a pre-ecological designer

 $2,000 for a finished minute of video times 40 is what it cost Karyl Evans to make the documentary, The Life and Gardens of Beatrix Farrand. I’ve always thought Beatrix Farrand was as famous as Gertrude Jekyll. Karyl Evans believed that there was an important story to tell about the first female American landscape architect and one of founders of American Society of Landscape Architects.  Last night at ASLA-NY event, Evans showed the documentary.

The Moon Gate at The Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Garden in Seal Harbor, Maine designed by Beatrix Farrand

Beatrix Farrand came from a wealthy, upper-class family.  Her family was extremely well-connected in New York circles; her aunt was Edith Wharton,  and Henry James called her Trix. Her extensive relationships were the “social media” of her day and provided Farrand with her first commissions.

White House garden designed by Beatrix Farrand. She was a personal friend of President Wilson’s wife, Edith Wilson.

Farrand spent her childhood summers on Mount Desert Island, Maine.  Reef Point was the coastal “cottage” of her parents.  According to Evans, the Maine landscape was the beginning of Farrand’s love of plants, horticulture and landscape.  Her enduring love of Maine lasted her entire life. She retired to Reef Point and spent the remainder of her life in Maine.

Hand colored photograph of Reef Point, Beatrix Farrand’s summer home in Bar Harbor, Maine 1920.

Dumbarton Oaks designed by Beatrix Farrand.

Dumbarton Oaks, Rose Garden

Farrand studied with Charles Sprague Sargent, Director of the Arnold Arboretum.  She educated herself.  She traveled to Europe to visit gardens all over Europe, including those designed by William Robinson, Theresa Earle and Gertrude Jekyll.

Dumbarton Oaks

In an unusual move, she established her first office on the top floor of her home at 21 East 11 St in NYC.  During her lifetime she designed over 200 gardens including private residences, estates, public parks, botanic gardens and college campuses.

Bellefield, Hyde Park, NY designed by Beatrix Farrand.

In an article in THE DIRT, Betsy Anderson, landscape historian traces Farrand’s use of native plants.  “Farrand anticipated the role of science in landscape architecture” by her willingness to partner with scientists and experiment with ecological design principles.

Dumbarton Oaks

This aspect of Farrand’s work was not part of the Evans film.  The Life and Gardens of Beatrix Farrand gives the viewer a look at many of Farrand’s amazing gardens. Evans mined the Farrand archives, consisting of photographs, drawings, herbarium and library all stored  at the University of California, Berkeley.library.

During the Q&A, I asked Karyl Evans:  In her extensive research of Farrand, was she able to ascertain what in Farrand’s childhood, upbringing or character enabled her to become a pioneer, trailblazer and groundbreaker?  Her answer:  “She felt entitled.  She was smart.  She was hired to tell people what to do.”








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