So Fine a Prospect: Historic New England Gardens / Edition 1

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“Oh, the comfort, the delight I have had in my garden,” an octogenarian grande dame of Portsmouth, New Hampshire, recalls in an 1888 memoir. Alan Emmet’s glimpse into more than two dozen gardens that graced New England’s towns and countryside from just after the American Revolution into the twentieth century has delights of its own. Drawing from diaries, correspondence, historical records, sketch maps, and paintings, Emmet treats the garden--ranging from small urban retreats to ornamental estates of thousands of acres--as an art form and examines its evolution form the utilitarian to the ornate. Along with the useful--greenhouses, peach walls, and pergolas--are found the whimsical and the idiosyncratic. She describes teahouses, topiary trees, fountains, mazes, marble nymphs, and a three-story viewing tower. And ever-present, of course, are the plants themselves: roses, lilies, tree peonies, orchids, even southern magnolias, as well as towering elms, massive lindens, peaches, pears, and boxwood.

But as Emmet delves more deeply into who built these gardens and why, another story unfolds. The gardens, it seems, parallel their owners’ lives, and embedded intheir history is the saga of families and their rising and falling tides. We see great houses inhabited by gentle ghosts, the boom and subsequent decay of the port towns, the emergence of a mercantile class, the metamorphosis of the cities into sprawling urban centers, and the establishment of institutions like the Massachusetts Horticultural Society. Carefully chronicled, entertaining, and generously illustrated, Emmet’s garden tour is very much worth taking.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
A lively illustrated social and horticultural book that adds "a significant new dimension to our understanding of American garden history." —New York Times Book Review
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Emmet may not be the most polished literary stylist in the garden-writing world, but her love for historic gardens and her relish for their attendant lore are so infectious that readers will forgive her occasional narrative stumblings. Reading this rambling, detail-packed work is rather like conversing with a feisty old gardener over the back fence: one gets as much local history and family scandal as solid information about when and how a garden was laid out and what plants grew in it. Here we learn that early orchid fancier Wright Boott of Boston, whose father had one of the city's first hothouses, became a mad recluse before shooting himself in 1845; that Celia Thaxter, renowned for her garden and salon on Appledore Island, off the coast of southern Maine, was probably nearsighted; and that Edith and Teddy Wharton took Henry James motoring through the Berkshires. Garden lovers will be inspired to visit the enthusiastically described properties that are still extant, as well as mourn those that remain only in images and words. Pictures not seen by PW. (Aug.)
Library Journal
Emmet, a member of the Advisory Committee of the Garden Conservancy and a trustee of the Society for the Preservation of New England Antiquities, describes gardens from Colonial times into the 20th century, from small urban retreats to large estates. She concentrates on some two dozen gardens that survive or are well-documented in diaries, correspondence, historical records, plans, and paintings. It is instructive to compare her approach with May Brawley Hill's Grandmother's Garden (LJ 11/15/95), which covers a specific type of garden in a more limited time period but over a broader geographical range. Both authors describe Celia Thaxter's famous island garden off the coast of Maine. Hill features six full-page reproductions of paintings of the garden; Emmet gives more attention to Thaxter's life but does include a plan of the garden and information about its restoration. In general, Emmet spends more time on the biographies of the creators or owners of these gardens and less on the gardens themselves, but she still accomplishes her aimto examine the evolution of New England gardens from the utilitarian to the ornateand does so in a well-written and well-designed volume. Each chapter has extensive endnotes, but a bibliography would have been useful. Recommended for all gardening history collections.Daniel Starr, Museum of Modern Art, New York
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780874517743
  • Publisher: University Press of New England
  • Publication date: 3/1/1997
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 256
  • Sales rank: 1,363,429
  • Product dimensions: 8.53 (w) x 11.02 (h) x 0.67 (d)

Meet the Author

Alan Emmet has written widely landscapes and gardens. She is on the Garden Conservancy Advisory Committee and a trustee of the Society for the Preservation of New England Antiquities. She recently coauthored a historic landscape report for the National Trust for Historic Preservation on Chesterwood, Daniel Chester French’s summer home and studio.
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Table of Contents

Introduction: So Fine a Prospect
1 A Race of Cultivators: Theodore Lyman, John Codman, and Other Exemplars of the Pastoral Ideal 1
2 The Conservative Tradition: Gardens of Portsmouth, New Hampshire 14
3 Radishes and Orchids: The Bootts' Garden in Boston 32
4 Ghosts in the Garden: Vaucluse, Portsmouth, Rhode Island 47
5 Brief Dynasty: John Perkins Cushing's Bellmont, Watertown, Massachusetts 57
6 Boxwood and Bunting: Henry Bowen's Roseland, Woodstock, Connecticut 69
7 Family Trees: Wellesley, the Hunnewell Estate 84
8 To Bring Back the Past: The Codmans at The Grange, Lincoln, Massachusetts 101
9 A Little Taste of Everything: Potter's Grove, Arlington, Massachusetts 118
10 On the Isles of Shoals: Celia Thaxter and Her Garden by the Sea 130
11 The Power Landscape: William Seward Webb's Shelburne Farms, Shelburne, Vermont 144
12 The Sculptor Makes a Garden: Daniel Chester French's Chesterwood, Stockbridge, Massachusetts 162
13 Of Time and the River: The Gardens at Hamilton House, South Berwick, Maine 177
14 The Italian Inspiration: The Garden at Faulkner Farm, Brookline, Massachusetts 191
15 The Great Good Place: Edith Wharton at The Mount, Lenox, Massachusetts 206
16 A New Palette: Eolia, the Harkness Estate, Waterford, Connecticut 219
17 The Mind's Eye and the Camera's Eye 230
Index 235
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