BAR HARBOR — Landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted dismissed her as a “dabbler.” No university would accept her. Her own friends thought her professional ambition was “a sort of mild mania.”
Yet Beatrix Farrand, who lived from 1872 to 1959, persisted. And she became the first female landscape architect, leaving her mark in gardens, parks, and other public landscapes across the country.
“Beatrix Farrand’s American Landscapes,” a new documentary showing Aug. 8 at 7 p.m. at the Criterion, explores the life and career of Farrand, who summered on Mount Desert Island.
Directed by Stephen Ives, and produced by the Beatrix Farrand Garden Association, the film tells Farrand’s story through the eyes of narrator Lynden B. Miller, herself an accomplished public garden designer in New York City. Miller, who counts Farrand as a hero, recounts key moments in Farrand’s life, while taking viewers on a tour of gardens and parks Farrand designed around he country.
The documentary traces Farrand’s love of nature back to childhood summers spent at Reef Point, her family’s estate in Bar Harbor. This translated later to her use of native plants in landscape design, and her ability to blend formal gardens with the surround wild landscape.
Since a science education at a university was not open to women at the time, Farrand pieced together her education. She apprenticed under Charles Sargent at the Arnold Arboretum at Harvard. She learned surveying from a tutor, and took a garden tour around the world with her mother.
Farrand was awarded some public commissions, such as landscaping Princeton Graduate School, and some private commissions, including Dumbarton Oaks near Washington, D.C. and Hyde Park in New York. Both are now public gardens.
Some of Farrand’s work on MDI is featured in the film, notably the Abby Aldrich Rockefeller garden and the landscaping around the carriage roads in Acadia National Park. Farrand was hired by John D. Rockefeller to design landscaping to heal the construction scars after the roads were built.
Knowing that the roads were on land that would be donated to Acadia National Park, Farrand volunteered her time, accepting no money for the project.
Anne Symmes, who produced the documentary, called the carriage roads “one of [Farrand’s] unsung accomplishments.”
“She was very public-minded and public-spirited,” Symmes said. “She believed so strongly in [access to] the natural world for people’s wellbeing. She felt that the national park [system] was very important for that access.”
In this unique project, Farrand is remembered as much for what she didn’t plant, as for what she did. Symmes said one aspect of the carriage roads was “negative space” or views that Farrand worked to preserve at key points along the way. This is something the park is working on restoring, Symmes noted. “That’s one of those subtle legacies: the views.”
The Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Garden in Seal Harbor was Farrand’s most ambitious flower garden, according to the documentary. The project was therefore “an irresistible challenge” for the landscape architect. In designing the garden, Farrand combined Asian influences with native plants, using the forest as background. The garden includes more than 600 different kinds of plants.
Other local landmarks discussed in the film are Garland Farm in Bar Harbor, where Farrand lived in retirement, and where the Beatrix Farrand Society hosts events, tours and an exhibit showcasing Farrand’s herbarium.
While not designed by Farrand, the Asticou Azalea Garden in Northeast Harbor was created in her honor to preserve plants from her garden at Reef Point Estate, which she sold after the death of her husband, Professor Max Farrand.
The film was released this spring, and has played at the 2019 Environmental Film Festival in Washington D.C. as well as select theaters. The Criterion Theatre screening is particularly “fortuitous,” organizers say, for being in “the theater where Beatrix herself attended films.”
Tickets for the Thursday evening performance are $12 for balcony seats, $10 for orchestra seats, and $8 for students. Group ticket prices are available. Visit criteriontheatre.org.