Old Westbury Gardens is one of the great gardens of Long Island and the United States. It is located about one hour ride outside of New York City on the Long Island Rail Road departing from Pennsylvania Station. I started going to Old Westbury several years ago and I was so enthralled by the astounding beauty of the place that I make a point of returning every year.
John and Margarita Phipps began to build their retreat from New York City in 1904 soon after their marriage. The house and its initial garden design was completed and ready for occupancy by 1907. The Phipps’s hired George A. Crawley as designer of their home and garden with the technical assistance of Grosvenor Atterbury, Architect. In the manner of the time, Crawley drew from numerous English historical sources to create Old Westbury House. The basic style of the house was inspired by English country houses of King Charles II era (1660 – 1685.) Crawley’s designs for the gardens and surrounding landscaping focused on the architectural “bones” rather than the horticultural plant selections.
Some of the remarkable aspects of the Old Westbury Gardens are the palatial scale of the place and the meticulous maintenance and care that has been lavished on the estate over the last one hundred and seven years without interruption. This is a long time for a garden to exist especially in the United States. This carefully nurturing has allowed for the maturing of specimen trees, decorative bushes, plants and flowers that still grow at Old Westbury with luxuriant abundance making for a unique expression of grandeur. I arrived promptly at 10:00 AM by cab from the train station. It is a short fifteen minute drive and you can call for a return ride at the visitor booth at the entrance. Do note, Old Westbury is not open on Tuesdays. Because I have toured the house several times before I decided to concentrate on the gardens so I strolled leisurely up the broad tree lined lawns approaching Westbury House towards the front entrance court but I did not go inside because the glorious Spring morning was too captivating. Instead I wandered around right side of the mansion enjoying the deep shade of an enormous beach tree. From there I continued around to the garden front where balustraded terraces surround the mansion opening out to sweeping views of the estate. You will see in the following slide show the progress of my morning rambles through the various garden “rooms” where the cool scented breezes of blossoming spring enveloped me, revealing a vision of paradise here on earth.
At midday I took luncheon at the “Cafe in the Woods” beneath a verdant cathedral vaulting of huge old trees. I rested my feet, took a brief snooze on the lawn and returned to my explorations. There was to be a piano concert that afternoon in the grand ballroom of the mansion, I thanked my lucky stars and trundled off to hear the music.
After plunking myself down on a comfy chair next to french windows, I took looked at the spectacular view which looked out onto the grand terrace and emerald green lawns surrounded by clipped yew hedges twenty feet tall. From this vantage point a dramatic vista opened up looking down the extensive length of a Linden allée reminiscent of Hampton Court. I sighed with delight and turned my attention to the pianist. I was well primed by my strolls through the gardens where the subtle blend of color, texture and intoxicating perfume, especially from the deep purple lilacs, had set my heart in a place of tranquil joy.
The pianist that afternoon was Michael Davidman a gifted young artist who has already won many prizes and accolades in his young 16 years. Michael played a concert including Bach, Beethoven, Ravel, Chopin and Liszt. Wow what a line up! I especially enjoyed his performance of Chopin’s Nocturne No 13 in C Minor, op, 48, no. 1, a favorite of mine that can only be described as unleashed passion. Michael and his father Charles have been generous and helpful enough to send me Michael’s recording of that Chopin Nocturne to accompany us through our tour of the place.
In the magnificent ball room of Westbury House Michael was silhouetted against a linen blind that softly defused the bright afternoon sun and as he played his movements flowed like a graceful dance. Listening intently, I was whisked away from the ordinary world into a realm of passionate visions.
Michael is an artist of profound gifts and he must be a very old soul, not bound by the restraints of age. His performance was informed by a subtle and deep understanding of the vagaries and ecstatic revelations of the human psyche as expressed in the music of great composers. He made their music his own as it poured through him. In the following video slide show I have blended my experiences of that day, trying to bring you into the great collaborative experience of profound art that can inform our understanding of the wonders of the universe. It all translates to love, the delight in creation.