Dorrance ‘Dodo’ Hamilton married vision and resources to make incalculable contributions to our Newport community. While her main residence was outside of Philadelphia, she spent her summers here since she was a child and her love of this island was touchingly apparent. Dodo died peacefully in her sleep on April 18th. Her restoration of the storied “Blue Garden” may now be considered her opus.
This post was originally written on March 16th, 2015 following the August opening of the garden. It is with great respect and affection that I dedicate this blog to the memory of a friend, a mentor,and one whose “playbook” I shall continually draw from.
August 20, 2014. The invitation read… “to share in the celebration of the renewal of The Blue Garden” (one of Frederick Law Olmsted Jr.’s notable landscape creations).
It was a crystalline blue day, one of Newport’s famous breezes cooling the summer air as an array of leading lights in the world of landscape architecture, garden design, land planning, cultural landscape history and The Garden Conservancy, with of course, many garden lovers, gathered for this storied garden’s formal unveiling (yours truly, below, in the color of the day).
Originally commissioned in 1913 by wealthy railroad baron Arthur Curtiss James and his wife, Harriet, the Blue Garden was carved out of vast ledge outcroppings on their 125-acre estate, gracing the highest point on this island. Bearing very classical proportions, the Garden’s signature statement was the choice of a monochromatic plant palette of shades of blues in all its incarnations – periwinkle, azure, sapphire, turquoise, violet, aqua, indigo (see the current plant list at the end of this text).
Storied from the moment of its celebrated opening at “The Masque of the Blue Garden,” it was the setting for annual fêtes each summer that garnered detailed coverage in newspapers and periodicals across America. Dear as it is to Newport history, the Blue Garden also holds special meaning for me; it is the centerpiece of, and cover image for, the coffee table book, Newport in Flower, whose re-publication I championed in 2009. An iconic book first published in 1979, it captures the horticultural creations (28 gardens) in our town during “the Golden Age of American Gardens”(1920s-1930s).
But by the 1950s, the 125-acre James estate had been divided into large house lots; one of the Garden’s pergolas was even torn down to erect a mid-century modern structure, while devastating overgrowth erased any other vestiges of the Blue Garden (perhaps, though, it was this untamed vegetation that spared most of the blue tiles in the original pools and rills).
2012 began a new and fortuitous chapter in the life of the Blue Garden. In a scenario worthy of any garden aficionado’s dream, the former garden property came up for sale, just as the adjacent neighbor was completing her new home. All boded well, for this neighbor, Mrs. Dorrance (Dodo) Hamilton, is not only a figure of long-standing in the Newport community but is also admired for her support of horticultural causes (the Philadelphia Flower Show and the Newport Flower Show) and institutions (Blithewold Mansion, Gardens and Arboretum). An assembled team set to work, led by renowned landscape architectural firm, Reed Hildebrand, referencing the original plans from the Olmsted National Historic Site and assuring the tasteful and judicious rehabilitation of this historic landscape.
The unveiling on August of 2014 was deservedly a much anticipated event, for it married a generous philanthropic gesture with open space reclamation; the art of landscape shaping with historic horticultural excellence. That the Garden also honors the Olmsted legacy and the culture of an era is cause for celebration on the part of all with a respect for historic preservation.
It was the leading philanthropists of their day, Arthur Curtiss James and his wife, Harriet, who made the original Blue Garden possible. And 101 years later, another respected philanthropist, Dodo Hamilton, has brought her vision to bear, one more “Newporter” to carry on our town’s time-honored tradition of stewardship.
We salute you, Dodo!
If you wish to read more about the Blue Garden, see Newport in Flower.
Blue Garden Frame
Ilex opaca, American Holly
Juniperus virginiana, Eastern Red Cedar
Juniperus virginiana ‘Burkii’
Juniperus virginiana ‘Hillspire’
Juniperus virginiana ‘Idyllwild’
Juniperus virginiana ‘Emerald Sentinel’
Thuja occidentalis, American Arborvitae
Tsuga canadensis ‘Pendula’, Weeping Canadian Hemlock
Clethra alnifolia, Sweet Pepperbush
Hibiscus syriacus ‘Blue Satin’, Rose of Sharon
Vitex agnus-castus, Chastetree
Arctostaphylos uva-ursi, Bearberry
Carex pensylvanica, Sedge
Ceratostigma plumbaginoides, Hardy Plumbago
Comptonia peregrine, Sweet Fern
Convallaria majalis, Lily of the Valley
Dennstaedtia punctilobula, Hay-scented Fern
Geranium maculatum, Wild White Geranium
Vaccinum angustifolium, Lowbush Blueberry
Ilex x aquipernyi ‘Meschick’, Dragon Lady Holly
Caryopteris x clandonensis ‘Dark Knight’, Bluebeard
Ilex glabra ‘Compacta’, Inkberry
Hydrangea japonica ‘Coerulea’, Lacecap Hydrangea
Artemisia ‘Powis Castle’, Wormwood
Aster x frikartii ‘Monch’, Aster
Aster oblongifolius ‘Raydon’s Favorite’, Aromatic Aster
Clematis paniculata, Sweet Autumn Clematis
Clematis ‘Betty Corning’
Clematis ‘Paul Forges’
Delphinium x belladonna
Delphinium x belladonna ‘Bellamosum’
Gentiana ‘True Blue’, Gentian
Iris ensata ‘Mt. Fujiyama’
Iris ensata ‘Swans in Flight’
Iris germanica – do not have cultivars yet
Iris siberica ‘Welcome Return’
Iris siberica ‘White Swirl’
Lavandula x intermedia ‘Phenomenal’, Lavender
Nepeta racemosa ‘Blue Wonder’, Nepeta
Phlox paniculata ‘David’, Garden Phlox
Salvia x sylvestris ‘Blue Hill’, Wood Sage
Stokesia laevis ‘Peachie’s Pick’, Stokes’ Aster
Thymus pseudolanuginosus, Woolly Thyme
Wisteria sinensis ‘Prolifica’, Wilsteria
Centaurea cyanus, Bachelor Buttons
Ipomoea ‘Heavenly Blue’, Morning Glory
Lobelia laguna ‘Sky Blue’, Lobelia
Lobularia maritima, Sweet Alyssum
Passiflora caerulea, Passion Flower Vine
Plumbago auriculata, Cape Leadwort
Salvia farinacea ‘Victoria Blue’, Mealycup Sage
Salvia farinacea ‘Victoria White’, Mealycup Sage
Salvia guaranitica ‘Black and Blue’, Anise-scented Sage
Salvia patens ‘Deep Patio Blue’, Saliva Patens
Viola x wittrockiana ‘Delta Premium Pure White’, White Pansy
Viola x wittrockiana ‘Delta Premium True Blue’, Blue Pansy
Nymphaea ‘King of Siam’, Water Lily
Nymphaea ‘Blue Capensis’, Water Lily
Marliac albida, Hardy Water Lily
Lotus grandiflorus, Lotus
Pontederia cordata, Pickerel Rush