Garden Club of Irvington members and guests recently enjoyed a slide lecture by garden historian Judith Chatfield, author of notable books about Italian gardens, who spoke about four dramatic New York properties and their gardens. If you are planning to tour the Hudson River Valley this spring or summer, here is a suggested itinerary based on points made in Judith’s talk.
Judith Chatfield, center in red sweater, with Deborah Flock and Joanna Gurley of the Garden Club of Irvington.
We begin by making our way 80 miles up the Taconic Parkway to Red Hook to Annandale-on-Hudson to visit Montgomery Place, an historic estate designed for Janet Livingston Montgomery, a Revolutionary War widow. The Federal-style mansion is the last remaining of its kind in the Hudson Valley designed by architect Alexander Jackson Davis. The property — designed by Andrew Jackson Downing to be at its peak in October — includes an arboretum, woods, and orchards. It was acquired and renovated by Historic Hudson Valley in 1985 and sold to Bard College in 2015.
Aerial shot of Montgomery Place in fall
Naturalistic landscape at Montgomery Place
In Hyde Park, 30 miles south of Bard via Route 9, Bellefield is an 100-year-old Beatrix Farrand garden at the Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Museum and Library. A prominent landscape architect in the first half of the 20th century, Farrand designed gardens for notable families and institutions, including the Rockefellers and Princeton and Yale Universities. In 1912, her cousin, Senator Thomas Newbold and his wife, Sarah, commissioned her to create the gardens at Bellefield, their 18th-century estate. Lining the grass lawn are beds of perennials selected for their soft color harmony, bloom sequence, and texture — a technique Farrand helped spearhead. This style became the standard for American garden design, replacing the practice of placing annuals in beds cut into the lawn.
Bellefield facade and perennial borders
Formal gardens at Bellefield surrounded by clipped box hedges
One of Bellefield’s garden rooms in spring
Leaving Bellefield, we make our way south to Cold Spring, across the Hudson from West Point, where we visit Stonecrop Gardens, originally the private garden of Frank and Anne Cabot, founders of The Garden Conservancy, the organization that hosts the Open Days tours every year. The Cabots were avid collectors of alpine plants, and finding choice selections hard to come by, started their own mail-order nursery. In the mid-1980s they engaged English horticulturist Caroline Burgess to make Stonecrop into a public garden. It now encompasses 15 varied acres of raised alpine stone beds, cliff rock gardens, woodland and water gardens, and enclosed English-style flower gardens that feature more than 50 plant families. A spectacular 2,000-square-foot conservatory housing tender specimens floats on a pond near the entry.
Alpine plants drape over stone walls at Stonecrop
The ‘floating’ conservatory at Stonecrop, where seedlings are started and tender plants overwinter
Even closer to home in Garrison — less than 60 miles north of New York City — is Boscobel, a Federal-period mansion. The house was built in Montrose c. 1805 for States Morris Dyckman, who served the British army during the Revolutionary War. He died with only the foundation in place, and the project was completed by his wife, Elizabeth Corne Dyckman. Through the efforts of Westchester County citizens, the house was rescued from demolition in the 1940s, dismantled, and stored in barns until Boscobel Restoration Inc. had it rebuilt on the Garrison site. In 1959, Boscobel’s chief benefactor, Lila Acheson Wallace, hired the landscape architecture firm of Innocenti and Webel to transform the grounds into an appropriate historic setting. They implemented a Beaux-Arts and Neoclassical landscape that included allées of maples, mature shrubs and an entire apple orchard, installed to give the feeling that everything had always been there. In the 1990s, the grounds were expanded to include 29 acres of woodlands with a 1.25 mile scenic trail. Today, you can tour the house, now a museum featuring furniture and decorative arts of the Federal period, walk the trail, and explore 60 acres of grounds that feature rose and perennial gardens and magnificent views of the Hudson.
Approaching Boscobel in fall under an allée of mature trees