Category Archives: Visiting Beautiful Gardens

Longwood Gardens

T2H2 trundled off to Wilmington, Delaware the first week of May to visit three of the great duPont gardens, Longwood, Winterthur and Nemours. Once there, we discovered – as one brochure describes it, “The Brandywine Valley is America’s Garden Capital” I would concur and one up that bravado by declaring the whole area, including the city of Wilmington, is a big slice of heaven.

 

NC Wyeth, “The Medicine Ship” Scribner’s Magazine illustration 1915, Delaware Museum of Art, Wilmington,  photo by Iory Allison. I know this jolly bunch doesn’t have a hell of a lot to do with my narrative but the general atmosphere plucks my heart strings and what a harp is being played here!

If you have been following the wandering exploits of T2H2 (The Two Happy Husbands, Iory and Leo) you will know that we’ve been dashing around the globe and having one oo-la-la experience after another. But truth in disclosure, the world that I present to you in the Glamour Galore Blog is heavily edited and enhanced, mostly by erasing the hordes of humanity who are charging off in the same direction as our humble selves. The result of all this jostling to get a peak at Mona at the Louvre or Michelangelo’s hefty Sibyls hanging off the Sistine ceiling, is more or less an uncomfortable group hug rather than an exalted experience of divine splendor. Taking this conundrum into account, we’ve been rethinking directions and destinations – not to mention destiny but that is anyone’s guess so let’s not go there. Where we do want to go is some place more convenient not involving interminable security lines, pat downs or shake downs. All of that hoopla leads to being packed into a tin can that only after a life time of delays on the tarmac of this or that airport will haltingly hurl us, at the speed of light, into the ionosphere. In a word, “UGH!” And it doesn’t matter what you pay, class distinctions won’t exclude you from being squeezed into a puny space that any self-respecting sardine would never put up with without protestations of extreme umbrage!

With all of this in mind we have cast our wander-lusting gaze to ports of call closer to home and more to our liking. Gardens loom large in our hearts and minds, especially my husband Leo’s garden. If you haven’t visited his patch of bliss in the Fenway Victory Gardens, Boston – put down that PB&J you are munching and dash over. You’ll find him at A-1, right by the Richardson stone bridge over the Muddy River.  Right now, he has a voluptuous multi-petal pink rose in full bloom that is reminiscent of the blush on an angel’s cheek. And if angel’s cheeks are not your usual experience in life then hop the next train to Wilmington, as we did, and high tail it over to Longwood Gardens where you can glimpse something like my picture below. Whenever you get there the gardens will be in spectacular bloom.

 

Sunken garden, Longwood gardens, photo by Iory

So, this is where we ended up, but how did we get there? Amtrak’s North East Reginal took us from South Station, Boston to down town Wilmington where we put up at the Double Tree Hotel. What the Double lacks in prestige it more than recompensed by accommodating us in a room that was almost as large as our apartment back home. Two Queen beds prevented any tossing or turning, sending us directly to dream-land as soon as heads hit the plethora of squishy pillows. I had reserved a rent-a-car when I made my arrangements and that too was as easy as pie (you gotta wonder for whom pie manufacture is easy…Enough Iory, get on with it!) Ok, alright already, now where was I, oh yeah…The car rental counters are right there at the very nice train station, and the car pick up is directly across the street. All three of our garden destinations were about a ½ hour drive from downtown Wilmington. The farthest away being Longwood, just over the Delaware border into Pennsylvania. 

Fountain Terrace, Longwood Gardens, photo by Iory Allison

The big deal, as you may know, at Longwood is the Fountain Terrace, it has recently, summer of 2017, reopened after a two-year facelift that cost $90 million smakeroos! It’s wonderful what gunpowder and paint will buy (G & P, are sources of the duPont fortune.) The original aquatic   extravaganza was installed by Pierre S. duPont in 1931 and then, as now, the evening displays incorporate light shows of illuminated water in rainbow colors. I read in my research, pyrotechnics too, jets of fire are apparently incorporated in the show – now that’s one oo-la-la spectacle I would definitely go back for.

We visited bright and early on a sparkling weekday morning and were delighted to witness the crisp formality of the terraced water garden, very reminiscent of the Orangery Terrace at Versailles. However, even better than the extravagances of the various Louis back in the old country, Longwood’s fountains dance and weave to music in a stunning ejaculation of show stopping magnificence with some of the 1,719 jets reaching a fantastic erection of 175 feet rocketing in the air! Needless to say, this goes way beyond a mere oo-la-la experience, this is Grand Opera in water and if I’m not mistaken I believe some of the musical accompaniments are just that, grand opera arias.

Conservatory interior, Longwood Gardens, photo by Iory Allison

On a quieter, but no less extravagant, note the Conservatory halls stretch in various distant directions on a scale of grandeur that literally takes your breath away. Then, when the initial shock wave of surprise and delight calms, one takes a deep breath saturated by an intoxicating array of floral perfumes that are guaranteed to knock your socks off. In that state of undress and drunken glee the impact of color, texture and seemingly infinite flower forms wash over your senses cleansing away the detritus and grime from the mundane world, rejuvenating one’s spirit to a place of serene peace.

Flower Walk, Longwood Gardens, photo by Iory Allison

Outside, along the Flower Walk all abloom with the glories of Spring, I came across the three graces who were all dolled up, determined not to be out done by the fantastic display of white foxgloves punctuating deep beds of tulips, purple globe alliums and clusters of chiming blue bells.

Flower Walk, Longwood Gardens, photo by Iory

And speaking of Foxgloves, the heavy abundance of the Goddess makes these beauties dance with shear delight and regal pride!

Flower Walk, Longwood Gardens, photo by Iory Allison

And talk about tulips, but no, our voices are completely drowned out by the thundering chorus of chromatic crescendo and contrapuntal rhythms of hue that are the gardeners coloratura design and conceit, Brava, Bellissima!  

Conservatory flowers, Longwood Gardens, photo by Iory Allison

Here is a mini-mountain of extravagance that shouts aloud, “You are my slave!” I eagerly surrendered myself to her irresistible seduction and cry, “Yes, let me plunge into your depths!”

And so, you too can eschew the shackles of ordinary life, dive into my place of Glamour where spells are cast and dreams come true.

Click the urn to indulge in an intoxicating world of astounding beauty at Longwood Gardens

In the weeks to come we will visit Winterthur and then Nemours

The Great House on Castle Hill at the Crane Estate, Ipswich, Massachusetts

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The great house of the Crane Estate on Castle Hill in Ipswich, Massachusetts, was built for the Chicago industrialist Richard Teller Crane, Jr.  and his family. It was designed by architect  David Adler in a 17th century English revivalist style using pink Holland Brick trimmed with Indiana limestone and a  blue-green natural slate roof.  The parkland and gardens were originally designed by the famous Olmsted Landscape firm of Boston with important additions by Arthur Shurcliff and Harriet Risley Foote.

The grand and handsome house sits atop a 165 acre drumlin enjoying a 360° view of the surrounding low-lying marsh bordering Ipswich Bay and far out into the Atlantic Ocean. I was there on a Monday in early September when the house was closed to tours and the summer season gone by, leaving me in blissful peace and quiet. As you can see the day was splendidly clear with an effervescent sparkle.

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On the end pier of this balustrade you can see a finely sculpted crane with wings spread referencing Mr. Crane’s family name and staking a claim to his domain (2,100 acres) that extends beyond the proud specimen trees of the parkland out to the winding Essex River draining the extensive tidal marsh. 

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Ferociously guarding the ocean side terrace of the Big House are two lead  Griffins finished with bronze patina that were sculpted by Paul Manship (Prometheus fountain, Rockefeller Center NYC). They seem to be snarling at the expansive Atlantic from which winter storms howl.

 

spectacular-allee

The spectacular formal allée leading from the Big House down to Ipswich Bay is half a mile long, 160 feet wide and was designed by Arthur Shurcliff. The Crane Estate is one of 112 sites now owned and maintained by the Trustees of the Reservations, the original public land trust from which the National Trust of Great Britten was patterned. It was the idea, ideal and long labor of Charles Eliot of Boston who proposed the establishment of what would become the first private nonprofit conservation organization of its kind in the world. The recent 1.5 Million dollar restoration of the allée is nothing short of monumental with 700 newly planted evergreen conifers demarcating the carefully clipped lawn beyond which mature hardwood trees stand tall on either side. Two lines of marble statues depicting various classical characters decorate this grand passage and although my photograph does not give us the distant detail, when I took this view I could see the Isles of Shoals off the coast of New Hampshire 26 miles away.

 

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A graceful goddess along the allée

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Now here is something quite remarkable, the Casino, a group of buildings originally incorporating a salt water swimming pool (now a central croquet lawn) surrounded by formal terraces corralled by balustrades punctuated with urns and classical statues in niches and other sculptural decorations, all on such a grand scale I just want to applaud such extravagant audacity!

The Casino complex consists of two villas: one housing a ballroom, the other providing “bachelors’ quarters” for the young men who visited with Mr. and Mrs. Crane and their two daughters. Today there is a café with a pool table, games and a working fireplace with gracious out door lounging furniture on the terraces of two levels connected by stately staircases.

The most remarkable aspect of Surcliff’s design is the placement of the Casino in a wrinkle or step down of the descending vista much like a “Ha-ha” of an English country estate where a similar dip in the landscape acted as a hidden fence to keep the grazing livestock at bay. Which is to say that from above at the terrace of the big house you not see the Casino complex, only a line of the urn-decorated balustrade. 

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From the door of one of the twin villas we look across the croquet lawn towards the ballroom villa. Ain’t it grand?

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The newest restoration to the Crane Estate is the sunken Italian garden. The afternoon when I was there I had the place to my self and I half expected to see the Crane family having tea in the one of the elegant pavilions. 

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Here is a view of the sunken Italian garden newly restored and replanted. This garden dates from the original design of the estate and was designed by the Olmsted Landscape Firm.

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Inside the Italian garden the wide perennial borders are lush with blossoms even at the beginning of September. The two tea pavilions are connected by a logia roofed with sturdy wooden beams supported by elaborate trellis work.

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Through the open doors of scrolling wrought iron an enticing view of Ipswich harbor can be seen, looking towards Plum Island. I am particularly fond of the oval “windows” piercing the trellis work that frame picturesque views as you walk beneath the logia. 

Click here to see an extensive photo essay of the Castle Hill

Cogswell’s Grant

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Cogswell’s Grant was the summer home of renowned folk art collectors Bertram K. and Nina Fletcher Little. The colonial-era farmhouse is a rich backdrop for their celebrated collection, assembled over nearly sixty years.

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The Littles purchased this 165-acre property overlooking the Essex River in 1937 and carefully restored the 1728 farmhouse. The rooms are overflowing with “country arts” including folk art portraits, painted furniture, redware, hooked rugs, weathervanes, and decoys. Everything is arranged just as the family lived with it and shared it with their friends and fellow collectors.

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Cogswell’s Grant was the perfect setting for the Littles’ antiques, but was also important as a working farm and family retreat where they relaxed and entertained. Today it is one of the only places where you can visit such a collection in the home for which it was collected.

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Beyond these protective trees the tidal marsh opens out to embrace a large estuary drained by the Essex River.

wild-flowers

My most recent visit was on a Monday when the house was closed and the property blissfully deserted. The wild flower fields were alive with a chorus of crickets and the sky was swept clear by September’s blustering winds, exposing a polished blue sky where great white herons glided serenely.

rusted-fender

On my way to the salt marsh I took a half hidden path cutting through the narrow border woods where I came across an old farm dump. The rusted fender of an abandoned farm truck struggles to free itself from the blanket of loamy mulch that is threatening to relegate the once fast moving vehicle to the shadows of time.

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Half hidden in the rusted oak leaves of September, a cluster of black winged crows with strident voices interrupt the silence for a moment of argument before they fly off, their noise easily absorbed by the vast expanse of the open salt marsh where rippling ell grass dances with the wind. On a naked branch of a heavy muscled oak tree I catch sight of a red tailed hawk stoically ignoring the crows. Beneath his perch in the dried grass at the edge between the woods and the wetland I was startled to come across a tangle of scattered feathers, the apparent result of the swift winged hunter.  

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The bright sun and clusters of goldenrod flowers smile at one another as the eel grass, whip lashed by the capricious wind, begs for attention.

old-tree

An old tree reaches out with ziz-zaging branches over the shoreline of the marsh, following the currents of wind and water – laughing and crying in turn – as the seasons toy with his strength.

horseshoeThe Horseshoe crab, scion of an ancient line, living fossil, comes to rest above the tide. His ancestors were here 450 million years ago but their bronze polished armor is now losing strength against the “footprint” of humanity. Our tread is so heavy – our hunger so great.

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A gap between the farm fields and the marshlands is where infinite shades of green pulsate against the radiant blue sky.

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The receding tide leaves baby crabs tangled in needle grass where blasting sunshine quickly steals their life, crisping soft shells bleach to immutable ghosts.

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The patterns of high tide currents are caught and recorded in the swirls of needle grass where the bleached shells of tiny crabs mark the edge of moon’s gravity.

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For a moment, silence grabs my attention as my mind expands beyond the limits of blue skies

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Cow licks of needle grass catch a drifting oak leaf

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Flashes of mauve / lavender, scattered jewels enliven the emerald carpet of densely woven marsh grass.

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Click here to see more photos