The Glory of Estate Gardens

Estate gardens – landscapes complementing a stately building – have long and storied histories.

Estate gardens – landscapes complementing a stately building – have long and storied histories. The truly expansive ones were usually associated with royalty, but from Roman times people of means have created them.

Of those developed by rulers, at least three were built in great love: King Nebuchadnezzar II, of Mesopotamia (605 BC to 562 BC), constructed the Hanging Gardens of Babylon by the Euphrates River to please his wife, Amytis. She was homesick for the green mountains of her native Medes, then part of ancient Persia.  Chinese Emperor – Ming Huang – was an intelligent, vital, 28-year-old when he came to the throne in 712 A.D. But his greatness was thwarted by one of China’s famous concubines known as the Jade Beauty. She so enchanted the ruler he neglected his duties to build palaces with the requisite gardens for her. The remains of one of them is at Hua Ching Hot Spring near the modern city of Xi’an. Perhaps most famous of all is the Taj Mahal. The lustrous tomb and expansive garden was a tribute made by Shah Juhan to his wife Mumtaz, who died after giving birth to their fourteenth child. 

In Europe, estate gardens were associated closely with the Renaissance, particularly in Italy. The Villa d’Este is perhaps the most famous. Now listed as a UNESCO world heritage site it is known in the musical Italian as a Grandi Giardini Italiani. The estate was built at Tivoli by Cardinal d’Este, who conveniently happened to be the grandson of Pope Alexander VI.The garden the lofty cleric developed around the manor is terraced and bulging with spectacular water features.

Sometimes great gardens arose out of jealousy. The noted landscape designer, André Le Nôtre, developed a park for Louis XIV’s finance minister, Nicolas Fourquet. Fourquet built his house and garden for a staggering sum, employing 16,000 men in the process. The estate named Vaux-le-Vicomte, was reputedly grander than any of the time. King Louis was puce with envy, not to mention angered by the perceived challenge to his authority that it posed. Three weeks after Louis visited Vaux-le-Vicomte he had Fouquet arrested for embezzling state funds. André Le Nôtre was then employed by King Louis and Versailles enjoyed an astonishing face-lift.

In a country lacking royalty, or a church hierarchy, to develop gardens, the challenge to create Edens was taken up in the United States by people with means. Author, Edith Wharton, was one such individual. Her home and garden, located in Lenox, Massachusetts, is known as ‘The Mount’.

Gardens, such as Wharton’s, presuppose the presence of prominent designers. Some were women during a period when the fair sex was seldom represented in any professions. Wharton designed her own garden in the Italianate style and was assisted by Beatrix Farrand, a remarkable designer in her own right. Other women notable in the landscape profession were Elizabeth Lord and Edith Schryver, active in the Pacific Northwest.

Precise figures are hard to come by, but the notable Olmsteds were commissioned to create about 2,000 private estate gardens. The Dunn has the distinction of being one of them and the more delicious distinction of being the only one open for tours in the Pacific Northwest.

On June 26th 2016, the Dunn Gardens is offering people an opportunity to explore a private estate garden that is now over 100 years old. At 11.5 acres, it is brimming with rooms, trails, and a wondrous set of bristlecone pines! The designs offered by the Olmsted Brothers’ Firm in 1909 for the property were largely realized at the time. Subsequent renovations over the decades, one by Lord and Schryver, altered the character of the landscape but many of the Olmsted features have been restored recently.

After visiting the Grandi Giardini, guests will be invited to a neighborhood garden that has the hallmarks of an estate garden. It has a stunning view, is full of art, follies, and artistic plantings. Simply, it is enchanting.  After viewing these Edens visitors are invited to return to the Dunn Gardens for further viewing, refreshment, music, and a chance to swap stories about these glorious landscapes. We would love you to join us. 

Check out the event before you purchase your tickets.