Famed landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted in 1893 dismissed 21-year-old Beatrix Farrand as a dilettante gardener, but six years later she had risen to the top of the field.
At 27, Beatrix Farrand had earned a reputation that allowed her to help found the American Society of Landscape Architects.
Her clients had estates in Newport, the Berkshires and Maine, but she also consulted with universities such as Yale and Princeton. She also designed public gardens such as the rose garden at the New York Botanical Garden and the Santa Barbara Botanical Garden.
Throughout her life she insisted on calling herself a landscape gardener.
She was born June 19, 1872, the only child of a New York society couple. Her rich father, Frederic Rhinelander Jones, had no ambition and loved to have fun. His serious little sister Edith became the novelist known as Edith Wharton. Beatrix’s mother, Mary Cadwalader Rawle, was also rich, but lively and bookish.
Beatrix’s parents’ marriage failed, and then after she turned 10 her father absented himself from her life.
She grew up surrounded by her mother’s women friends and, occasionally, Philadelphia lawyers, soldiers, artists and writers. “Always beautifully turned out, with an awesome briskness of manner,’ wrote Jane Brown in Arnoldia. ”She was formal, not jolly and good fun,” a friend of the family told the The New York Times in 2003.
“She had an elegant reserve, a perfectionism that suffered no fools,” the Times reported.
Beatrix and her mother spent summers at her family’s summer home, Reef Point, on Mount Desert Island in Bar Harbor, Maine. There she learned to love the outdoors, especially plants and trees. While still a teenager she took over the management of the Reef Point gardens.
She also had the good fortune to meet Charles Sprague Sargent, director of Harvard’s Arnold Arboretum. He was perhaps the only person at that time who was willing and able to help her enter the exclusively male world of landscape architecture. Sargent, a stern and aloof Brahmin, appreciated Beatrix Jones’ knowledge and enthusiasm for plants.
On their trips between New York and Maine, Beatrix and her mother stayed at the Sargents’ Brookline home, Holm Lea.
Frederick Law Olmsted
In October 1893, the Sargents took Beatrix Farrand to Chicago to see Frederick Law Olmsted’s landscape settings for the World’s Columbian Exposition. The next summer they took her and her mother to see Olmsted’s gardens at the Biltmore estate in North Carolina.
Olmsted, then at the height of his fame, commented that Beatrix was ‘inclined to dabble in landscape architecture.’ The slight was widely quoted in landscape architecture circles.
After her visit to Biltmore, she stayed at Holm Lea for a summer, studying at the Arboretum. Sargent took her to see H.H. Hunnewell’s rhododendron collection at his home in Wellesley, Mass. He also took her to Frederic Law Olmsted’s home office – when Frederic Law Olmsted was away. There, Beatrix saw how designers sketched layouts for gardens on tracing paper over site surveys. She saw as well how they made plans for planting by referring to a card index describing each plant.
And she returned Olmsted’s slight (which she probably never heard) by recording in her notebook some badly arranged shrubs and clashing azaleas in pinkish blue and bright orange. (Anyone can visit Olmsted’s home office now; it’s now a National Historic Site run by the National Park Service.)
That fall she arranged for private tutors from Columbia University’s School of Architecture to teach her technical drawing and surveying. During a trip to Europe she studied formal gardens and the natural landscape. By 1897, Sargent had found her first job: thinning trees and remodeling plants on a garden slope. At 25, she was on her way, working from the top floor of her mother’s brownstone on East 11th St. in New York City.
As a woman she was excluded from public projects, but she managed to find private clients among her family friends in Bar Harbor. Her Aunt Edith Wharton also helped with her connections. She designed the rustic bridge and the birch grove pictured above for the Herbert L. Satterlee estate in Bar Harbor.
In 1913 she designed the East Colonial Garden at the White House for the first Mrs. Woodrow Wilson. It was replaced by the Jacqueline Kennedy Garden.
She designed the Italian, Oriental and cutting gardens for Eolia, the Waterford, Conn., estate of wealthy philanthropist Edward Harkness. Harkness left Eolia to the state of Connecticut in 1950. It is now open to the public as Harkness Memorial State Park, and the 42-room mansion can be rented for weddings and parties.
Another philanthropist, John D. Rockefeller, Jr., hired her to design plantings that framed vistas and bridges along his 45 miles of carriage roads, now part of Acadia National Park. Much of her work was destroyed by fire in 1947. Above is the Duck Brook Bridge, spanning Duck Brook between Witch Hole Loop and New Eagle Lake Road in Bar Harbor.
Beatrix Farrand remained single until she was over 40. In 1913, she married Max Farrand, chairman of the Yale History Department.
Max and Beatrix Farrand set up Reef Point as an educational institution, but attracted few students. She used the grounds as a laboratory for her plants, studying soils and finding ways to protect tender plants.
By 1955, Max Farrand had died and she couldn’t find an institution willing to undertake the expense of maintaining Reef Point. In 1955, she ordered the house torn down and gave away her plants, keeping some of her favorites. She gave her library of 2,700 books and her herbarium to the University of California at Berkeley.
Beatrix Farrand then moved six miles down the road, to Garland Farm, owned by Lewis Garland, her driver and handyman. His horticulturist wife Amy supervised the Reef Point gardens. She built an addition to the house that included a room for Clementine Walters, her companion and caregiver.
She lived at Garland Farm until her death on Feb. 28, 1959.
Garland Farm had two private owners until 2004, when the Beatrix Farrand Society bought the farm. It is open to visitors on Open Days and by appointment. The Society renovated the barn as an educational center for workshops, lectures and other programs.
With thanks to Lady into Landscape Gardener: Beatrix Farrand’s Early Years at the Arnold Arboretum by Jane Brown in Arnoldia. The photo Arnold Arboretum – Aug 2005(b) courtesy of Daderot at Wikipedia. The photo of the Asticou Azalea Gardens “Asticou Azalea Garden 2003 1” courtesy of Dudesleeper at Wikipedia. This story about Beatrix Farrand ws updated in 2022.