Behind the Private Gates, Design, In the Garden

Newport, the Arboretum

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In my first book, Private Newport: At Home and in the Garden (2004), I shared that I am first a tree lover, then a gardener, and hinted at a little dream – that Parterre, inspired by Newport itself, would someday be worthy of being called an arboretum. Slowly but surely, inspired by endless garden tours and studies, with each tree that I tracked down in some far flung nursery I added to the old existing collection that was original to this former estate property.

The 85 year old Japanese maple that was a Christmas gift deserved a place of honor, and so it was nestled among these large existing beeches.

As I come up the driveway I smile at  the small orchard of crabapples, their variety chosen because their yellow fall berries play off the golden leaves of the beeches on the other side of the driveway.

The diversity of trees, shrubs and hedges (these in all shades of green) continue into the back courtyard.

It is now 2017. My little dream and the bigger dream for my treasured Newport have been affirmed. In a town whose landscapes narrate the history of American landscape architecture and garden design like no other city in America, Newport continues to honor this history by becoming the first city in the world to host four professionally accredited arboreta: The Newport Arboretum, Newport Mansions Arboretum, Arboretum at Salve Regina and Frederick Law Olmsted Park & Arboretum. And in a rather unprecedented move for a small city, 11 private estates will be added to the list, bringing the total number of arboreta in Newport to 15 (an appropriate partnering as the majority of trees are on private and institutional properties).

I’m often asked my favorite tree. While the first answer is, “I don’t have a favorite,” I’m quick to add that I’m partial to two…the rare Cornus controversa ‘Variegata’ (charmingly nicknamed the “wedding cake” tree because it grows in layers) and the Sophora japonica ‘Pendula’ (also known as the “scholar’s tree”).

With 500 documented botanical species and verities, Newport the Arboretum joins 36 other institutions worldwide that will soon earn top accreditation with the Morton Register of Arboreta. I’m sure all of you who have visited Newport and marveled at our trees will celebrate with me the arrival of this exciting point in the 378 year history of our town.

This is a significant, but poignant salve for the too quick demise of our stately signature copper beeches that succumbed to a pathogen in a mere three years. Victims of an aging Gilded Age forest (late 1800s-early1900s) the silver lining in this sad episode was to drive home the key point of sustainability. We must be ever vigilant in planting verities of trees, seeking diversity to stave off the ravages of age and disease that can decimate one species.

Enthusiasm is running high as daily, new benchmarks are achieved. For perhaps the first time in 90 years, seedlings are due to arrive in Newport from the esteemed Arnold Arboretum plant expeditions abroad. Both the institutional arboreta as well as the private residential ones will have the opportunity to participate in these conservation efforts through adoption of the viable seedlings. And perhaps some of them may become centerpieces in a garden setting, as these four matched ‘Hally Jolivette’ cherry standards serve in our Orangerie parterres.

Education is a key element of this program, with all ages involved, from a children’s arboretum at the Pell elementary school to the Heritage Tree Nursery at Rogers High School. Propagation from seed will allow the Living Collections to become a reservoir of genetic diversity. At Parterre, three favorites represented in this collection are the weeping beech in the back courtyard and the green beech in the front courtyard (decked out in its fall finery). When building Parterre, it was a studied decision to change the driveway approach to the house so that we could save this beech (which is now twice its size).

Embracing this thought wholeheartedly, we included a copper beech hedge in our original garden design plans. It’s very obvious that we concur with the observation that “if Newport were a tree, it would be a beech.”

In 1789, Newport and Aquidneck Island were referred to as “the Eden of America.” Continuing in this spirit, in 1987 my dear friend, Lilly Dick, founded the Newport Tree Society, a visionary who has led this charge to protect and rejuvenate Newport’s urban forest along with Executive Director, Helen Papp

It was such a pleasure after building Parterre to plant our first copper beech in memory of a dear departed friend. It’s site was chosen so that it would grow to become part of the Bellevue Avenue “treescape” that is so special to Newport. Years later, to replace a diseased oak, the rare yellow magnolia was planted for all to enjoy as they drive or walk by. The color juxtaposition of these two specimen trees provide yet another example of the creativity to be enjoyed when planting new trees in an existing landscape.

There are many other edens in our vast country awaiting distinction for their trees; it takes only civic commitment and citizen foresters to lead these efforts. May Newport be the catalyst for this movement to save, preserve and replant our trees…

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Bettie Bearden Pardee

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".

9 thoughts on “Newport, the Arboretum

  1. Good morning Bettie. . . your love of trees shines through with the beautiful plantings of various trees with their colors and shapes in your Parterre. . absolutely glorious. I also love Henry Middleton’s gardens in Charleston (1741) and is the oldest landscape gardens in these United States. I have a special predilection to an ancient oak at Middleton that spreads her graceful arms welcoming visitors.

    Thanks so much for your very special blog this morning of Parterre and its trees. . .it is especially appreciated after we, in South Florida, lost so many trees following the aftermath of Hurricane Irma.

    Kindest regards
    Anna Louise

    1. Oh Anna Louise, I’m so sorry you’re going through that horrific experience in Florida. Hopefully this blog will bring you a quick respite! And i, like you, love Middleton Gardens. What an American story and I know just the oak you’re referring to. Holding good thoughts for you down there in Florida!

  2. A well written article, Bettie. Your trees are lovely. That pleached hedge – are those copper beeches as well? Here in Hudson and the surrounding Hudson River Valley and Berkshires, we see many more lovely pleached hornbeam hedges. It’s a pleasure to see them spring up and reach maturity in a mere 5 years. They are lovely in summer, but in winter, they lose their leaves. If I were to build a hedge, I’d stick to yew, but the deer seem to love it, so it’s not practical in more rural settings.

  3. Mrs. Pardee-

    Just a quick note to thank you for opening Parterre to visitors during the Arboretum Tour. Each property experience was a mini master class in garden design – expressionism, balance and composition – that allowed visitors an expansive view on landscape architecture as a unique facet to Newport’s beauty. We learnt from your garden that implementing details increases both space and flow between rooms. It can’t be easy opening a garden to a large crowd, thus thank you for the opportunity to stop by.


    1. Thank you, Lauren, for your lovely note. It was our pleasure to share Parterre. As I’ve always said, my garden is dedicated to all those who graciously shared their gardens with me, providing invaluable learning opportunities and experiences.

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