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Beatrix Farrand

Farrand, Beatrix (1872-1959)

Beatrix Farrand (née Beatrix Jones) was born in New York City on June 19, 1872. Her parents, Frederick Rhinelander Jones (1846-1918) and Mary Cadwalader Rawle (1850-1923), both came from wealthy, upper-class families that were well-connected in New York social circles. Although her parents divorced when she was twelve, Beatrix remained close to her father’s sister, the novelist Edith Wharton. Beatrix’s mother was a social reformer who served as a part-time literary agent for Edith Wharton. As a result, the brownstone where Beatrix grew up hosted a constant stream of notable visitors, like novelist and close family friend Henry James.

Beatrix liked to say she was “the product of five generations of garden lovers.” From childhood, Beatrix enjoyed gardening with her mother at the family’s summer home, Reef Point, in Bar Harbor, Maine. However, because there were no formal schools of landscape architecture in the 1890s, Beatrix taught herself. She attended one drafting class at the School of Mines at Columbia University—although she never drew well—and undertook an informal apprenticeship with Charles Sprague Sargent beginning in 1893. Sargent, who served as director of the Arnold Arboretum at Harvard University, encouraged Beatrix to respect the natural landscape with her designs and use native plants.

In 1895, Beatrix took a grand tour of Europe, where she continued her self-education. During her travels, she visited Italy, Germany, Holland, Scotland, England, and France. She also planned to meet with three designers whose work she admired: William Robinson, Theresa Earle, and Gertrude Jekyll. Beatrix’s lifelong admiration for Gertrude Jekyll inspired her to approach each landscape like a painting, and later in life, Beatrix purchased Jekyll’s papers to better study and understand her design principles.

Upon returning to the United States, Beatrix opened her own firm, which operated from a room in her mother’s house. By 1899 she was well established as a self-titled “landscape gardener,” designing private gardens for fashionable residences, including those of John D. Rockefeller and Henry Cabot Lodge. That same year, Beatrix served as the only female founding member of the American Society of Landscape Architects.

Years later, Beatrix told a vocational conference at Bryn Mawr College that landscape gardening was a difficult profession for women to break into because it was physically, mentally, and emotionally taxing. Although Beatrix did not receive the grand scale public projects of her male contemporaries like Frederick Law Olmstead, she thrived in her chosen field. At the height of her career, she worked out of offices in New York, California, and Maine. She designed over 200 gardens for clients both public and private. Her well-known campus work began with a commission from Princeton in 1913, and led to eventual projects for Yale, Harvard, Oberlin College, and the University of Chicago. Her designs filled private gardens across the country, even to the White House, where Beatrix worked for Mrs. Theodore Roosevelt and Mrs. Woodrow Wilson.

Many of Beatrix’s private gardens no longer exist. One notable exception is Dumbarton Oaks, considered to be her most complex and complete garden. Mildred Bliss hired her in 1921 to design a mix of formal and informal terraced garden rooms on steeply graded farmland. From 1921 to her retirement in the late 1940s, Beatrix worked hand-in-hand with Mildred Bliss to plan, build, and maintain an intricate landscape that interwove American Arts and Crafts sensibility with Italian and English garden elements. The garden rooms they created at Dumbarton Oaks blended timeless elements with dynamic, flexible design that allowed the garden to evolve and change over time, with new plantings, ornaments, and renovation.

Even as she scaled back her work at Dumbarton Oaks, she continued to advise and oversee her successors, Robert Patterson and Ruth Havey.  To help preserve her vision for the gardens, Beatrix wrote down her planting plans and rationale in The Plant Book for Dumbarton Oaks, which was completed in the mid-1940s. The Plant Book remains an unprecedented resource for the maintenance of the gardens in the spirit of Mildred Bliss and Beatrix Farrand.

Beatrix intended to leave more than her Plant Book behind as a guide for landscape gardeners to come. As early as the 1920s, she began crafting plans to establish her home at Reef Point as an educational center and reference library, with a photograph and print collection and learning gardens. It was, in many ways, conceptually similar to Dumbarton Oaks. In 1939, together with her husband, historian and author Max Farrand, Beatrix created the Reef Point Corporation. The Reef Point Gardens Bulletin began publication in 1946 and continued for ten years. Unfortunately, after many years of difficulty with funding and taxes, Beatrix decided that the future of Reef Point was too uncertain. At the age of 82, she demolished the house, sold the property, uprooted her gardens, and donated the library to the University of California in Berkeley. Beatrix sent all of her Dumbarton Oaks papers to Robert and Mildred Bliss, along with a painting from the estate of Edith Wharton. With her home dismantled and her health failing, Beatrix moved to a small house at Garland Farm in Bar Harbor and lived quietly and peacefully there until her death in 1959.

 

References:

A Home of the Humanities: The Collecting and Patronage of Mildred and Robert Woods Bliss. Edited by James N. Carder. Washington, DC: Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and Collection, 2010.

Balmori, Diana, Diane Kostial McGuire, and Eleanor M. McPeck. Beatrix Farrand’s American Landscapes: Her Gardens & Campuses. Sagaponack, NY: Sagapress, Inc., 1985.

Brown, Jane. Beatrix: The Gardening Life of Beatrix Jones Farrand, 1872-1959. New York: Viking, 1995.

Higonnet, Anne. A Museum of One’s Own: Private Collecting, Public Gift. Pittsburgh, PA: Periscope Publishing, 2009.

LoBiondo, Maria. “Beatrix Farrand: Landscape Architect.” In Princeton: With One Accord. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University's Office of Development Communications, 1998. http://www.princeton.edu/~gradcol/perm/farrand.htm

McGuire, Diane Kostial and Lois Fern, eds. Beatrix Jones Farrand (1872-1959): Fifty Years of American Landscape Architecture. Washington, DC: Dumbarton Oaks, Trustees for Harvard University, 1982.

Parke, Margaret. “A Portrait of Beatrix Farrand.” American Horticulturist. 64, no. 10 (April 1985): 10-13.

Patterson, Robert W., Mildred Bliss, Lanning Roper, and Beatrix Farrand. Beatrix Jones Farrand, 1872-1959: An Appreciation of a Great Landscape Gardener.  Washington, D.C.: Mrs. Robert Woods Bliss, 1960.

Tankard, Judith B. Beatrix Farrand: Private Gardens, Public Landscapes. New York: The Monacelli Press, 2009.