My friend, Ron Fleming, is a Renaissance man in the truest sense of the word–writer, city planner, preservationist, inveterate traveler, philanthropist and all ’round Bon Vivant. And gardener! His talents and passion for “creating a landscape of memory” at his Newport estate over twenty years are so inspiring that I included him in both of my recent books…Private Newport and Living Newport.
His just-published tome, The Adventures of a Narrative Gardener, is truly a new kind of gardening book…an empowering guide for anyone who wishes to incorporate their own sense of place and family history into their green paradise.
While Ron admits that “Our garden is fragile; it is only tenderly rooted in Newport, as is our family,” the memory of the historical context within this location is the predominant value that he celebrates. For Bellevue House that would be the eighteenth century wood- carver- turned- architect, Samuel McIntire, who designed some of the most graceful buildings in the Federal style for the merchant princes of New England. Many of the follies and outbuildings at Bellevue House take inspiration from McIntire (like this intimate reading room).
Ron’s final (truly?) architectural enhancement to the three and a half acre grounds, the Library, is the subject for today’s post. But this is no library; it is first part of a small “academical village” of the like that Thomas Jefferson created at the University of Virginia.
Adding to this scene, a calm emerald green lap pool flows under a chamfered granite bridge…
where it becomes a rushing stream channeled into the Nymphaeum–the shell-encrusted “paradise” under the library. Surely this elegant, small round pool gives new meaning to “hot tub.”
Thirty-five different artisans contributed to the work within the Library/Nymphaeum, and were considered by Ron as an integral part of the narrative of this building. The shellwork is so breathtaking in its application and intricacy that I feel as though I’m in Europe; though blessedly, this exists in my own town and I have the opportunity to see it many times!
And this intimate room behind the pool is yet another part of the overall Nymphaeum that includes two rooms with intricate marble floors and walls, and an elegant Austrian stove.
Up two steps, a curtained “stage” awaits dancers or thespians.
An elegant staircase (taking many notes from the main house’s rotunda with cantilevered stairwell and ceiling details) conveys guests from the below-ground Nymphaeum…
to the two story Library, whose overhanging balconies introduce a sense of coziness to the space.
While Ron Fleming’s projects and creations over the past 20 years have been first to create memories that his family will want to cherish and nurture, his energies have also achieved a long held dream…for Bellevue House to become “a place of merriment and good will in the lives of family, friends, and the community.” This place-maker and artistic visionary has well lived up to his dream!
We salute you, Ron, and your timely new book which shares so well your adventures as a narrative gardener.