By Emily and Jim Fuchs
High on our list of experiences for which we are grateful this Thanksgiving is having had the chance to know the life and works of landscape gardener Beatrix Farrand (1872-1959). Her gardens, public and private, are nationally and internationally celebrated.
First we enjoyed her designs at Princeton University in New Jersey, then we explored her multi-level gardens at Dumbarton Oaks in Washington, D.C. We studied the annual changes in her Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Garden in Seal Harbor.
We studied Mrs. Farrand’s writings, The Reef Point Bulletins, and we worked to help landscape architect Patrick Chassé rehabilitate her last home and garden at Garland Farm.
Why are we so grateful to Beatrix Farrand, especially in this season of Thanksgiving? Because working at Garland Farm gave us 10 productive years of learning how to create enduring gardens, compatible with the environment, for both teaching and natural enjoyment.
Along with Farrand herself, through her work and writings, our primary teachers have been Patrick Chassé, the Hancock County Master Gardeners and Pressley Associates.
From his professional design experience and his teaching post at Harvard, Patrick knew the many steps that would be needed to rehabilitate Garland Farm: assess the present state of buildings and grounds, seek expert opinions including contacting the town code enforcement officer, plan a time frame for each step of building repairs and garden rehabilitation, raise funds, publicize the project, recruit volunteers, publish a newsletter and have the property added to the National Register of Historic Places.
A dozen master gardeners were recruited to rehabilitate the Parterre Garden, with the permission from Marjorie Peronto of the University of Maine Cooperative Extension in Hancock County.
The master gardeners researched and removed two classes of existing plants, some originally planted by Mrs. Farrand and Amy Garland, and others planted by various families living at Garland Farm after Farrand and Garland died.
Under the leadership of Carolyn Hollenbeck, the gardeners worked for about six years in researching the original plants and creating a reconstruction of Beatrix Farrand’s landscape design.
They printed and photographed educational aids in the forms of diagrams, charts and booklets for posterity.
A team from Pressley and Associates of Cambridge, Mass. literally lived at Garland Farm for at least six weeks in 2007 to create a detailed Cultural Landscape Report of the farm. The report has seven chapters and seven appendices, with illustrations, plans, graphs, plant lists, references, etc. and provides the history and other information needed to proceed with the rehabilitation project.
Pressley Associates followed up with an implementation study in 2008, with detailed recommendations for the project. The study included sections on preservation of historic features and additions of much-needed new features, lost components (both structures and horticulture) and which existing buildings and plants were incompatible with the whole.
Physical changes such as parking areas and pedestrian paths had to be studied, too.
Some of the recommendations became major projects, including soil testing, creating a holding nursery, protecting extant materials and ensuring replacements were made in kind. And finally, there were very specific recommendations such as adhering to historic standards, repairs, protection and replacements within the approximately 5-acre property.
The organization that became the Beatrix Farrand Society began its formal life thanks to the work of the late William Fenton, the attorney who helped the group apply for State of Maine Articles of Incorporation.
The Society’s mission is to “foster and promote education of the general public in the art and science of horticultural and landscape design with particular emphasis on a study of the life and work of Beatrix Farrand.”
At the time, Patrick Chassé was out of the country. Mr. Fenton said we’d need officers in addition to the mission statement. So we called Patrick long distance and asked him to be president, which took a little friendly persuasion. We volunteered for vice president and secretary/treasurer and the Beatrix Farrand Society was launched.
The most recent Farrand-related experience for which we are grateful is that carpenter Allan Beaman built an excellent re-creation of the front door from Reef Point for our remodeled house.
We are also using many of Mrs. Farrand’s theories and plant species in our seaside gardens.
Although we could not copy her discipline of using a compass (in a Tiffany leather case), nor her use of an ivory-mounted thermometer, nor even her use of a solid gold, gravity-released knife in planning our garden, we did employ her principles of landscape design, learned from Professor Charles Sprague Sargent.
Those principles include: allow the design and plant material to fit the topography (do not twist the ground to fit a plan), study the taste and wishes of the owner, inspect great landscape plantings to analyze natural beauty and learn from all great art. Also: take extensive trips to Europe and see as many gardens as possible, consider vistas both from proximity and distance, use trees as garden architecture and protection from winds and compose designs as a series of garden rooms.
Our house faces the Farrand Village Green and the Dunham Seaside Overlook in Seal Harbor. It is within walking distance of the Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Gardens.
Never did we anticipate being so influenced by and so content with knowing Beatrix Farrand, her life and her work.
A happy Thanksgiving to all gardeners and, in Farrand’s words, “real plant lovers.”