In Hyde Park, New York, where the Vanderbilt Mansion and the homes of Eleanor and Franklin Delano Roosevelt welcome thousands of tourists each year, visitors usually focus upon the grander chapters of American history. This story, however, is a quiet one that takes place in the backyard of one of F. D. R.’s neighbors.
As a child, Franklin was home-schooled by tutors, and there weren’t many children his age in the neighborhood to play with. One of his nearest playmates was Mary Newbold, who lived in the yellow house next door. This may have been his earliest introduction to them, but the Newbolds played another role later in FDR’s life. Mary’s father, the former State Senator– Thomas Newbold– was active in Democratic Party politics, and eventually advised young FDR concerning his then just-beginning political career. Both Roosevelts and Newbolds were prominent members of New York society. They vacationed every year in the same European destinations and owned homes in New York City as well as in the Hudson Valley.
In 1912, when the Newbolds commissioned architects McKim, Mead & White to enlarge their country house, they asked Thomas Newbold’s cousin, Beatrix Jones, to design the garden. Marrying later that year, Beatrix (Jones) Farrand would create gardens for many prominent individuals, public institutions and universities, and was a founding member—the only woman—of the Association of American Landscape Architects. Few Farrand gardens survive today, but we’re fortunate that the Garden at Bellefield, her earliest extant residential design, does. It was created nearly two decades into her professional career, the same year that she designed gardens for the White House, a campus landscape for Princeton University, married, and turned forty.
The garden she designed for the Newbolds was edged with evergreens inside a wall of rough cut Hudson Valley stone. Rectangular beds of flowers within the walls bloomed in spring and fall– times the family stayed at Bellefield. The walled garden was surrounded by vegetable and wild gardens; the estate also included hay fields, but unlike numerous country places of the period, Thomas Newbold’s property did not include greenhouses.
Newbold descendants donated the house and twenty acres to the National Park Service in the 1970’s. The original plantings had disappeared, leaving weeds and the stone bed edgings. A nonprofit volunteer organization, The Beatrix Farrand Garden Association, transformed these neglected remnants into an inspiring recreation of Farrand’s original design. Now 100 years old, the garden is open to the public year round. To find out more: beatrixfarrandgarden.org.