Behind the Private Gates, Design, In the Garden, The Parterre Bench

Flower Magazine: A Newport Garden for Strolling

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Flower magazine has long been a favorite of mine since Margot Shaw started it ten years ago (I even send it to my niece in New Zealand). A product of Birmingham, Alabama, each issue is eagerly awaited and poured over, for it bears the hallmarks of its southern roots — femininity, graciousness, the finer trappings of life to include that important life event — weddings…and flowers galore.

So, of course I was thrilled and flattered when Flower chose to do a feature on my gardens at Parterre. In fact, it was the anticipation of this issue that prompted me to celebrate March with an “Inspiring Garden Design” series as a prelude to spring — from New Orleans to London to Palm Beach (and Newport).

Do enjoy Flower magazine’s online article written by Robert C. Martin and photographed by Mick Hales! And then do yourself a spring favor…subscribe to the magazine for the whole world of Flower.

Among the private gardens and secluded green spaces of Newport, Rhode Island, there’s a well-cultivated oasis that has charmed quite a few plant enthusiasts and avid gardeners. And for good reason. Owned and continuously nurtured by noted author and lecturer Bettie Bearden Pardee, this verdant series of profusely planted beds and tranquil vistas serves as an outdoor extension to her stately, European-inspired residence. Even more impressive is her ability to keep the grounds vibrant and visually pleasing year-round, rather than just in the spring and summer months.

Daffodils point the way to the winter garden, which lies just beyond a pair of imposing iron gates.

Known affectionately as ‘Parterre,’ Pardee’s Newport garden, as well as her residence, sits on land formerly encompassed by the Belmont Estate, which is home to the magnificent mansion, Rosecliff. As a result of this provenance, the Pardees’ landscape lays claim to a rich palette of existing flora, such as beeches, oaks, and delicate linden trees. By adding her own favorite plants and experimenting with others, Pardee has created a combination of environments that speak to aesthetics both here and abroad. “I like to think of Parterre as a collection of smaller gardens created in the French tradition, with an American accent and a Newport sensibility,” she explains. This green-thumbed author further points out that, while her approach to garden-making is orderly, it’s not mired down in formality. “I see myself as, first and foremost, a ‘tree person,’ which keeps me from taking my garden too seriously.”

Precise pea-gravel paths separate the lushly planted beds hat comprise the orangery parterres.

While Pardee’s visions for her property were meticulously thought out, they required the expertise of landscape designer Virginia Purviance to be realized. Timing was crucial because Purviance was about to retire; instead, the designer found this assignment too compelling to decline. “As we began discussing Bettie’s ideas for the garden, she handed me a scrapbook overflowing with pictures and handwritten notes,” Purviance remembers. “Right away, I knew that this was no ordinary endeavor.”

“Every plant at Parterre must pass the litmus test of ‘Will it enhance a flower arrangement?’ Even flowers (and, yes, trees) from other parts of my property are called upon to make their contributions.” Bettie Bearden Pardee

Joining forces with landscape designer Julie Toland, Purviance began organizing Parterre into a progression of distinct outdoor rooms that, although connected, function independently. The first space, referred to as the winter garden for its tall evergreen hedges and sculpted shrubs, is entered through a pair of ornate iron gates flanked by limestone piers. Nearby, there’s a charming, circular tool shed that resembles a bygone dovecote.

Placed on axis with the Pardees’ library and sunroom (two places where the couple spends a great deal of time), the winter garden remains lush throughout the year and undergoes a magical transformation during winter when a blanket of snow turns all the evergreens into white sculptures. Serving as garden’s focal point, a bench that Pardee designed herself (and sells) sits in a hedged recess directly across from the library window. Other features, such as a central fountain and oval reflecting pool bordered with boxed pear trees, echo the residence’s French demeanor.

The winter garden with Pardee’s Parterre Bench.

Just a few steps down from the winter garden, a lovely gazebo called the orangery oversees two smaller sections. Given to Pardee as a Christmas gift by her husband, this octagonal greenhouse sports leaded-glass windows and a glass roof that can be manually opened on pleasant days. Covered in an abundance of climbing roses and accented with shallow niches, the diminutive structure not only houses plants, but also serves as an ideal spot for a casual lunch or an intimate dinner party.

Gorgeous climbing roses adorn the orangery, which serves as both a potting shed and a place for the Pardee’s to entertain guests.

Adjacent to the gazebo, her prized creation, which she calls the black-and-white garden, abounds with dark green and purple plantings that love the shade, like coral-bells and Siberian irises. Interspersed with ‘Deutschland’ astilbe and ‘David’ phlox, along with lamb’s ear and variegated hosta, these beds of contrasting colors live up to the homeowner’s intents. As finishing touches, ‘Silver King ’ Euonymus japonicus shrubs are formed into obelisk-shaped centerpieces, which add height and diversity to the mix.

Pardee calls this her black-and-white garden because of its myriad of dark, light, and variegated plants.

On the opposite side of the gazebo, four manicured quadrants labeled the orangery parterres are precisely separated by pea-gravel paths that intersect at a central, Roman urn planter. Highlighted by a ‘Hally Jolivette’ cherry tree, each parterre puts on a dazzling display once the trees bud forth in the spring.

Situated between the octagonal orangery and the back lawn at Parterre, the orangery parterres contain a ‘Hally Jolivette’ cherry tree in each of the four quadrants.

Because the life of an avid gardener isn’t complete without a cutting garden, Pardee maintains a whole host of perennials and annuals for her personal table settings and for flower-show entries. Located just beyond the pergola and garages, this northern spot on the property also helps the author chase away the winter blues. And among the various dahlias, roses, and clematis found here, there’s even room for vegetables like squash and zucchini.

The cutting garden, along with its various fern and flowering tree species, would delight any florist or avid gardener.

Not one to stay still for very long, Pardee stays in the know in Newport—and her gardens reflect her pace. Purviance sums it up best when she says, “Parterre is a garden that’s meant for walking around and strolling; it’s not really intended for sitting. And in that way, the whole layout and sequence of both house and grounds are very French.”

Thank you Flower magazine and be on the lookout for my four-page spread in the spring issue, on newsstands March 14th!

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About Bettie Bearden Pardee

Author of Private Newport and Living Newport, garden furniture designer (The Parterre Bench), national lecturer, and entertaining expert. An honoree for the second year on "The Salonniere 100 America's Best Party Hosts", she was also the host and creative producer of "The Presidential Palate: Entertaining at the White House".

8 thoughts on “Flower Magazine: A Newport Garden for Strolling

    YOU have created a world of WONDERMENT……………..
    WHAT A GIFT YOU RECEIVED for CHRISTMAS………..MY gift this year is to go to the CHELSEA FLOWER SHOW which I would imagine you TOO have been too!
    I will think of YOU!

    1. Lucky you, going to Chelsea! You will adore it; look for my 3 blogs in May of 2015 on London and the show.
      And you can easily order Flower by going to their website, Enjoy!

  2. In what month do you recommend fertilizing flowers? Does it vary by age, variety and weather conditions?

    1. Yes, Lauren, it does vary by many factors. IE., here in Newport, we’re fertilizing now for the bushes and trees; the flowers will be later.

  3. How absolutely beautiful! I especially love the cherry trees. But what catches my eye the most are the different shapes and shades of greenery. I would find it very difficult not to spend every waking moment in that garden with a good book and a carafe of coffee. You just gave me my first breath of Spring; thank you!

    1. Thanks so much,Evelyn, I try to spend as much time there as possible…or with this cold weather, looking out the windows a lot.

  4. Where can I buy this magazine I live in Southington ct. But own in Nwpt. As well. A beautiful house and garden and love the bench.

    1. Brenda, go to and order it online. You’ll be so glad you did! Enjoy, Bettie

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