Exploring Garden Transformations
At the beginning of the last century, wealthy Americans hired landscape architects to design and install specialty gardens on their estates. Some designers enjoyed national reputations and were known for a specific style, such as Italianate or Colonial Revival. Others worked locally, often designing gardens for an entire “social set.” Although most of these elaborate estate gardens are long gone, their well-documented pasts provide rich resources for exploring garden history.
The first exhibition in the American Garden Legacy series, Exploring Garden Transformations, 1900-2000,traces the aesthetic, organic, and functional evolution of five estate gardens during the last century. Once the pride of luxurious estates, some fell into neglect during the Depression or later, when high taxes and upkeep costs contributed to their demise. Others survived through family stewardship or a strong sense of community ownership. Today, all five of these revitalized Edens are enjoyed as parks, historic gardens, community cultural centers, or residential property.
Featured in the exhibition are Grosse Pointe War Memorial (formerly The Moorings) in Michigan; Beacon Hill in Newport, Rhode Island; Shirley Plantation on the James River in Virginia; Thornewood in Tacoma, Washington; and Weld in Brookline, Massachusetts. The estate owners—industrialists, descendents of America’s first settlers, a banker, and a diplomat—hired the best landscape architects and designers of the day, including the Olmsted Brothers, Charles A. Platt, and Ellen Shipman.
Exhibition imagery draws heavily from the collections of the Smithsonian’s Horticulture Services Division, primarily its Archives of American Gardens, and the Smithsonian Institution Libraries. Reproductions of hand-colored glass lantern slides from the Archives’ Garden Club of America Collection are complemented by an array of reproduced design plans, period photographs, correspondence, publications, and seed catalog images.
Opportunities for local programming, including garden club or nursery involvement, further enrich the exhibition’s potential.
Exploring Garden Transformations, 1900–2000 , has been made possible by W. Atlee Burpee & Co.