When we travelled down to Mohonk Mountain House (linked here), we also visited the Vanderbilt estate in Hyde Park, New York, north of Poughkeepsie. On a pleasant summer evening, we walked the grounds and visited the Italian gardens.
Frederick Vanderbilt purchased the 600 acre country estate of Walter Langdon, Jr. in 1895. Located on the Hudson River, the once-grand property had fallen into disrepair. In 1896, Vanderbilt began the construction of a modern new mansion, complete with electricity, on the site of the original buildings. The mansion stands today much as it was after alterations in 1906.
The rear facade of the mansion overlooks the Hudson River, offering a beautiful view. With their main residence in New York City, Frederick and his wife visited the Hyde Park property seasonally.
Frederick, the grandson of Cornelius “the Commodore” Vanderbilt who had built the vast Vanderbilt fortune, was a successful businessman in his own right and controlled a fortune of more than $78 million. Frederick also had a passion for gardening. The layout for the formal Italian-style gardens was started in 1903. The location of the gardens and tiered framework was established by Walter Langdon, who began the garden in 1874.
The annuals tier features ornately designed beds showing off mass plantings of annuals. The designs of the beds on this tier are based on the designs used by Vanderbilt.
The Cherry Tree Walk begins with an ornate brick pergola and leads to an elaborate pool house, with a classical statue and reflecting pool. Bordering each side of the path are sloping walls with pockets for plants. The cherry trees that give the aisle its name line the walk. Italian gardens typically included the use of symmetry, central walks, terraces, walls, formally clipped hedges, water, statues, and evergreen plants.
The statue, affectionately known as “Barefoot Kate”, was added in 1902. In front of the pool are a series of beds and borders filled with perennials.
Frederick and his wife had no children, and after his death in 1938, the estate passed to his niece, Margaret Van Alen, who put it up for sale. Unfortunately, the Depression meant that there were no buyers for it. It helps to have rich neighbours, especially one who is President. Franklin D. Roosevelt, who lived next door, knew the estate well and did not wish to see it broken up for development. He arranged for Congress to purchase the estate in 1940 and make it part of the National Park Service (NPS).
With the advent of World War II, the estate fell into disrepair. The gardens were neglected until the late 1970s, when the NPS received a grant to repair and restore the walls and structures of the garden, but no money was set aside to replant the beds.
In 1984, three enterprising local gardeners approached the NPS to ask permission to attempt to restore the plantings in the garden and the F. W. Vanderbilt Garden Association, Inc., staffed by volunteers was formed. Since then, volunteers have provided countless hours of work and fundraising, and the gardens reflect the care of many hands. The rose garden still awaits restoration.
Admission to the garden and grounds is free. The grounds feature beautiful views of the Hudson River and many lovely, huge, old trees. Tours of the house are available, although we didn’t attend as we were visiting in the evening. For more information about the gardens, visit the FWVGA site linked here.