While walking along the High Line in New York City last month, I spotted this billboard for a storage company. It made me remember these Library of Congress hand-colored lantern slides by Frances Benjamin Johnston and Mattie Edwards Hewitt.
This was Grey Gardens in 1914 — long before it was made famous by the 1975 documentary.
The walled garden section of the four-acre estate in East Hampton, N.Y., was designed by Anna Gilman Hill and landscape architect Ruth Bramley Dean.
Anna and her husband, Robert Carmer Hill, had purchased the property in 1913. They sold it to Phelan and Edith Bouvier Beale (whose daughter was Little Edie) in 1927.
Hill imported the concrete walls from Spain. She took the name for the house and garden from its environment.
It was truly a gray [sic] garden. The soft gray of the dunes, cement walls and sea mists gave us our color scheme as well as our name… nepeta, stachys, and pinks… clipped bunches of santolina, lavender and rosemary made gray mounds here and there. Only flowers in pale colors were allowed inside the walls, yet the effect was far from insipid….I close my eyes and sense again the scent of those wild roses, the caress of the hot sun on our backs as we sauntered to and fro from our bath and lazy mornings on the beach.
—Anna Gilman Hill, from Forty Years of Gardening
Beyond the property is the Atlantic Ocean. The walled garden was 70′ x 40′.
The estate (now two acres) has been owned by Ben Bradlee (formerly editor-in-chief of The Washington Post) and Sally Quinn since 1979. They have restored both the house and garden.
Now the land between the walled garden and the ocean is filled with newer houses and gardens, and there is a very tall hedge just behind the far wall and the pergola.
The open doorway in the photo above lined up with the pergola. It seems that, at the time of this photo, there was an opening in the garden wall between the house and pergola. But I can’t tell if the opening was there before or after the time of the other photographs.