In the Garden, Living with Style, The Newport Diary


Newport’s Magical 18th Century French Garden

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It’s almost in my backyard and the Newport “cottage” for which I have the most affection – The Elms, built in 1901 and a copy of the French Chateau d’Asnieres (circa 1750), an inspiration (more figuratively than literally) for me when building Parterre. This is what I see every night when I drive home — as the gas street lamps go on.

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The scene is completed by lace-like wrought iron gates that punctuate the north and south entrance drives.

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Missing Iris, I was regretting that our tight schedule hadn’t permitted some time in the gardens, an exquisite and important piece of the magical Elms story. So I took myself over early one evening  when the setting sun was casting a soft roseate glow on the incredible limestone buildings and clouds were scuttling across the sky. It all seemed otherworldly and mystical and gloriously romantic, affording me an opportunity to capture just this seldom-seen experience as I’d longed to do.

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I was reminded again that Newport, just for reasons that you shall see here in this park-like setting, has been declared an arboretum for its place in our country’s history of garden design, tree and plant propagation and horticulture. These ten acres in their day contained the finest collection of trees in Newport, a standard that the Preservation Society works diligently to uphold.

The pair of limestone pavilions are probably two of my most-coveted garden follies anywhere; from every angle they inspire an appreciation for classical proportions — a perfect square with angled corners — dressed with urns along the top edge and completed by a gracefully-shaped copper roof with its own discrete balustrade which have turned that wonderful shade of verdigris.

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Grand weeping beeches are a backdrop to the two pavilions which are joined with an elaborate balustrade and overlook the sunken garden.

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To complete the dramatically long distance between the two pavilions, a clipped beech hedge is interrupted with busts on detailed plinths.

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A dramatic marble fountain enhances the impression of a French garden setting while satyrs and bronze turtles add a note of humor to the grand creation.

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With a balustrade acting as a frame, the elegant chateau that is the Elms is seen from the promenade, sited on a slight rise that imparts another element of grace.

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As I was departing, I stopped to admire the fact that even the corner of the Elms property impresses with its attention to detail — from the mini-balustrade to the pair of finials to the cameo within the square.

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All within the heart of Newport.

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9 thoughts on “Newport’s Magical 18th Century French Garden

  1. Inviting & serene images, with a lovely balance of hard and soft scapes. Newport gardens truly inspire, thank you Bettie !
    Helen

  2. Bob Shure, who is a Tufts University alumnus and sculpture extraordinaire restored all the magnificent fountains in the Elms gardens a few years ago. I feel so honored that as a great favor to my husband Bob Shure personally created a bronze rabbit for my own garden sixteen years ago. It is as beautiful now as the moment I received it all those years ago. Because of Bob’s connections and also the beauty of this incredible mansion the Elms remains one of my favorites too. As does Newport ~ It is our “Cape Cod” and we would rather be there than anywhere else in the world. Your photos are always so captivating; thank you!

    1. Dear Evelyn, how magical…a Bob Shure bronze rabbit. There can be nothing more beautiful than a beloved accessory, possessed of memories, in one’s own garden. So happy to hear you, too, love the Elms! Happy Fall, Bettie Pardee

  3. To say that Bob Shure “restored” The Elms fountains is an major understatement – he literally recreated them from scratch! The original fountains had been destroyed or damaged beyond the point where they could be restored (thanks largely to vandals). A combination of old photos and surviving fragments were used as models for the new fountains, using the exact same materials that were used in the originals. I worked as a guide at The Elms at the time and marveled at the workmanship that went into replicating those fountains. The replicas were virtually identical to the originals! After the fountains were completed, the Preservation Society hosted an “Elms Garden Tour” for a time and I was given the privilege of guiding in the gardens. How I loved that part of my job!

    When I first toured the great houses of Newport in 1968 at the age of 13, I was told that there were no craftsman who could do this kind of work anymore. I have heard the same thing over and over again for the last 48 years. Thankfully, those who told me so were dead wrong. Bob Shure is living proof that the the type of craftsmen who created the palatial villas and gardens of Newport are still with us – there are just fewer of them, that’s all. Think of the all those craftsmen who recreated the destroyed rooms of Windsor Castle after the fire of 1992. Let us hope that men like Bob Shure will inspire a new generation of great craftsmen to create the architectural masterpieces of the new Millennium.

    Bill Harrison

    1. Dear Bill, thank you for these insider details on the Elms fountains. And I couldn’t agree with you more…and our new home is proof that generations of fine craftsmen are still residing and practicing in Newport. My Parterre Bench is a perfect example also; made right here in Newport. Best, Bettie

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