Private Gardens of the Hudson Valley By Jane Garmey

Photographs of the Hudson Valley
Photographs of the Hudson Valley book

This is a sumptuous book befitting the gardens featured in its glossy pages, writes Deborah Singmaster. All 28 are in the Hudson Valley, an area of outstanding natural beauty, some on the Hudson banks. The 28 gardens are planned in the naturalistic style popularised in Britain by William Robinson and Gertrude Jekyll; hard landscaping – steps, terraces, seating – recalls Jekyll’s work with the architect Edwin Lutyens.

The owners have developed the gardens themselves, with help from experts, and several acknowledge the influence of contemporary British gardeners. Although Christopher Lloyd’s name crops up frequently there are few examples of his favoured ‘hot’ colour schemes, John Hall’s photographs, on the cover and throughout, show predominantly green landscapes, green shade, mature trees, lawns and mown grass paths stretching to infinity.

The gardens vary in size from 500 acres to ‘a door yard garden’. Jane Garmey introduces each one with a brief essay describing its history and the different approaches and ambitions of the owner/gardeners. She summarises the various planting schemes (the climate is a more severe version of our own): hydrangeas, day lilies, agapanthus, foxgloves, lilies, buddleias and a lot more, but nothing too exotic.

Frustratingly, the camera avoids the houses and the relation between house and garden is largely ignored. Plans would have made Garmey’s essays far more informative, and explained the layout of the spaces – and space – involved. Where do the various ‘rooms’ – the Japanese garden, the secluded pool, the tennis court – fit into the scheme? How much of the larger properties are devoted to actual garden? And, more critically, why the teasing absence of captions? Hall favours middle distance compositions and often a telling splash of colour is too indistinct to be identified.

There is one oddball, a garden with previous. John Driscoll’s garden in Garrison was designed by architect and industrial designer Paul Mayén, long term companion of Edgar Kauffman Jr., son of the Kaufmann who commissioned Fallingwater from Frank Lloyd Wright. They bought the Garrison property from Wright’s daughter and, after Kaufmann’s death in 1987, Mayén filled the garden with bizarre structures and follies – including a falling water feature – and declared it to be a ‘monument to my pretentiousness’ – a refreshingly non-conformist inclusion that adds spice to the flawless taste of the collection.

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