THE GARDEN RESTORATION
(see larger map image)
While the mansion at Bartow-Pell dates from the 1840’s, its formal garden was conceived and constructed circa 1916, according to cutting-edge horticultural design and techniques. The prominent early 20th century New York City architectural firm of Delano & Aldrich created and implemented the plans. Taking advantage of the mansion’s slight elevation and sightline to Long Island Sound, the architects terraced the area immediately behind the mansion and enclosed the formal garden with beautiful stone walls on three sides, each with its own elegant wrought iron gate. The center of the garden featured a square pool with a cupid fountain. Bluestone walkways and steps ran in straight paths from the gates and the mansion, and around the water garden.
The effect, as intended, was a geometric design in the classical motif with straight-edged rectangular flower beds and plantings complimenting the stonework. The symmetrical pattern of the sunken garden and its outlying walls were contrasted by the wilder feel of the surrounding mowed fields, the natural forest, and the marshlands of Long Island Sound beyond.
TIME AND NATURE TAKE THEIR COURSE
Over the many decades since its inception, the formally planned landscape within and without the walled garden has deviated from the original vision. Many of the old specimen trees have disappeared from the grounds. Newer, unplanned trees and shrubs have grown in, now obscuring the water views of the Sound that were once clearly visible, as well as hiding the many natural and man-made features that give the environment its character. Trees and shrubs planted in the formal garden have overgrown their space and are out of scale with the size and style of its design. Symmetry has disappeared with key plants gone. The vibrant colors and numerous plant varieties that characterized the formal and border gardens have diminished over time as flower beds have been lost to groundcovers and vines, or been removed all together.
Today, the Bartow-Pell Conservancy has taken up the challenge of restoring the formal garden, the long perennial border on the outside of its south wall, a chestnut tree allée, and the original Pell family cemetery. Each of these areas require extensive, and therefore, costly rehabilitation. The restoration plan incorporates sustainable maintenance to reduce upkeep while still preserving the intent of the original design.
For the formal garden, this work will involve installing irrigation systems beneath its terraces to provide essential watering. Above ground, the terraces will be regraded and reseeded to restore the crisp, symmetrical lines that provide the geometric formation of the garden. Next, soil in existing planting beds will be remediated and new beds will be added to reintroduce ones created by Delano & Aldrich, accenting the three terraced levels and reflecting the L-shaped beds surrounding the pool. Numerous trees and shrubs inappropriate for the original design will be removed. New ornamental trees will anchor the four quadrants of the garden and provide shade for visitors and plants alike. Upright conifers planted within its walls will contrast with the low-lying plants and walkways, emphasizing the axis points of its layout.
The plant beds will contain a mixture of evergreen and deciduous flowering shrubs and perennials. Shrubs that already fare well on the property, such as rhododendron, azalea, hydrangea, mountain laurel, lilac and butterfly bush will be repeated. Box, holly and conifers will add structure and winter interest. Pinks, whites and lavenders will predominate in the spring and summer with soft hues in keeping with early 20th century preferences. The L-shaped beds around the water garden will be filled with a combination of annuals and perennials providing new interest throughout the seasons. Climbing and rambler roses will continue to grace the wrought iron gates. In addition, subtle lighting will illuminate the garden at night, allowing it to be used for special events.
The Chestnut Tree Allée
Beyond that, the garden restoration plans will address the property’s chestnut tree allée and cemetery. Paralleling the formal garden to its south, a magnificent double line of American Chestnut trees runs from the house towards Long Island Sound. To restore its former splendor, the remaining specimens in the allée require extensive pruning, the soil must be remediated and new trees are needed.
The Pell Cemetery
At the far end of the chestnut tree allée, near the water, is the Pell cemetery. Located in the southeast corner of the property, this cemetery contains tombstones of the site’s original European settlers, the Pell family. But conservation is required, including reinstalling some missing tombstones and treating all of the others to prevent further deterioration.
By undertaking a sweeping restoration of the formal garden and grounds, Bartow-Pell’s landscape can continue to tell the story of the site’s remarkable past, one that includes major themes of European and American landscape design. Visitors will appreciate the visual and conceptual impact of its grounds, no doubt agreeing with William Kent, a famous 18th century British landscape architect, that “all gardening is landscape painting.”