Behind the Private Gates, Design, In the Garden

Inspiring Garden Design: An Olmsted Japanese Garden

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Appropriately named, Wildacre occupies only a little more than a narrow acre of granite outcroppings at the head of Price’s Neck Cove, which offers shelter from the open Atlantic Ocean just off the tip of Newport.

The shingled and Japanese-gabled house, designed in 1901 by California architect Irving Gill, is the only Newport example of the California bungalow tradition. More significantly, the Wildacre grounds were commissioned by the home’s owner, Albert Olmsted, stepbrother of Frederick Law Olmsted Jr., whose firm landscaped the seaside property.

Wildacre’s gable detailing recalls the pavilions spread of a Japanese house.

This is truly a magical garden and space,  which nestles so handsomely into the rocky terrain . One of the centerpieces of my first book, Private Newport, at Home and in the Gardenit well deserves to be included in this Inspired Garden Design series as it is an original example of the Olmsted landscape plan executed on this Newport property at the turn of the twentieth century.

Traditional to Japanese gardens, the “mountain and water” design element, interpreted in rock and raked pebbles, is silhouetted at the sheltered entrance.
Cool and green, sheltered by hundred-year-old firs and shade trees, the garden is a refreshing oasis in the middle of summer.
Iris ensata, their shape and white color playing against the dark waters of the rock-lined pond, are original to the plan.

While research by the former owner could only determine that the garden was to have a Japanese influence, many of the original plan’s elements still existed when she acquired Wildacre…the thatched-roof summer house, Japanese stone garden elements, wisteria-clad teahouse, and stream and pond. A bocci court was added along the seawall, whose sand can be raked to emulate the designs created by Japanese monks in their gardens.

Multiple shades and textures of green and the absence of color, bring a sense of peace and tranquility to the Japanese garden.
Reflected in the pond, the umbrella-shaped summer house originally had a thatched roof when designed by the Olmsted firm.
Tasteful, well-conceived additions to the Olmsted plan include the old wisteria-covered gazebo.
Very much at home here, in both name and appearance, white-tinged Japanese painted fern highlight a shaded corner abutting the gardener’s cottage.

In closing, I quote the former owner who had been coming to Newport every year of her life, and whose musings capture what so many of us love about our town. When I asked what Newport meant to her, she said, misting her new moss garden, “Continuity, I can go away and come back and not much has changed, nor has the physical look of this magical place. The rocks are still the rocks; the water is still the water. You look at other parts of the country and they’ve changed tremendously, but not Newport.”

All images photographed by Mick Hales.

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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".

10 thoughts on “Inspiring Garden Design: An Olmsted Japanese Garden

    1. So sweet of you, cous, on both notes. I’m just about to pick up Neale at the airport. Have a glorious Easter!! xo B.

    1. And what fun to share it with someone who loves and appreciates gardens as much as you do. Keep up your wonderful blogs!! Easter cheers, Bettie

  1. How nuanced and gorgeous this elegant garden is. How I wish I could take a daily stroll through it.

    1. I knew you’d love it; it is truly one of my favorite American gardens!
      Happy Easter, dear R. xo

  2. One of my favorite posts, Bettie! I would LOVE to see this beautiful acre in person. One can dream. I especially love the previous owner’s parting words. Thank you for these glimpses into magical Newport.

    1. Wildacre is a most special little acre! But it is the intimate Japanese garden that is the prize…and so similar to the original Olmsted design. So glad you enjoyed the piece!

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