Life in gardens: Kew tea house

Kew Garden tea hse burned, LoC“Tea House, Kew Gardens,* burned by suffragettes,” February 1913, by Bain News Service, via Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.

Twelve days earlier, Kew’s orchid house had been attacked, although much less seriously: a window was broken and some specimens were destroyed.

There was £900 of damage to the tea house building.  Unfortunately, the owners — two women — had only insured it for £500.

Olive Wharry and Lilian Lenton, of the militant Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU), were arrested on the night of the attack and later sentenced to 18 months each in Holloway prison. Both were released early after going on hunger strikes.

WSPU members also used acid to burn the words “votes for women” into the greens of golf courses.


*Located 10 miles west of central London, U.K.

Vintage landscape: woodland teahouse

Japanese teahouse, Library of CongressTea house in a woodland, Itsuku-Shima, Japan,” between 1890 and 1923, photographer unknown, via the Frank and Frances Carpenter Collection of the Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.

The garden may be on Itsukushima Island (now called Miyajima).

I’m sorry there was no Sunday porch two days ago; there was also no weekend internet service in our house.

What carols, like the blazon of a king,
Fill all the dawn with wonder?
Oh, hush,
It is the thrush,
In the deep and woody glen!

— Edwin Markham, from “A Lyric of the Dawn

The lantern slides

This is really exciting.  Yesterday, the Library of Congress released online the digital images of more than 1,000 hand-colored, glass-plate lantern slides of gardens taken (mostly) by Frances Benjamin Johnston.

The images in the collection were taken from 1895 to 1935.  Originally black and white photographs, Johnston had them hand tinted and made into slides to illustrate her popular garden lectures, which she gave to garden clubs, horticultural societies, and museum audiences from 1915 to 1930.  As part of the Garden Beautiful Movement, she encouraged Americans to grow gardens on tenement lots, in row-house yards and in parks, which had deteriorated from industrial pollution and neglect during the Gilded Age.

The slides have not been seen in public since Johnston last projected them during her lectures.  They depict more than 200 sites — primarily private gardens — in all regions of the United States and in Europe.  The entire collection, 1,130 digital images, can be found in the Library’s Prints and Photographs Online Catalog, here.

I’ve just begun to enjoy this beautiful resource, but here are 11 images that I pulled out quickly during my first enthusiastic look.

The photo above is of Chateau of Bréau, Dammarie-les-Lys, Seine-et-Marne, France.  July 1925. (Click any photo to enlarge it.)

The Touchstone Garden, New York, New York. Sculpture exhibition, summer 1919.

“Cliveden,” Viscount Waldorf Astor house, Taplow, Buckingham, England.  Long Garden, summer 1925.

Myron Hunt house, 200 North Grand Avenue, Pasadena, California. Garden Terrace, spring 1917.

“Inellan,” Walter Douglas house, Channel Drive, Montecito, California.  Pathway to Pacific Ocean, spring 1917.

“Flagstones,” Charles Clinton Marshall house, 117 East 55th Street, New York, New York.  Tea house/sleeping porch.

“Gray Gardens,” Robert Carmer Hill house, Lily Pond Lane, East Hampton, New York, New York.  View to Garden Trellis.

West Potomac Park, Washington, D.C.  Irises along the embankment, April 1905.

Dr. Charles William Richardson house, Chevy Chase, Washington, D.C.   Irises, 1921.

“The Fens,” Lorenzo Easton Woodhouse house, Hunting Lane, East Hampton, New York. Pergola, 1914.

Unidentified city garden, probably in New York, New York.  Pathway, 1922.

A selection of 250 of the color images can also be seen in a new book by house and garden historian Sam Watters, Gardens for a Beautiful America, 1895-1935: Photographs by Frances Benjamin Johnston.  It will be published this month by Acanthus Press, in association with the Library. ($79, here — not yet available.)

The Library of Congress is the repository of Johnston’s personal papers and approximately 20,000 photographs. But the lantern slides lacked garden names, locations, and dates and, therefore, had not been released to  general public access.  Watters took on the challenge of cataloging the collection, and after five years of research in libraries and archives, he has transformed vague earlier library notations into detailed data.  For example, an unlabeled slide was recognized as a prize winner in a 1922 design contest and is now identified as “The Janitor’s Garden, 137 E. 30th St., New York City.”

For more information about Frances Benjamin Johnston, see here and here.

Tudor Place, part two

Ellipse boxwood — interior open to view.

I am fascinated by the old boxwoods of Tudor Place, an historic estate in Georgetown.

In 1805, soon after she and her husband purchased the property, Martha Custis Peter, the granddaughter of Martha Washington, planted (or more likely, directed to be planted) an ellipse of Buxus sempervirens ‘Suffruticosa’ in the center of the drive on the north side of the house.

Walkway to the ellipse and house from the north side with rose garden on the right.  The neoclassical house was designed by William Thornton, architect of the U.S. Capitol and completed in 1816.  Six generations of the Peter family lived there until 1983.

For the Tudor Place Foundation, who received the estate in 1983 from a direct descendant of Martha’s, they must be a much-loved treasure and (I suspect) a big preservation headache.

Today, the ellipse is over 5′ tall, as one might expect, given its age. When I toured the property almost ten years ago during a Landscape Design class, the teacher fretted that it was too large for the original design and for the scale of the house and drive.

Boxwood ellipse before 2010. Photo via the Tudor Place Foundation website.

At that time, the boxwoods were nearly as tall as now, but still nicely filled out all around.  As such, I found them impressive, but not particularly interesting.

However, in February 2010, Washington had the deepest snows in over 100 years.  The damage to the boxwood ellipse and to  many other old specimens at Tudor Place was severe, and the hedge’s interior was opened to view in many places. Now the ellipse shows interior volume as well as exterior.

My sympathies to the Foundation, but I find the old shrubs’ new negative spaces and sculptural qualities beautiful and rather moving, and I took photo after photo.

Ellipse from west side.  The bushes are English boxwood.
Ellipse boxwood.  Click on the photos to enlarge.
Ellipse boxwood.
Ellipse boxwood.
Ellipse boxwood.

There are other old boxwoods in the north-side garden, like these in a planting bed near the old “tennis lawn.”

Boxwood in the “tennis lawn” planting bed.

And these along a walkway near the bowling green.

A walk along the bowling green seen through old boxwood. Click on photo to enlarge.

I wonder how long they will be left in place, given their current condition.  I find them beautiful, but they don’t really conform to a classic neat Federal or Colonial Revival aesthetic.  But who wants to replace bushes planted by the step-granddaughter of the father of our country?

If they were mine, I think I would want to turn the old ellipse’s design somewhat inside out and fill many of the open spaces with the contrasting foliage of other perennials planted inside them — as is happening among some of the equally ancient boxwoods at the Bishop’s Garden at the National Cathedral.  I’d like to see a few Rudbeckia maxima flowers waving over the center (although whether the ground beneath the ellipse, full of old roots, would support more plants is a practical question).

Beyond boxwood

The rest of the Tudor Place garden is lovely as well, with the center north-side area symmetrically squared off in true C.R. style with brick and gravel walkways.

The well-maintained property actually shows off an interesting continuum of original and reconstructed functions and design styles from the last two centuries.

Tennis lawn.

According to an archaeological study and plan by the University of Maryland, the planting of the south-side lawn, which contains the 200-year old tulip poplar and once had a view of the Potomac River, has changed relatively little since the building of the house (and therefore is of little archaeological interest).  And, of course, the ellipse is also truly from the Federal period.

The walkways and rose/knot garden existed in their current layouts by the 1830s. But the knot garden was destroyed in the 1860s by intruders seeking boxwood for Christmas wreaths.  It was replanted by the last Peter owner in the 1930s, using old family plans, although he moved it to the opposite side of the center walkway.

Walkway from center to west side with rose garden on left.

The northeast-side garden with lawn and curving beds was an orchard and  a tennis lawn before its current 20th century design. On the west side, there is a 20th century bowling green and a fountain on what had once been a wooded area.

A pretty 20th century patio, “Japanese” teahouse, and arbor sit off the west wing of the house, more or less in the location of the 19th century kitchen garden.  They look Tidewater southern more than anything else.

“Japanese” tea house and arbor.

The garden is open to the public Monday through Saturday, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., Sunday, noon to 4 p.m.  There’s a small charge of $3. See this link for information about touring the house.

To see more photos and a garden plan, click “Continue reading” below and click on any thumbnail scroll through large pictures. Continue reading “Tudor Place, part two”