruitless. In the end, Beatrix felt she had no choice but to shut Reef Point down.
MILLER: What appalls me and seems so dramatic is that she took her life's work in those plants, and she said, take them away. There's a bit of an anger, don't you feel in this?
CHASSE: Oh yeah, I think so, and frustration.
MILLER: I always have felt that she was depressed and she just said the heck with it.
SYMMES: I think her standards for the garden were so high and she could see the difficulty of ever trying to maintain those standards, um, without the proper staff and without the resources that were required. She couldn’t bear to watch it go downhill.
NARRATOR: “It has taken all the courage I can muster to have arrived at this decision,” Beatrix wrote in May of 1955, “but it is better to ‘be of good courage and arise and do it’ than have to face deterioration of the gardens and waste the resources of the library and collections.” Unable to afford the upkeep, Beatrix had the house torn down23. Her old patron and friend, John D. Rockefeller, Jr., agreed to underwrite the cost of saving her most remarkable plants, and they became the foundation of two new public gardens.
At the age of 83, Beatrix Farrand was now looking for a final home. Amy Garland and her husband Lewis were planning to retire to a small farmhouse, surrounded by 100 acres, and they invited her to join them. She accepted and constructed a separate wing for
22 From the NPS site on the MDI fire of 1947 In all, some 17,188 acres burned. More than 10,000 acres were in Acadia National Park. Property damage exceeded $23 million dollars
23 “Farrand then proceeded, with the aid of Robert Patterson, to dismantle the main house itself, alvaging bits and pieces . . .” Tankard p. 202
herself and her maid, Clementine Walker. As she settled into her modest surroundings, Beatrix Farrand had one more garden she wanted to design.
CHASSE: She brought all of her favorite plants, which had to be winnowed down to a much smaller list and is very telling and made a little formal tripartite garden that the apartments looked out on to. Her companion, Clementine, liked hot colors, so Clementine looked out into the hot garden, and Beatrix's sitting room looked out into the cool garden.
MILLER: I love that.
MILLER: Here she has a very simple rectangular space. And everything is small. I love that you can sit on the sofa and see what she saw. This is what she chose after a long, exciting and complicated life.
DIETZ: She didn't stop. I mean once she got to her little cottage, she made a new garden and she kept her standards right to the end.
MILLER: Very astonishing woman.
NARRATOR: Beatrix Farrand lived on at Garland Farm for four years. She received an honorary degree, and the rank of professor from Yale University, a Doctorate of Letters from Smith College, and The Garden Club of America gave her its Medal of Achievement.
She died at home, on February 27, 1959.
BEARDSLEY: You can go into one of her gardens and learn about this necessity to adapt, to changing climate, to changing times. She had long term associations and overtime made sure that those landscapes would endure.
SYMMES: In her gardens, people experience nature and art at the same time. Just the same way they were 100 years ago.
DIETZ: She came out of this very society background, and she struck out on her own and became something modern. And that’s, that’s what a pioneer is, it’s somebody who breaks the mold.
NARRATOR: “Gardening is a gentle art” Farrand once wrote “and yet it needs imagination, strength and perhaps more than anything else, the vision that seized the future through the present and bravely works towards that vision.”