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HomeLife In the BerkshiresCONNECTIONS: Beatrix Farrand,...

CONNECTIONS: Beatrix Farrand, a remarkable woman of the 19th century

She was a landscape architect at a time when architects of buildings and grounds were assumed to be men. Her aunt was Edith Jones Wharton.

About Connections: Love it or hate it, history is a map. Those who hate history think it irrelevant; many who love history think it escapism. In truth, history is the clearest road map to how we got here: America in the 21st century.

International Women’s Day was last week, but it is never too late to acknowledge the social, economic, cultural and political accomplishments of women.

In 2016, my book about the “Remarkable Women of the Eighteenth Century” was published, and I have been considering remarkable women of the 19th century.

Beatrix Jones Farrand as a young girl.
Beatrix Jones Farrand as a young girl.

If that does prove to be my next book, Beatrix Cadwalader Farrand née Jones, landscape gardener, will be among the women included.

Born in New York City in 1872, Farrand was the daughter of Frederick Rhinelander and Mary Rawles Jones. Her aunt was Edith Jones Wharton.

Farrand had the same love of understatement as did all of her socio-economic class. For example, when asked about her many accomplishments as a landscape architect, she said “I come from a family of gardeners – five generations of gardeners.”

She was far from a common gardener. Farrand studied landscape architecture under Charles Sprague Sergeant. Sergeant was a botanist and the first director of the Arboretum at Harvard. She studied draftsmanship and travelled abroad to learn from the premier landscape architects in England.

She was no hobbyist. Her background and training were impeccable, an immeasurable assistance in doing her work, but it was her social connections that helped her get the work. Her mother was a Jones when “keeping up with the Jones” was to be desired, and her Aunt Edith was a novelist, winning the Pulitzer Prize for “The Age of Innocence.” Her friends included Henry James and architects McKim, Mead and White.

Farrand began her professional career in 1895 and designed more than 100 gardens. She designed a garden at the White House for Mrs. Woodrow Wilson (the Jacqueline Kennedy Garden today), a garden for the Rockefellers in Maine, for J.P. Morgan at the Morgan Library in New York City, and at Dunbarton Oaks in Washington, D.C. James introduced her to Theodore Pope Riddle, and the gardens at Hill-stead in Connecticut were the result. There were many more gardens.

She worked with the architectural firm of Mckim, Mead and White at many homes including Dunbarton Oaks. It was a propitious association both because it was successful and remunerative, but also because a McKim, Mead and White house and a Farrand garden had something in common: grace and the sense of a complete sentence, a complete thought.

Part of the Dunbarton Oaks garden in Washington, D.C., which was designed by Beatrix Farrand.
Part of the Dunbarton Oaks garden in Washington, D.C., which was designed by Beatrix Farrand.

There is something about a Farrand garden, beyond the sheer beauty, the color and composition; there is something calming and very pleasant. It is something that makes you wish to visit the place again. It is a rich mix of botany and architecture. There is an amalgam of native plants, natural and informal, and an ultra-formal hardscape and design. It results in an impression of peace and fulfillment.

Although Farrand is only credited as a collaborator at The Mount, Wharton’s gardens have elements easily recognizable as a Farrand contribution.

She was a landscape architect at a time when architects of buildings and grounds were assumed to be men. She was the only female founder of the American Society of Landscape Architects. Her gardens were exceptional but few survive.

The gardens at the Mount are beautifully restored and maintained. The other gardens that survive are Dunbarton Oaks in Washington, D. C.; Abby Aldrich Rockefeller gardens in Maine; Theodore Pope Riddle gardens at Hill-stead in Connecticut; and the Santa Barbara Botanical Gardens in California.

In 1913 Beatrix Jones married Yale University historian Max Farrand. Until that point she designed gardens at private estates. She now received commissions for university gardens. She was sole landscape architect or consultant on university gardens at Yale, Princeton, Harvard and the University of California at Berkley.

Farrand is considered one of the most accomplished landscape architects, male or female, of the period. In 2004, the Beatrix Farrand Society purchased Garland Farm on the Maine coast “to foster the art and science of horticulture and landscape design, with emphasis on the life and work of Beatrix Farrand” and to preserve her final garden.

Visit any Farrand garden, including Téhe Mount; you will come away refreshed, delighted, with a desire to return.


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