Fuller Gardens


I am always on the lookout for books to review for the Massachusetts Horticultural Society and grateful when my local library purchases garden books that I can borrow before I decide to add them to my personal collection. It is even more of a treat when I discover a book that, for any number of reasons (size, cost, title, weird personal preferences), I wouldn’t read if it did not appear on the “new titles” shelf.

Thus is the case of Bunny Williams’ book On Garden Style, a three-hundred page, over-sized tome, by one of America’s best-known interior designers. First published in 1998, the book purports to provide both the novice and professional gardener, ways to think about “style, form, ornament and the look and feel of a garden” helping readers to “ imagine and design their own personal sanctuaries.”


What most surprised me was the brief introduction which I truly enjoyed.  If a love of gardens and landscapes is, as Williams speculates a journey begun in childhood, for me that journey began at the Fuller Gardens, located on the coast of New Hampshire just south of Rye Beach, where I spent summers growing up.  I visited the garden in the late spring for the first time in many years.

Governor of Massachusetts from 1925 – 1929, Alvin T. Fuller was a successful businessman and entrepreneur who created the first auto dealership in Boston.


His summer estate, located in Little Boar’s Head North Hampton, was named Runnymede-by-the-Sea.  In 1927 Fuller commissioned landscape architect Arthur Shurtleff (Shurcliff) to design a garden on the property.


Described as one of New England’s “most cherished 20th century estate gardens” the garden is intimately scaled and divided into two areas by a private driveway (seen on the map below) leading to the original (circa 1890) carriage house which is now used for staff purposes.  The gardens to the right of the map are part of the original design.Screen shot 2015-09-19 at 10.49.41 AM

A wooden gate, which I used many times and is now closed, provided access to the front garden from what was the location of Runnymede-by-the Sea (footprint seen above) which was removed in 1961, three years after Fuller’s death.


Designed in the Colonial revival style, the formal front garden is bordered by perennial beds with a recessed parterre planted with roses.




The front garden’s axis terminates in a small lawn panel with a fountain and leads to  the Japanese Garden.


Part of the original design, the Japanese garden is surrounded by cedar trees. Ethereally beautiful, this very intimate space with its koi pond, small bridge and sculptural elements starkly contrasts with the bright colors and sharp textures of the front garden.



According to the Garden’s website Governor Fuller wanted the front garden to serve as a “showpiece” and amenity for the public despite the fact that he and his wife were infrequent visitors. Instead they derived “a great deal of pleasure looking from their bedroom windows over the road into the garden, seeing a great deal of people — especially on weekends — enjoying its charm.”

In the 1930’s the Olmsted Brothers were retained to improve the gardens and design a rose garden in honor of Fuller’s wife, Viola. Containing 1,500 bushes of 125 varieties, the rose garden is enclosed by a privet hedge with circular beds connected by grass pathways and an antique wellhead at its center.



Described as the side garden on the map, the rose garden is connected to the conservatory and the Lydia Fuller Bottomley garden added in 2005.


Honoring Fuller’s daughter, the Lydia Fuller Bottomley garden is centered upon a reflecting pool with a graceful marble statue. It feature statuary gifted to the Gardens by Bottomley.



The Fullers were avid art collectors who donated works to the National Gallery of Art in Washington and The Museum of Fine Arts in Boston including, Monet’s “The Water Lily Pond,” and Renoir’s “Boating Couple.” On their travels abroad they also collected statues and fountains to place in the garden. I like to think the garden was considered part of their art collection.



The Fuller Gardens were officially opened to the public in 1958 after Governor Fuller’s death and for many years they were open free of charge. In 2001 Presley Associates of Cambridge developed a master plan formalizing the entry area, improving parking and adding a gift shop.


I return to that girl on a bicycle who slipped through the wooden gate to a small and somewhat secret garden many years ago. There were seldom many, if any, people there and like Mary Lennox I developed a deep, affection for this place, which was unlike any I had experienced. It’s particular magic never failed to enchant.   The images below of the front and side garden, converted from slides, are from 1988.



The Gardens are open from mid-May to mid October, seven days a week from 10:00 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. For additional information visit: www.fullergardens.org. The 2015 adult ticket fee is $9.00.


Copyright © 2015 Patrice Todisco — All Rights Reserved

Augustus Saint-Gaudens: A Sculptor and his Garden


As summer slips away I have been working on my list of local garden visits which, like my summer reading list, is often overly ambitious and unfulfilled. Most recently I traveled to Cornish, NH where at the turn of the century an artist’s colony flourished with American sculptor Augustus Saint-Gaudens at its center.


Painting of Saint-Gaudens by Kenyon Cox, 1908

For those of us who live in Boston Saint-Gaudens is revered for the magnificent Shaw Memorial, sited on the Boston Common across the street from the Bullfinch-designed state house. Deemed “sculptor of the American Renaissance” his portfolio of civic projects is complemented by his other work which includes portrait reliefs, medals and coins.


Studies for the Shaw Memorial (seen above) as well as a plaster portrait relief of author and poet Robert Louis Stevenson (seen below) are examples of Saint-Gaudens’ work displayed at the site.


Saint-Gaudens summered in Cornish beginning in 1885 and purchased Aspet, named after his father’s birthplace in France, in 1892. In 1900, after being diagnosed with cancer, it became his permanent home. The view below, of the Pan fountain, is from an undated postcard.


During the time Saint-Gaudens lived at Aspet he and his wife, Augustus Fisher Homer, transformed the grounds adding gardens, hedges and recreation areas including a golf course, bowling green and swimming pool.  According to his son, Homer Saint-Gaudens, “. . . there was hardly a week in all the time my father spent on this place during twenty
-two years that he did not have something rebuilt or regraded to his intense enjoyment.”


His niece, Margaret Shurcliff (wife of landscape architect Arthur Schurcliff) wrote “Uncle Augustus took a great deal of joy in landscaping the grounds, and was the first to plant rows and rows of pine hedges. He surrounded the flower garden, the vegetable garden, the clothes yard and the swimming pool with pine hedges, thickened with a few scattered hemlocks. Like many a genius, Uncle Augustus was never satisfied. He was always rearranging his sculpture, and he liked to rearrange the hedges.”


The complex of buildings on the property includes the house and an ensemble of studios and galleries. All are connected by a series of outdoor rooms which provide the setting for sculptures sited within the landscape.  The simple elegance of the plan, seen below, shows the contrast of the formal landscape with its natural setting.


While the grounds reflect the personality of Saint-Gaudens they also collectively embody an example of the style of house and garden popular in Cornish during this era in which the indoor and outdoor environments of the many artists and writers living in the region served as an extension of their art.


The complex of buildings and the various components of the landscape, including views of Mount Ascutney, recall the artist and his way of life.  The intimacy of the natural world and the beauty of the changing landscape provided Saint-Gaudens ongoing inspiration.


The gardens are a well-preserved example of the type of garden favored in this country in the early years of the 20th century which, as noted in the property’s cultural landscape report, were Italian in inspiration but highly personal in detail, where flowers and other plants were used profusely more for “aesthetic effect than as collections of horticultural rarities.”

A plan of the garden, along with several photographs, was included in the 1908 book American Gardens, edited by Guy Lowell.

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More than one hundred years later the white curved bench that terminates the formal garden remains.


The Italianate styled flower garden is formally aligned with the rear of the house and enclosed by pine and hemlock hedges.  Old fashioned perennials line each side.




Designed by architect George Fletcher Babb the Little Studio, seen below, replaced a studio originally built in 1884.  It is here that Saint-Gaudens worked independently creating sketches to be enlarged and completed by his assistants.  The piazza was designed by Saint-Gaudens following a trip to Italy and lined with Doric columns.



Allées of birch trees connect the Little Studio to the Picture and New Galleries and Atrium.  Sited within are sculptural elements from the Shaw and Adams memorials.


These include a detail from a recast of the bronze funerary sculpture of Clover, wife of  historian Henry Adams, seen below. The original is sited in Washington, DC’s Rock Creek Cemetery and called by Adams,”The Peace of God.” “The Mystery of the Hereafter …..beyond pain and beyond joy” was the name given the work by Saint-Gaudens.


The New Gallery, Picture Gallery and Atrium are an ensemble of buildings connected by a circular courtyard. Remodeled in 1948 to include exhibition galleries they feature a Roman style atrium and pool.



Formerly the vegetable garden, the cutting garden is planted with historic varieties of annuals.  These are used by volunteers for floral arrangements throughout the house and studios.



A rustic ravine studio was used by Saint-Gaudens’ assistants for marble carving and sculpture production.  Built about 1900 it is sited at the beginning of a self-guided quarter-mile ravine trail following an old cart path along the Blow-Me-Up Brook which culminates at the Temple.  Designed in 1905 the Temple, originally a stage set for a play celebrating the 20th anniversary of Saint-Gaudens arrival in Cornish, houses the family ashes.




In 1902 Saint-Gaudens served on the MacMillan Commission charged with the beautification and redesign of the Mall in Washington, D.C. and the selection of a site for the Lincoln Memorial.  In 1904 he was chosen as one of the first seven members of the American Academy of Arts and Letters.  The photo below taken at the Little Studio is from 1906 and is found in a brochure celebrating the Lincoln Bicentennial.

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In 1965, Saint-Gaudens home and studios became the first site in the National Park Service to commemorate a visual artist and remains the only National Park site in New Hampshire.


The park is open daily from Memorial Day weekend through the end of October and exhibits more than 100 of Saint-Gaudens works.  During the summer series of 2 p.m. Sunday concerts, sponsored by the Trustees of the Saint-Gaudens Memorial, continue a tradition begun by Saint-Gaudens, who often held concerts in his studio for family and friends. The concerts are included with the paid admission to the site of $7.00 per person.


For additional information visit the Saint-Gaudens National Historic Site.

Copyright © 2015 Patrice Todisco — All Rights Reserved

The Royal Gardens of Herrenhausen


I recently spent several days in Hanover, Germany. I didn’t do any planning before my arrival and didn’t have an agenda or itinerary, instead hoping for a serendipitous convergence of parks and gardens of interest open during my visit. As is often the case when one has limited expectations, I was completely charmed by a city with one of the largest urban forests in Europe, a comprehensive network of greenways and public spaces, an amazing zoo and a beautiful city park celebrating its 100th anniversary, which fortuitously happened to be contiguous to the hotel in which I was staying.

However, none of this prepared me for my visit to the Royal Gardens of Herrenhausen, described as among the finest ensembles of gardens and parks in Europe and which, embarrassingly, despite my forays into the study of garden history, I was unaware of.

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Containing one of the few Baroque gardens to survive in its essential form (despite the fact that 90% of Hanover was destroyed in World War ll) the gardens reflect the vision of a creative and powerful woman, Electress Sophie of Hanover. A keen intellectual, she was heiress to the British crown to which she nearly ascended.

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“The garden is my life,” professed Sophie and indeed she was an equal partner with her gardener, Martin Charbonnier, in its creation and design evolution. Raised in the Netherlands, Electress Sophie found inspiration in the Baroque gardens of her childhood and wished to replicate their qualities at Herrenhausen.

Fittingly, it was on a walk in her beloved gardens that the electress succumbed to heart failure in 1714.  The sculpture below, a memorial to Electress Sophie, stands on the southern edge of the garden.


At Herrenhausen three distinct gardens form an ensemble where art and culture coexist. The Baroque Great (Grosser) Garden, the Berggarten, with its botanical collections and the Georgengarten, a picturesque landscape in the English style that is the site of the Wilhelm Busch Museum for Caricature and Drawing Art.

Kolorierte Foto-Postkarte, 1908: Hannover-Herrenhausen. Großer Garten Herrenhausen. Am Goldfischteich.

“Everyone is allowed to seek diversion in the royal gardens …..” was inscribed in 1777 on the Prince’s Gate (although clear distinctions were made between the “common” people and those of rank). Today the gardens host an extensive calendar of festivals and events that are at the center of Hanover’s cultural offerings.



The Great Garden:

While work on the 50 hectare Great Garden began in 1666 it was laid out in its present form under Electress Sophie’s supervision between 1696 and 1714. To fool the eye the garden’s layout is skewed by 2.8 degrees underscoring its artificiality as a work of art in which nature is shaped by man.


The Great Garden from the north, as depicted on a copper engraving by N. Parr, around 1745

A masterpiece of Baroque design, the Great Garden contains the Great Parterre, planted between 1674 and 1678, as well as eight rectangular beds and water features, including four swan ponds.  Originally dug in 1697 as fish ponds the swan ponds were modified during the garden’s restoration in 1937.


The Great Parterre is connected to the larger landscape by a central axis (designed to represent eternity) and embellished with a series of water features including the Bell Fountain containing 164 water jets and the Grand Fountain whose 82 metre jet of water is purported to be the tallest in Europe.



Thirty-two pieces of sandstone sculpture are sited throughout the Great Garden including those representing the four continents, the four seasons, the four elements and the gods of the ancient world.


The design of the planting beds follows an idealistic program with ornamental box trees and more than 30,000 summer flowers.  A series of eight themed gardens date from 1936/1937 when portions of the garden were reconstructed and four of them trace the development of garden art from the Renaissance to the Rococo.


Germany’s first garden theater, created between 1689 and 1682, is framed by gilded lead statues enclosed in hedging. The first “hedge theatre” in Europe, it is the only one of its kind to survive to the present day.


One of the garden’s oldest surviving structures is the grand cascade dating from around 1670. Sited at the entrance to the Grand Parterre, the cascade balances the garden’s other oldest feature, a grotto originally designed in 1676 by grotto-maker (yes, it was a specialty) Michael Riggus.


The view of  the grand cascade below is included in Twelve Principal Views of Herrenhausen by Johann Sebastian Müller & publisher Robert Sayer; London; 1751-52 available at the British Museum.


Inaccessible for almost 250 years, the grotto was reimagined by the contemporary artist Niki de Saint Phalle who has a special connection with the city of Hanover. In her final declaration of affection for Hanover she transformed the three grotto rooms into a unique artistic experience. Begun in 1996, the grotto was formally opened in March 2003 and is her last major work.

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The Great Garden is surrounded by a canal accented by tree-lined walkways.  At each southern corner garden pavilions in the French classical style are sited.  Designed by court architect Louis Remy de la Fosse at the beginning of the 18th century they appear identical yet one is built of wood and one, having been rebuilt after a fire in 1752, is of stone.



A pedestrian bridge, which was not open during my visit, connects the Great Garden to the Georgengarten, the 50 hectare English landscape style park designed to contrast with the strict formality of the Great Garden.   Laid out between 1835-1841 and 1859-1860 by Royal master gardener Christian Schaumburg it is named after the Hanoverian King George IV.


Although I did not have an opportunity to visit the Georgengarten (which is fully public while the Great Garden and the Berggarten share an entrance fee) the map below details the relationship of the two landscapes.

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The Berggarten:

Located across from the Great Garden, the Berggarten (Mountain Garden) originally provided “useful plants for the sovereign’s table and pocket.” Here everything from rice to tobacco was experimented with until 1790 when the cultivation of fruits and vegetables was moved off site and it became solely devoted to “higher purposes” as a botanic garden.

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The Berggarten includes a series of greenhouses, both historic and modern, the library pavilion and a collection of themed gardens that include American and African desert plants; the iris, rock and pergola gardens; ornamental and herbaceous shrubs and perennials; moor and heath plantings; flowering meadows; cacti, tropics and orchid exhibition houses; a paradise garden and an ornamental and subtropical courtyard.
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The glasshouses include a collection of more than 800 flowering orchids and exotic plants from around the world.


Seriously damaged during World War ll when more than 111 bombs fell on the garden destroying all but one greenhouse, much of the garden has been rebuilt. In 2000 a Rain Forest House (Regenwaldhaus) opened on the site of the Great Palm House and in 2007 the Sea Life Aquarium was built.


The Mausoleum:


Erected for Queen Friederike and King Ernst August in 1842-1847, the royal Mausoleum is also the final resting place of George I, the only English king to be buried outside the British Isles since the Middle Ages. In the off-chance you are wondering, George I’s great-great-great-granddaughter was Queen Victoria, whose great-great-granddaughter is the current Queen Elizabeth whose great-granddaughter is Princess Charlotte.


Framed by majestic oaks transported from a forest north of Hanover, the royal mausoleum is on axis with the palace and terminates an allee of Dutch lindens (which are currently being replaced) dating from 1727.

The Palace:

The Berggarten and Great Garden have been owned and operated by the city of Hanover since 1936 and were fully restored in 1937.  During World War II  the palace and much of the gardens, with the exception of the Gallery and Orangery, were destroyed.  The restoration has been phased with the gardens restored for their tercentenary in 1966.  The palace, reconstructed with financial support from the Volkswagen Corporation reopened in 2013 as an international center for academic science, conference center and museum.  The entrance to the Great Garden is through the wooden doors seen below.



The Royal Gardens of Herrenhausen are, and always have been, a meeting place for the arts and sciences – an “open-air ballroom” where the high aristocracy of Europe were entertained with spectacular festivals, carnivals and artistic productions.  Today that legacy continues and the gardens host a renowned series of events including the International Fireworks Competition.  From May to September, the Great Garden is illuminated on selected evenings. To see an illumination visit: http://www.panorama-cities.net/hannover/illumination.html.


The Great (Grosser) Garden/Berggarten  are open daily from 9am to 8 pm May to August otherwise until dusk. During the winter season and for special events the opening times are restricted. As open parkland the Georgengarten is open at all times.

For additional information visit: http://www.hannover.de/en/Welcome-to-Hannover/Tourism-Culture/Places-of-Interest-City-Tours/Tourist-Highlights/Royal-Gardens-of-Herrenhausen

Copyright © 2015 Patrice Todisco — All Rights Reserved

Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park


While public debate continues regarding Boston’s bid to host the 2024 summer Olympics, I recently spent a weekday visiting London’s Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park. Described as a lasting legacy of the 2012 summer Olympics at 560 acres in size, it is the largest urban park constructed in Europe in more than a decade.


The issue of legacy aside, the park is part of a comprehensive scheme to transform a contaminated river and post-war industrial site into a new urban district of nearly 7,000 homes, cultural facilities and economic development opportunities integrated within a visually spectacular landscape which, among other attributes, includes 25 acres of wildflower meadows, purported to be the largest area of annual meadows ever to have been used in a park setting.



Within the park eight permanent venues from the 2012 Olympics have been repurposed to support community and recreational activities and in the case of the stadium, provide a new (and not entirely uncontroversial) home for the West Ham United futbol club. A cultural quarter, including a branch of the V&A Museum and a Sadler’s Wells auditorium, is being planned and a summer beach was scheduled to open shortly after my visit.

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Developed in phases, the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park evolved through a lengthy series of master planning and design processes.

Master planning by EDAW (which later became AECOM) in concert with a partnership between LDA design and Hargreaves Associates provided a framework for the public realm and park design.  The plan below is from LDA design and shows the park’s two distinct sections connected by the river.

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Inspired by Victorian and post-war pleasure gardens, the park’s design includes “sweeping lawns, a promenade, access to the river, ample seating and public spaces throughout the park that showcased live screens during the Games” (Hargreaves Associates). The photos below show how the river is accessed in the southern formal area of the park and the northern, naturalistic area.



Following the Games James Corner + Field Operations, in partnership with Piet Oudolf, redesigned the south park as part of the site’s transformation for the London Legacy Development Corporation (LLDC). According to Dr Philip Askew, post-Games architect and landscape planner in the July 11th article Parklife – Exploring the changing landscape of Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park , Oudolf is responsible for the landscaping in the park, which ranges from wild meadows of hollyhocks, ornamental onions and foxtail lilies to “wonderfully imperfect, English” black pines.


The park supports a diversity of landscapes and within its 560 acres are 250 acres defined as metropolitan open space, 112 acres of biodiversity action plan (an internationally recognized program addressing threatened species and habitats designed to protect and restore biological systems) 15 acres of woodlands, hedgerows and wildlife habitats, 4 miles of waterways and 4,300 new trees.

There are four themed walking trails – London 2012, Biodiversity, Art in the Park and a children’s trail – 525 bird boxes, 150 bat boxes and 26 permanent artworks. Below is the guide for London 2012 “Trail of Glory.”

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The southern portion of the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park includes a formal and rather uninspiring entry that is easily accessible from the Stratford tube station (after passing through the Westfield Stratford Shopping Center).



Designed to support civic events it is organized around a central promenade with plazas, fountains, play areas, a carousel and The EastTwenty Bar & Kitchen.



The southern section of the park includes the Olympic Stadium and Britain’s largest piece of public art, the 114.5 meter (376 feet) high Arcelor Mitttal Orbit, designed by artist Anish Kapoor, engineer Cecil Beaton and architect Kathryn Findlay.



In keeping with Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park’s mandate to focus on native biodiversity and ecological systems, the southern portion of the park contains the 2012 pleasure gardens, a living timeline of British plant history that celebrates contemporary horticulture drawing upon the distinctive characteristics of plant communities found in the wild in Europe, North America, the Southern Hemisphere, and Asia. Planting design consultants for the 2012 pleasure gardens (as well as the park) included Nigel Dunnett, James Hitchmough and Sarah Price.


The Great British Garden, the result of a public design competition overseen by the Royal Horticultural Society and London 2012, contains three themed gardens that reflect the colors of the Olympic medals and are designed to encourage a voyage of discovery.

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The park’s northern section, follows the river valley and integrates wetland habitat within an extensive network of walking and biking trails accented with open areas for sitting and informal gatherings.



This is a serene and naturalistic environment with an undulating topography that frames the architectural features and provides a refreshing contrast to the somewhat overly active southern portion of the park which was described as “the visual equivalent of several mobile ring phones going off at once” by architectural critic Rowan Moore in the the April 5, 2014 article Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park review – no medals for visual flair.


A new community hub, the Timber Lodge (managed by a social enterprise) includes a cafe as well as meeting rooms for public events and is sited next to the innovative Tumbling Bay Playground.



Olympic venues repurposed in the northern section of the park include the Copper Box Arena and the Lee Valley Velopark (the only place in the world where where one can experience all four types of Olympic cycling).


The Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park integrates green technology with elements of British park design to create something totally new that is, as a landscape, still evolving. It has become a popular destination (visited by more than four million people last year) that in a dense, expanding  city like London “is the sort of place is a really necessary safety valve, a place people can come out to,” according to Dr Asker. “It’s a great place to play and learn.”


Which brings me back to Boston. Perhaps it is a landscape vision that is lacking in the current plan which, as I read it, proposes 15 new acres of permanent parkland at Widett Circle, the completion and expansion of Olmsted’s Emerald Necklace from Franklin Park to Columbia Road and improvements to the parks and open spaces that would be used, and thus impacted, as venues.

Additionally, according to the Bid 2.0 planning document (which I may not be fully understanding) that while permanent “open space” would be created in multiple phases, a legacy park would be constructed in phase 7 (2040).


Let’s imagine that Boston’s Olympic legacy as a bold new way to reinterpret the city’s landscape and use the Olympic bid as an opportunity to reshape the city and its public realm.

Copyright © 2015 Patrice Todisco — All Rights Reserved

Book Review: HUMMELO: A Journey Through a Plantsman’s Life by Piet Oudolf and Noel Kingsbury

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“In 1982 Piet and Anja and their two boys – Pieter, then aged nine, and Hugo, aged seven – moved into an old farmhouse on an acre of land outside the village of Hummelo, in the province of Gelderland, in the eastern Netherlands.” From this opening sentence, which feels rather like the beginning of a fairytale, the unlikely story of how, through the singular focus and extraordinary talent of celebrated plantsman Piet Oudolf, the manner in which gardens are designed changed forever.

Piet in 1992

Written to mark Oudolf’s 70th birthday, HUMMELO: A Journey Through a Plantsman’s Life is a lavishly photographed celebration of all that happened following the family’s move to Hummelo. While showcasing the evolution of Oudolf’s work and design philosophy, it is also the story of a place, the nursery he and his wife founded to grow plants that, at the time, were unavailable for purchase elsewhere. While the nursery flourished, drawing visitors from throughout the world, so too did Oudolf’s practice.


Floral labyrinth at the Trentham Estate, Stoke-on-Trent, 2005, Photo: Piet Oudolf

A gifted plantsman, Oudolf is at the center of the movement in planting design that focuses on ecological considerations and the use of native perennials and grasses. Combining plants naturalistically, Oudolf deftly balances complexity and coherence, anchoring his designs with enough of a given plant to provide visual impact while also using a diverse palette of plant varieties. Form, texture and seasonality matter as much to Oudolf as color and his planting plans create landscapes that are often ethereal in their beauty, appearing deceptively natural despite being carefully designed.


Pensthorpe Nature Reserve in winter, Photo: Piet Oudolf

Homage is paid to both the people and places that shaped Oudolf’s career introducing the reader to influential German and Dutch designers and horticulturalists. It is fitting that Oudolf would share his story so generously as throughout the book his independence as a designer is complemented by close collaborations and partnerships with others, including architects and landscape architects, patrons for whom he has created gardens and most critically those who maintain them.

Described as an artist first and a designer second, Oudolf eschews the trappings of a professional office and staff maintaining sole responsibility for his work. Planting design is by its nature a highly individualized and specific skill and according to close friend Rosie Atkins, former editor of Gardens Illustrated Magazine, Oudolf, “cannot delegate the design process any more than a composer could delegate a composition.” As a result he now completes approximately eight projects a year.


The High Line, Manhattan, 2009, Photo: Piet Oudolf

The book’s final section Crossing the Atlantic, explores Oudolf’s North American work including Chicago’s Lurie Garden and New York’s Battery and High Line. Fittingly, these highly lauded public projects have brought Oudolf additional acclaim. In 2013 he was awarded the premier Dutch cultural award, the Prince Bernhard Fund, for “achievements in the field of gardening and landscape design,” particularly his “significant impact on developments on The Netherlands and abroad.” In keeping with Oudolf’s dedication to integrating natural landscapes into urban settings the award’s prize will be used to establish “Green in the Neighborhood” for community- based volunteer projects in urban neighborhoods.

Planting at Hummelo- Photo- Piet Oudolf

Planting at Hummelo- Photo- Piet Oudolf

Told in partnership with frequent collaborator Noel Kingsbury, HUMMELO: A Journey Through a Plantsman’s Life is part biography, part social history and part design manual. While the narrative is structured around three broadly defined sections with a brief introduction the book also includes plans, notes on topics relating to planting design and a listing of places to visit.

HUMMELO: A Journey Through a Plantsman’s Life
Written by Piet Oudolf and Noel Kingsbury
The Monacelli Press: 2015

This review appeared in Leaflet A Massachusetts Horticultural Society Publication, June, 2015.

Copyright © 2015 Patrice Todisco — All Rights Reserved


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For weeks I have been fixating on Abigail Adams’ wisteria. Purportedly one of the oldest such plants in the United States, it cascades down (or is it up?) the side of the house that was home to four generations of the Adams family at what is now the Adams National Historic Site in Quincy, about ten miles south of Boston.

I’m not one of those people who routinely schedule their visits to landscapes around peak bloom time, eschewing a more felicitous approach to the entire process and generally hoping for the best. However, in 2005 I took a series of slides of said wisteria and hoping to do the same digitally, ventured forth. Below is a slide taken in 2005 as unfortunately on my recent visit I missed peak bloom (according to the gardener) by a week.


John and Abigail Adams purchased what became known as Peacefield, including the house, gardens and farm in 1787 while in England. According to Wilhelmina S. Harris, former NPS superintendent of the site, Abigail was attracted to the property which she knew well for its garden containing the “finest selection of fruit trees on the South Shore.”

Watercolr of the Old House by E. Malcom, 1798-large

Watercolor of the Old House by E. Malcom, 1798

“Retiring to our little farm, feeding my poultry, and improving my garden has more charms for my fancy than residing at the Court of Saint James, where I seldom meet with characters as inoffensive as my hens and chickens, or minds so well improved as my garden,” wrote Abigail as she contemplated her return from England (according to Mary Brawley Hill in On Foreign Soil: American Gardeners Abroad). The property also afforded the space and style necessary for a family of John and Abigail’s prominence.

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Located on the west side of the house, the formal garden included three rectangular beds filled with apple, pear, plum and peach trees and grape vines underplanted with cowslip, daffy and columbine.


The beds were lined with dwarf boxwood hedge imported from England surrounded by gravel paths, a plan which has been faithfully retained to this day.


Aside from the aforementioned wisteria Abigail brought two plants from England, a cutting of the red rose of Lancaster and one of the white rose of York.

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Shortly after she moved in Abigail planted three lilac shrubs on either side of the path leading from the gate to the front door as well as two tree peonies. The lilacs, carefully tended by the National Park Service, frame the entry.

According to Harris, while Abigail’s writings reference the planting of daffodils, delphiniums, four o’clocks and nasturtiums the property was very much a gentleman’s farm and as such she focused much of her energy on growing vegetables and overseeing the construction of structures to support agriculture and husbandry.

“It is not large, in the first place,” wrote John six months after moving in, “It is but the farm of a patriot. But there are in it two or three spots from whence are to be seen the most beautiful prospects in the world.”


John and Abigail invested considerable energy into improving the house and grounds for farming. They cleared meadows and established a herd of cattle. Between 1789 and 1801, while John served as both Vice-President and President, additional farm buildings were completed and the house enlarged and renovated to hold his library. In 1799 the Adams’ “homeplace” included more than one hundred acres of land.

1 1828 A drawing of The Adams Seat in Quincy by Mrs. George Whitney

A drawing of The Adams Seat in Quincy by Mrs. George Whitney – 1828

In 1826 the property passed to John Quincy Adams and his wife, Louisa Catherine. President, at the time, he would use it as a summer residence until 1848. Interested in tree cultivation, John Quincy Adams planted a wide variety of species on the property including the yellow-wood seen below, an important feature in the garden.

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John Quincy Adam’s motto “He plants trees for future generations” derived from a passage in Cicero’s Tusculan Disputations: Serit arbores quœ alteri seculo prosint—”He plants trees for the benefit of another age.” The seal below, an acorn between two leaves of white oak above a scroll inscribed Alteri seculo, “Another age” was used as the basis of the coat of arms for Adams House at Harvard University according to the The American Heraldry Society.


Charles Francis Adams inherited Peacefield in 1849. He and his wife, Abigail Brown Brooks, dedicated themselves to repairing and restoring the house and grounds, embarking upon an ambitious program to improve the estate, according to the cultural landscape report published in 1998, transforming the character of the property from a country farm to a Victorian estate.  They rebuilt the garden to solely contain flowers and constructed a stone library (possibly the first presidential library) to house the family’s papers.


Charles Francis consulted the leading architects and horticulturalists of the time, including Andrew Jackson Downing, who visited the property in 1841 dedicating a copy of A Treatise on the Theory and Practice of Gardening to John Quincy Adams.  Downing’s stylistic influence is visible as the property assumed the characteristics of a country seat popularized by his writings.

Upon his death the estate passed to his heirs including Brooks Adams who with his wife Evelyn, took over and managed the estate until 1927.   The photograph below, titled The Adams Mansion, Quincy, Mass is by photographer Leon H. Abdalien and was taken on October 10, 1929.  The expansive flower borders, established by Charles Francis and his wife are clearly visible.

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During their tenure a rose garden was installed west of the house featuring Abigail’s York rose and the wooden fence in front of the house was replaced with a gated brick wall adorned with wooden urns.


In the 1920’s the property was bisected by the Brook Furnace Parkway as the farming community of Quincy was transformed into a city.   The drawing below, from the Historic American Buildings Survey, completed in 1936, shows the impact of the parkway on the property, while detailing the layout of the formal garden and specimen plantings.

adams garden

The postcard below “Home of Presidents John Adams and John Quincy Adams, 135 Adams Street, Quincy, Mass” provided by Digital Commonwealth, dates from the same period.  The garden appears particularly colorful and the setting, framed by trees, deceptively tranquil.

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After being managed for several years by a non-profit trust the property was acquired by the National Park Service in 1946.  The original 5 acre site was augmented in the 1970’s by the purchase of an adjoining property, which while serving administrative functions, expands the landscape setting.  However as can be seen below, in the picture of the greenhouse, first referred to by Charles Francis in 1873  and the pond originally created by John in 1820 -1821 the site is but a fragment of a gracious past.

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As to the wisteria it features prominently in most every description of the property including as a dramatic backdrop for fictional accounts of the Adamses life in Quincy including this passage from The Remarkable Education of John Quincy Adams by Phyllis Lee Levin. “On this ravishing day, as John Quincy opened the front gate, the sky was cerulean, a canopy of deep lavender wisteria crowned the front path and looking left, he could see Abigail’s great rectangular garden, her red and white roses (York and Lancaster united) framed with a wide border of amethyst-flowering myrtle.”

Next year I’ll do a better job.


For additional information visit the website of the Adams National Historic Park.

Copyright © 2015 Patrice Todisco — All Rights Reserved

Ham House and Garden


Until the past week spring has been slow to arrive in New England. As an antidote, I have spent time reorganizing images and virtually revisiting gardens and parks I photographed during the past year. On a day trip to Richmond, outside of London, I rented a bicycle and rode along the Thames with the intent of photographing Richmond Park. Along the way I visited the garden at Ham House.


Described by the National Trust as “the most complete survival of 17th century power and fashion,” Ham House stands in the midst of a garden within a garden. The ensemble is most often described as majestic.

With verdant lawns, ancient trees, topiaries, terraces, kitchen gardens and a wilderness replete with structures perfect for clandestine rendezvous, the gardens design and survival are linked to a powerful and politically savvy woman, Elizabeth Murray (1626 – 1698), Countess, Duchess and often described as “more than a friend” of Oliver Cromwell.


Ham House was built by Thomas Vavasour, a naval captain. In 1626 it was acquired by Scotsman William Murray who later bequeathed it to his daughter, Elizabeth. William was close to Charles I and shared his taste in architecture and art. Forced to flee during the Civil War of 1649, it is Elizabeth who is credited with preserving the property until Charles II was restored to the throne in 1660.

ELIZABETH MURRAY, COUNTESS OF DYSART, DUCHESS OF LAUDERDALE, IN HER YOUTH (1626-98) by Sir Peter Lely (1618-80), painting in the Duchess's Bedchamber at Ham House, Richmond-upon-Thames. ©National Trust Images/John Hammond

ELIZABETH MURRAY, COUNTESS OF DYSART, DUCHESS OF LAUDERDALE, IN HER YOUTH (1626-98) by Sir Peter Lely (1618-80), painting in the Duchess’s Bedchamber at Ham House, Richmond-upon-Thames.
©National Trust Images/John Hammond

A woman of many talents, Elizabeth is described as complex, ruthless, and charming. In the 1906 Book of English Gardens, by M.R. Gloag is a quote about Elizabeth attributed to Bishop Burnett that opines, “She was a woman of great beauty, but far greater parts; she had a wonderful quickness and an amazing vivacity in conversation; she had studied, not only divinity, history but mathematics and philosophy. She was violent in everything, a violent friend and a much more violent enemy.”

In 1672 shortly after the death of her first husband, Elizabeth married the Duke of Lauderdale. A power couple extraordinaire, they traveled widely and spent lavishly, improving Ham House and expanding its gardens.


Miraculously, both were little affected by changes throughout history and emerged relatively intact into the modern era. Like Rapunzel, they “slept” through most of the 19th and 20th centuries until 1948 when they were given to the National Trust of Britain.

The plan below by Slezer and Wyck is dated 1672 and while it may not have been fully realized during Elizabeth’s lifetime it was used by the National Trust as a framework to restore the gardens in 1975, using plants introduced in England before 1700.  The plan depicts a formal axis connecting the river to the house and the house to its garden.

John Slezer and Jan Wyck plan for the garden, c.1671-2, in the Library Closet at Ham House, Richmond-upon-Thames. ©National Trust Images/John Hammond

John Slezer and Jan Wyck plan for the garden, c.1671-2, in the Library Closet at Ham House, Richmond-upon-Thames.
©National Trust Images/John Hammond

In 2011 the National Trust commissioned artist and illustrator Louise O’Reilly to create an artist’s book about the 17th Century garden at Ham House, in collaboration with historian Sally Jeffery, as part of the Interaction Programme for the Garden of Reason Project.  The beautifully illustrated result utilizes historic plans and descriptions of the garden as well as documents from the archives dating from 1653 and 1698.

The plan below, from The Gardens at Ham House, is available online.

ham house garden

The following is a brief tour of the gardens.  For additional information visit the Ham House and Garden website of the National Trust.

The Forecourt: The Forecourt is defined by a circular gravel path set in lawn with a sculpture of Father Thames at its center. Brick walls containing niches set with busts enclose the space (some of which has been replaced with a wrought iron fence allowing for more permeability).  The formal and symmetrical setting of the forecourt is enhanced by clipped bay topiary of yew cones and box hedges.



The Cherry Garden: One of the property’s most iconic spaces, the Cherry Garden, in the north-east corner, contains triangular and diamond-shaped beds, enclosed with box hedges and cones filled with lavender and Santolina. A statue of Bacchus, the god of wine and the garden’s only original piece of sculpture, is at its center. Hornbeam tunnels, underplanted with clipped yew hedges, enclose the cherry garden which, according to O’Reilly and Jeffery, was in use when Elizabeth was at Ham House.   In 1653 eighty-four cherry trees were identified as being planted here.  The current design is based upon the Slezer and Wyck plan of 1671.


The South Terrace: Providing a viewing platform from which to enjoy the garden, the gravel terrace retains the characteristics of the 1671 plan.  A herbaceous border, framed by an evergreen hedge, runs along its length, providing seasonal color.  During the summer months orange and lemon trees are placed here.



The Plats:  Comprising eight grass squares, the plats are visible in the Slezer and Wyck plan  and were reinstated by the National Trust in its 1975 restoration. The pathways provided an ideal venue for strolling and enjoying outdoor entertainments.


The Wilderness:  In contrast to the plats the wilderness, which contains sixteen compartments, is densely planted with hornbeam hedges and field maple, providing an opportunity for privacy.  Grass paths, laid out in a pattern loosely resembling the Union Jack, connect to four summerhouses providing additional opportunities for respite and concealment.



Kitchen Garden and Orangery: Occupying the south-west corner of the garden, the kitchen garden was redesigned in 2002-2003 based upon the Slezer and Wyck plan.   The Orangery was built in 1674 and may be, according to the National Trust, one of the earliest surviving structures built for this purpose.  The orange, lemon and pomegranate trees which were placed on the south terrace overwintered here.

Today the refurbished structure houses a café that features produce from the kitchen garden.




The image of the Orangery below, by Katherine Montagu Wyatt, is from A Book of English Gardens which contains a romantic description of the property from the turn of the century, predating the garden’s restoration.


Among other observations in A Book of English Gardens is the rich and verdant beauty of the riverside setting surrounding Ham House, which is enhanced by stately trees and greenswards.  Although I did not photograph what is described as The Melancholy Walk, there remain formal avenues of trees (or the reminders thereof) both within and outside of the property providing a palette of textures and multi-hued shades of green that adds to the elegance of the setting.



Copyright © 2015 Patrice Todisco — All Rights Reserved


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