“As I look back I realize it was at that moment that a garden became for me the most essential part of a home.” – Ellen Biddle Shipman
By Richard Hourahan
“As I look back I realize it was at that moment that a garden became for me the most essential part of a home.” Ellen Biddle Shipman
Ellen Biddle Shipman was called the “Dean of American Women Landscape Architects.” A superb garden designer, she composed with flowers, foliage and color. She also had an unusual knowledge of plants. “Working daily in my garden for fifteen years.” she wrote, “taught me to know plants, their habits, and their needs.”
The opening quotation was Shipman’s response to a garden at Annie Lazarus’ country home, which was designed by one of the architects in London Charles Adams Platt. Platt became her mentor, and the two of them collaborated frequently. In Rye, the properties of Ormsby Mitchell, Basil Harris and Thomas L. Perkins were designed by Shipman; the house and property of William Rand was designed by Charles Adams Platt. All of these properties still exist.
Shipman also collaborated with Olmsted Associates, the successor firm to that of Frederick Law Olmsted. Olmsted Associates had seven major projects in Rye. Its clients were Pliny Fisk, Joseph Walworth, R. M. Smith, Helme Strater, Francis Law, Greenwood Union Cemetery, and Rye Town Park.
A world-renowned architect and engineer, Charles Leavitt, and one of the progenitors of the City Beautiful movement, designed in the Westchester Country Club and the Barron Estate in Rye. Daniel Kiley, considered by many as the finest of modern landscape architects — he designed the grounds of the St. Louis Arch (architect Eero Saarinen) and the landscape of the Ford Foundation (architect Kevin Roche) in New York City —collaborated with the renowned architect I. M. Pei and landscaped the Pugh property in Rye in the 1950s.
While not a landscape architect, Charles Fremd deserves special mention. He was one of the leading nurserymen in the country. His nursery was on North Street. When he died in 1905, the following appeared in The New York Times:
Rye, N.Y., Dec. 10 — Charles Fremd, one of the oldest and best-known florists and nurserymen in the United States, died here yesterday. Mr. Fremd’s specialty was the importation of rare trees and shrubbery, and he and his two sons had beautified many large estates. Mr. Fremd’s biggest was the palm garden at the Royal Poinciana Hotel, Palm Beach.
The author Clarence Day grew up in Rye on the family’s “Upland Farm.” In his “Life With Father” he recalls the family garden — from a child’s point of view. Like Shipman he recognizes it as part of home but in a more plain and practical way:
“Our garden seemed to be owned by the gardener. He wouldn’t let us go in it. He doled out flowers from it to Mother and he scowled when he brought in the vegetables. When Mother asked him when he’d have more tomatoes or peas, he used to think deeply and say, “She be up in two day.” He complained of the large amounts of vegetables the cook said we needed. At the end of the season we found he’d been selling the best of the produce all summer.”
Gardens and landscapes evoke beautiful memories, and Rye is fortunate to be the home of so many fine ones.