I recently visited the homes of Frederick Vanderbilt and FDR in Hyde Park, NY. Both homes have intricate details and collections of artwork and antiquities that only the wealthiest Americans of their time could have acquired. Both homes had guest houses, gate houses and worker’s quarters. They also had extensive gardens at one point in time.
While surveying the grounds it quickly became clear that these gardens are now long gone. Where glass houses and tropical plant collections once thrived, now there is nothing more than lawns and gravel pathways. Where magnificent trees were once cultivated, now stand mangled hundred-year-old trunks battered by storms and lightning.
The Vanderbilt estate has a formal garden that is tended by a group of gardeners today, but it is in a state of disrepair. Despite the efforts made by the volunteer Frederick W. Vanderbilt Garden Association, there is no feeling of glory in the grounds we see today. Remnants of fountains and statues still stand but the cracks of time cannot be healed with a few annual flowers.
Half of me is upset that the grandeur of the landscape is lost. It seems unfair that the homes are maintained and yet the gardens are forgotten. During Frederick Vanderbilt’s time gardens were a quintessential part of the wealthy lifestyle which is something we don’t value in our modern-day existence. The other half of me is humbled to think that the work I do as a landscape designer needs to be appreciated in the moment. Time is fleeting, and if the gardens of the wealthiest families in history cannot be preserved, then what will?