A center of calm and beauty near the epicenter of the turbulent swirl of 20th-century history captured by the FDR and Eleanor Roosevelt historic sites is Bellefield, an elegant 18th-century house remodeled by famed architects McKim, Mead and White for Thomas and Sarah Newbold. It now serves as the regional headquarters for the National Park Service’s properties in Hyde Park.
But it’s Bellefield’s garden that makes the site truly special. A shrine for devotees of horticulture, it’s the earliest surviving private garden created by one of America’s most celebrated and influential landscape designers, Beatrix Farrand (1872-1959). Farrand joined the likes of England’s Gertrude Jekyll and William Robinson in championing the use of perennial plants in combinations based upon color harmony, bloom sequence and texture. This was the birth of the mixed border that is standard in gardens today. Farrand combined this horticultural expertise, honed through study at Harvard’s Arnold Arboretum, with a keen eye for detail, a near-perfect sense of proportion and a broad foundation in the fine arts and design history.
While most of her gardens have been lost to time, notable exceptions include the Rockefellers’ Eyrie Garden in Maine, large portions of the Princeton and Yale campuses and Dumbarton Oaks, in Washington, DC: indisputably one of the great gardens of the world. That puts Bellefield in rarefied company, making the Beatrix Farrand Garden a rewarding destination for an outing on any fine spring or summer’s day in the Hudson Valley.
A lesser-known aspect of Farrand’s career was her commitment, in collaboration with John D. Rockefeller, Jr., to the preservation of Maine’s Mount Desert Island as Acadia National Park and the design of its trail system. “Farrand’s National Park Legacy” will be the topic of a lecture by landscape architect Roxanne S. Brouse on Sunday, June 4 at 2 p.m. at the Henry A. Wallace Visitor Center at the Home of Franklin D. Roosevelt National Historic Site. Brouse is the author of “The Public-Spirited Beatrix Farrand of Mount Desert Island,” a monograph recently published by the Beatrix Farrand Society.
Admission to this event, the 11th annual Bellefield Design Lecture, costs $35 for members and $45 for non-members. To find out more about this and other upcoming events at Bellefield, visit www.beatrixfarrandgardenhydepark.org.