Blooms with a view

Landscape Gardens on the Hudson author leads tour of Vanderbilt grounds in Hyde Park this Sunday

by Ann Hutton
October 21, 2010 02:07 PM | 0 0 comments | 10 10 recommendations | email to a friend | print
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Sunnyside from the Hudson, unknown artist, after 1860. The view shows the intrusion of the railroad after 1848. The cove, at this point a backwater, is seen to the right. The cottage front was cleared of scrub vegetation, with the lawn reaching down to the water’s edge. The large tree in the foreground was an American elm that remained into the 1940’s when the house and property were preserved and opened as a house museum. (Courtesy of Historic Hudson Valley).
Robert M. Toole’s 30-year-long romance with the magnificent gardens and grounds of the great estates along the Hudson River has resulted in a comprehensive book describing not only the locations, but also the history of landscape development at each. Landscape Gardens on the Hudson, A History: The Romantic Age, the Great Estates & the Birth of American Landscape Architecture, just released by Black Dome Press, is an exquisite catalogue of those estates, replete with original maps and artistic sketches, landscape paintings, portraits of the landowners and historical and contemporary photographs.

It is the first book that addresses the progress of landscape architecture in America from the merely practical to the picturesque, outlining how Romantic European models were incorporated into and assumed by the stunning natural terrain of the Hudson Valley. And it tracks the career of horticulturalist and designer Andrew Jackson Downing, whose commentary reveals the influences and intentions of design that soon impacted the creation of all the significant public urban parks in the new country, especially Central Park in New York City (the creation of his protégé Calvert Vaux and Frederick Olmsted).

Toole elucidates how the great Hudson River, once treated primarily as an artery for commerce and transport by Dutch and British colonists, became the locus of manors and mansions for landowners who sought a particularly grand sort of respite. As Mark Castiglione, executive director of the Hudson River Valley National Heritage Area, has remarked, “The landscape designers…took that special quality of the region and translated it into walking, strolling and sitting gardens for the major estate owners, taking their cues from the beauty of the natural landscape. The gardens were designed to celebrate the ruggedness and the beauty of the landscape, but it was a Romantic design style to capitalize on the natural style and make it as beautiful as possible.” Black Dome editor Steve Hoare explained that when the Hudson River Valley was granted National Heritage Area status, the National Park Service famously dubbed the valley “the landscape that defined America,” and that Toole’s book could have powerful ramifications in continuing efforts to preserve the valley’s landscape.

To that end, the Hudson River Valley National Heritage Area initiative has organized a month-long celebration of the historic landscape gardens of the Hudson Valley – a region containing the highest concentration of this type of landscape in the world, and all of it publicly accessible. Two free guided walks by the author and others are scheduled: On Sunday, October 24 at 2 p.m., Toole will conduct a tour of the grounds of the Vanderbilt Mansion in Hyde Park; call (845) 229-9300 for information. And on Saturday, November 6 at 2 p.m., he will lead a tour of the grounds of Washington Irving’s Sunnyside in Tarrytown; call (914) 591-8763. Landscape Gardens on the Hudson, A History will be available for purchase and signing at each event. Also, Toole will give a lecture and sign books on Sunday, November 14 at 2 p.m. at the Albany Institute for History & Art at 125 Washington Avenue in Albany; call (518) 463-4478.

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