A capacity crowd gathered at Robert Dash’s Madoo Conservancy in Sagaponack on Sunday for the first in this year’s series of garden lectures.
Paula Deitz, editor of The Hudson Review, a journal of arts and culture, presented an illuminating “A Garden Writer’s Journey” tour of some of the many gardens she’s visited around the world. Ms. Deitz has been writing about gardens, and traveling to see them, for 30 years.
The journey began with a photo of the speaker as a 5-year-old, in the hedge-enclosed backyard of her childhood home—a place she loved. As an adult, Ms. Deitz married and lived in Maine, where visits to the Abby Aldrich Rockefeller garden in Seal Harbor inspired her to start writing about gardens.
Since then, the author has traveled the world visiting gardens and has written hundreds of articles on gardens for The New York Times and many other publications. Her recent book “Of Gardens: Selected Essays” is a collection of some of those writings.
At the Madoo talk, Ms. Deitz said that she’s visited every garden in the book.
“I never write about a garden I have not seen,” she explained.
The Rockefeller garden, which Ms. Deitz still visits every summer, was inspired by the Rockefeller family’s travels in China. A rose-colored stucco wall topped with tiles was patterned after a wall that surrounded the Forbidden City in Beijing, home to the Chinese imperial family. When that wall in China was demolished, the Rockefellers purchased thousands of tiles from it to use in construction of the wall for their garden.
The Rockefeller garden has shady woodlands traversed by winding paths, and quiet places for contemplation. A walled inner garden, entered through a bottle-shaped gate, takes the form of three concentric rectangles of flower plantings. The carefully laid out garden is “as intricately planned as any structure,” according to Ms. Deitz.
As a young staffer at The New York Times, Ms. Deitz said she was lucky enough to be assigned to cover the announcement of the discovery of the oldest formal garden to be found in the United States, near Williamsburg, Virginia. Her story, “1680 Formal Garden Discovered in the South,” ended up on the paper’s front page, and her journalism career was on its way.
Like other early American gardens, that Virginia garden was inspired by English garden design. As English landscapes became less formal and more natural, explained Ms. Deitz, American gardens followed suit.
She pointed to Chiswick House—a neo-Palladian villa set in west London—as the earliest landscape garden in England, and the first great example of asymmetrical design. The idea that all of nature is a garden took hold, and gardens began to include rolling hills, trees and natural vistas.
In America, that style became the basis for many public parks. In Europe, many of today’s public parks were once part of private estates. For example, the courtyard of the Palais Royale in Paris, originally designed by the legendary André Le Nôtre, is now a beloved public park.
Ms. Deitz showed how an updated design by Mark Rudkin, an American landscape designer living in Paris, fills a geometric underlying structure with mounds of color that change every year. One year a purple scheme was created with common flowers including salvia, petunias, heliotrope and ageratum. Another year saw a yellow and white theme.
In the 1850s, Napoleon III enclosed part of the Tuileries as his private garden, with beds of flowers surrounding flat lawns. These gardens, too, are now public places.
Ms. Deitz’s travels have also taken her to Jerusalem, where she discovered many green spaces and parks where the people of the city like to stroll early in the morning. A promenade atop a wall follows the route of the ancient aqueducts through the city. The slopes below, also with footpaths, are planted with cypresses and olive trees, fragrant jasmine, thyme and limonium for the enjoyment of all who walk there.
The audience at Madoo was then transported, via Ms. Deitz, to India to see a rediscovered garden site across the river from the Taj Mahal, and to China to a garden in the hometown of the distinguished architect I.M. Pei. Then it was on to Japan, where she showed photos of a rooftop garden in an urban commercial district. The garden, designed as a microcosm of the countryside, includes a working rice paddy that is planted and tended by local students.
Finally, Ms. Deitz brought her listeners back home to America, specifically to the White House Rose Garden.
This garden, the scene of so many important presidential announcements, was commissioned by President John F. Kennedy and designed by Rachel “Bunny” Lowe Lambert Lloyd Mellon. It’s been seen on television by more Americans than any other garden.