Beatrix Farrand- "Landscape Gardener"

Wharton's residence, The Mount in Lenox, Ma.
Wharton's Country Estate, The Mount in Lenox, Ma

Beatrix' relationship with Edith Wharton was particularly important. Beatrix Farrand was the writer Edith Wharton's niece. Wharton was especially well-connected in the elite social circles of the day and helped to further Beatrix' career by introducing her to many people who soon became her clients. Wharton arranged for Beatrix to do some work for some of their cousins and others: Clement B. Newbold in Pennsylvania, Tom Newbold in New York, and Mrs. Gordon Bell in Connecticut, and Emily Vanderbilt Sloane among others.

Edith Wharton was somewhat of an "arbiter" of taste in American society during the Gilded Age. She wrote books on architecture, gardens and interior decorating among other things. In 1905, Wharton wrote in a letter to a friend, "The American landscape has no foreground and the American mind no background." At this time, Wharton's country estate called "The Mount" in Lenox, Massachusetts was being finished. Like other members of the culturally elite, Wharton felt it necessary to import European elements into her garden design.

In The Golden Age of American Gardens, Mac Griswold explains in part the "trend" of the Country Place Era:
They were built on the crassest piles of American loot, and the cultural history they reveal is one of the frantic borrowing and adaptation of every available garden model.

Edith Wharton's estate and garden was representative of the Country Place Era in the United States which began in the later nineteenth century and virtually ended 1920s as the Great Depression approached. Both architects and landscape architects were much in demand during this era and received large commissions for the designing and building of the gardens for these actual "country estates." Later in the thirties, there was a grand shift that made public projects come to the forefront.

"The Mount" was set in the Berkshire Mountains of western Massachusetts which certainly provided a picturesque backdrop for Wharton's country estate. The term "backdrop" is significant. A panoramic view of the American mountains was valuable only with the contrast to the imposed geometry of a formal garden. Wharton explicated in her Italian Villas and Their Gardens(1904) that European garden elements could not simply be appropriated into the American landscape, or any landscape. Instead, these garden elements and ideas had to be fitted correctly into their own existing landscape settings. Wharton illustrates:
The cult of the of the Italian garden has spread from England to America, and there is a general feeling that, by placing a marble bench here and a sun-dial there, Italian "effects" may be achieved. The results produced, even where much money and thought have been expended, are not altogether satisfactory; and some critics have thence inferred that the Italian garden is , so to speak, untranslatable, that it cannot be adequately rendered in another landscape and another age.......There is much to be learned from the old Italian gardens, and the first lesson is that, if they are to be a real inspiration, they must be copied,not in the letter but in the spirit. That is, a marble sarcophagus and a dozen twisted columns will not make an Italian garden; but a piece of ground laid out and planted on the principles of the old garden-craft will be, not indeed an Italian garden in the literal sense, but, what is far better, a garden as well adapted to its surroundings as were the models which inspired it.

Interestingly enough, Wharton had had her gardens at "The Mount" designed on her assumptions about Italian gardens. These designs were planned before Wharton researched and wrote her articles about Italian gardens and villas. Beatrix Farrand actually designed Edith's kitchen garden at "The Mount"; a design drawing dates from July 14, 1901.

Beatrix Jones Farrand (born Beatrix Cadwalader Jones) was born on June 19, 1872 into a wealthy and well-connected family in New York City. Her father, Frederic Rhinelander Jones, was Edith Wharton's oldest brother. Beatrix' mother was Mary Cadwalader Rawle, who came from an established and prestigious Philadelphia family. Frederic and Mary were married in Philadelphia in 1872. After marrying, they moved to New York City. Beatrix was their only child. The marriage lasted about twelve years and the couple divorced.

Beatrix Farrand acted as a role model for other women in society. She played this role in many ways. In 1899, the American Society of Landscape Architects was founded. Out of the ten founding members, Beatrix Farrand was the only woman. While other women may have been interested in garden design, or even did some actual gardening themselves, Beatrix Farrand was a career woman who successfully designed gardens for the wealthy.

Beatrix Jones in her mid-twenties

Edith Wharton was Beatrix' father's younger sister. And though Edith was only connected to Beatrix's mother by marriage, both Beatrix and her mother Mary maintained close ties with Edith Wharton long after Beatrix' parent's divorce. Beatrix's mother Mary, called "Minnie", even became a part-time literary agent for Edith Wharton. The social, literary, and artistic connections of the family were incredible. Minnie held a "salon" that often included Henry James, Henry Adams and John La Farge.

John Lambert Cadwalader, Minnie's brother and Beatrix' uncle, often played the role of fatherly figure for Beatrix. John was a distinguished New York lawyer and a trustee of the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Beatrix traveled extensively with her uncle, often on shooting trips to Scotland. John Cadwalader recognized that he had a talented niece and gave her opportunities to see Europe and all of the design elements that were there.

As described previously, Beatrix had the benefits of a privileged and eclectic education. However, what was the turning point that interested her in landscape architecture? At age twenty, Beatrix was introduced to Mrs. Charles Sprague Sargent. This was a fortuitous meeting for Beatrix because it opened up a myriad of possibilities. Mary Sargent's husband, Charles Sprague Sargent, was the dean of American horticulture and the founder and first director of the Arnold Arboretum located just outside Boston.

Arnold Arboretum

Charles Sprague Sargent

Sargent motivated Farrand to travel as much as possible so that she could learn from some of the great works of the world. Sargent encouraged Farrand to study landscape paintings, to analyze natural beauty, and "to learn from all the great arts, as all art is akin"(Patterson, p. 1). Beatrix Farrand preferred to be called "landscape gardener" rather than a landscape architect. Sargent became Beatrix's mentor and was the person that suggested she study landscape gardening. Shortly after this meeting, Beatrix went to live at the Sargent's home in Brookline, Massachusetts.

At the arboretum, she studied botany. Sargent taught Beatrix the basic concepts of landscape design, as well as how to stake out and survey a piece of land. Sargent imparted to Beatrix the idea that "plan" should fit the ground. One should never attempt to change the ground for the plan. (Balmori 2, p. 17) Farrand heeded this advice in her design plan for Dumbarton Oaks (Dumbarton Oaks, Site Plans, no. 3).

Sargent was not Farrand's only mentor. Gertrude Jekyll was also an important influence on Beatrix. When Beatrix traveled abroad with her mother in 1895, Farrand set out in England to meet Gertrude Jekyll. Although the two did meet, there were no continued meetings or correspondences. Beatrix continued to read Jekyll's books.

Part of Jekyll's influence on Beatrix involved Jekyll's intense emphasis on the value of nature. Jekyll believed in using native materials and was known for her subtle use of color. In Jekyll's book, Some English Gardens (1904), she wrote, " I am strongly for treating garden and wooded ground in a pictorial way." In Farrand's own work, Jekyll's influence can be translated in the harmonious and subtle blending of the plants chosen.

Although Dumbarton Oaks may be considered Farrand's best work, she completed many works all over the United States. For the Rockefellers (Nelson and David Rockefeller's mother), she designed The Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Garden in Seal Harbor, Maine between 1926-1929. Here many Buddhist influences can be seen.