Gardens At National Trust Historic Sites Provide A Breath of Fresh Air
Note: This story has been updated to reflect more recent information around National Trust Historic Sites.
When spring fever hits and you find yourself craving the great outdoors, historic sites can offer the perfect balance of nature and culture. Here are four National Trust Historic Sites around the country that quite literally invite you to stop and smell the flowers.
Tarrytown, New York
Along the banks of the Hudson River in Tarrytown, New York, is Lyndhurst, a Gothic Revival house museum built in 1838 on 67 acres of serene, park-like land. Its grounds showcase the evolution of American landscape design, with a fernery, a rose garden, and shrubs and specimen trees dotting the lawn. (Fun fact: Lyndhurst is also home to the nation’s first steel-framed conservatory, constructed in 1881.)
And this spring, be sure to check out Lyndhurst's Flower & Antiques show (and their opening weekend) on April 5-7, 2019.
New Iberia, Louisiana
In 1918, William Weeks Hall inherited the house his great-grandfather, a sugar planter, built in 1834 on the banks of the Bayou Teche in New Iberia, Louisiana. After renovating the salmon-colored brick plantation house, he turned his attention to the gardens.
Though the grounds had been reduced from 300 acres to less than 3 acres, Weeks Hall, an artist, found no constraints on his inspiration. His great-grandmother likely had planted brightly hued roses, but instead of color, Weeks Hall emphasized lush shades of green and varying leaf textures and sizes. The result is a mix of southern magnolias, ginger lilies, and camellias segmented by bamboo plantings and meandering walkways that serve as a natural extension of the Shadows’ Classical Revival facade. Azaleas are planted farther from the house, so their colors don’t distract from the architecture.
The garden draws artists from across the country each spring, when the Shadows holds a plein-air painting competition. The event serves as both a nod to Weeks Hall—who taught plein-air classes on the grounds in the 1930s and ’40s—and an opportunity to absorb the site’s otherworldly quality.
Belle Grove takes the historical accuracy of its garden seriously. Designed by Rudy Favretti of the Garden Club of Virginia in the 1980s, it stays true to the former plantation’s Federal style, down to the absence of obtrusive signage. Instead, a handy brochure confirms that, yes, that is tansy, formerly used as a dye for its golden hue. Or that in the adjacent bed you’ll find comfrey, once grown for its medicinal purposes.
Belle Grove’s historians are confident that a bigger garden was tended in the same location in the 1800s, pointing to a faint photograph of the plot from the late 19th century. Staffers at the 283-acre property, built in 1797 by Major Isaac Hite and Nelly Madison Hite (President James Madison’s sister), now use the garden for educational purposes, teaching visitors about the plants’ historical relevance. “We do research to learn when these plants were brought to the United States, how they were cultivated, and how they were used,” says Belle Grove’s executive director, Kristen Laise.The quarter-acre plot also serves as a teaching garden for the Northern Shenandoah Valley Master Gardeners Association, which holds a garden festival there every June.
Cedar Rapids, Iowa
You won’t find exotic plants or flowers imported from far-off lands at Brucemore in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. The gardens surrounding the 21-room, Queen Anne-style mansion, built in 1886, reflect the region’s natural offerings: Think clematis, phlox, and native grasses.
Brucemore’s gardens owe much of their appearance to O.C. Simonds, a founding member of the American Society of Landscape Architects and one of the creators of the Prairie Style landscape movement, which championed native plants and a strong conservation ethic.
Simonds was hired in 1906 by Brucemore’s second matriarch, Irene Douglas, an avid gardener. Together, she and Simonds created several “outdoor rooms” on the estate’s grounds, including a formal garden with perennial beds and trellises; a cutting garden; and specialty landscapes, such as a night garden with all-white plantings and outdoor furniture. They also added a wooded area of native trees near the entrance, with lots of wildflowers and a constructed pond.The Douglases frequently opened their grounds to the community. That tradition carries on today, as the site hosts a number of outdoor festivals, theater events, concerts, and garden walks.