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HISTORIC BLITHEWOOD GARDEN TO BE REHABILITATED
BY HV NEWS STAFF • ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED 12/7/16
Bard College and the Garden Conservancy, a national non-profit organization dedicated to saving and sharing outstanding America gardens, have signed an agreement to work together on the rehabilitation of Blithewood Garden on the Bard College campus in Annandale-on-Hudson. They will partner to address desperately needed repairs to the historic garden’s structures and hardscape.
Amy Parrella, horticulture supervisor at Bard College, notes that, “Blithewood Garden is a very special place on the campus and in the Hudson Valley. We hope that by working together we can restore the garden so that it continues to inspire visitors for centuries to come.”
Susan Lowry, chair of the Garden Conservancy’s Preservation Committee and co-author of “Gardens of the Hudson Valley” (Monacelli Press, 2010), describes Blithewood Garden as “an intricately wrought Italianate garden, intimate rather than grand. It complements the magnificent surroundings and represents an important moment in the history of American gardening in the Hudson Valley.”
The first steps of the partnership will be to identify goals and strategies for the rehabilitation of the garden, develop a roadmap for achieving the goals, and create a “Friends of Blithewood” subcommittee of the existing Friends of Bard Landscape and Arboretum to steer the project forward by raising both visibility and funds and advocating on its behalf. The Garden Conservancy will advise on appropriate treatments for the historic garden, including repair of the garden’s masonry and structural elements. Once a plan is set, the team will identify contractors for the work, establish a timetable, and address funding.
Blithewood Garden: a Beaux Arts gem in a grand setting
An early twentieth-century Beaux Arts masterpiece overlooking the Hudson River, Blithewood Garden is a formal Italianate walled garden constructed in 1903 for Captain Andrew Zabriskie to accompany his Georgian-style mansion of the same name. The garden’s intimate scale (15,000 square feet) creates a peaceful, green space overlooking an awe-inspiring panorama of the Catskill Mountains and the Hudson River. The garden is strongly architectural, with paths on geometric axes, symmetrical beds, a central water feature, statuary, and marble ornaments. A copper-roofed gazebo flanked by two wisteria-covered pergolas frames the majestic river view.
The garden was designed by Francis Hoppin, an architect trained at MIT and the École des Beaux Arts in Paris. He also designed The Mount, Edith Wharton’s summer house in Lenox, Massachusetts, in 1902.
Historically, the garden had an evergreen edging around the fountain basin; an early postcard of the garden also shows plantings of roses, iris, wisteria and peonies. Today’s plantings are inspired by its historic palette, but include some contemporary plant choices as well. While the garden’s structural elements are crumbling, the garden beds are well-maintained by Bard College staff.
A rich cultural history
Blithewood Garden and the Bard College campus as a whole have significant connections to the heritage of the Hudson Valley region and the evolution of American landscape design. Acquired from local Native Americans by Pieter Schuyler in 1680, the property was sold to Robert Donaldson circa 1835, who commissioned the preeminent landscape gardener of the day, Andrew Jackson Downing, to design the grounds. Downing’s design for what is now the campus of Bard College is an excellent example of a Picturesque landscape. The Gothic and Romantic styles of architecture and landscape design of Downing’s era were updated at the turn of the twentieth century by Captain Andrew Zabriskie, who commissioned Hoppin to redesign the garden according to the tastes and trends of the Gilded Age. The Georgian manor house and Italianate garden that we see today are considered outstanding examples of the Country Place Era residences of the Hudson Valley’s social and political elite.