The Garden Conservancy April Newsletter 2023

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The Garden Conservancy News


Lotusland at 30:

Lotusland at 30:

Preserving a unique garden creator’s vision in a changing world

Preserving a unique garden creator’s vision in a changing world

Garden visiting is booming. History provides perspective.

Garden visiting is booming. History provides perspective.




Here in the Northeast, spring is finally appearing. After teasing us with warm temperatures in the 60s in mid-February, a late winter storm in Hudson Valley dramatically reminded us of the hubris of attempting to predict the weather. In my tiny beds, the longed-for foliage of daffodils, tulips, and allium, already four inches out of the ground, suddenly vanished beneath about six inches of wet snow. As the accompanying photo demonstrates, those shoots are just fine— but I haven’t heard the fate of the carpet of winter aconites that had already opened in a neighboring Conservancy member’s woodland border. Mid-day temperatures in the 50s quickly followed behind, so I began my embarrassingly geeky ritual of dragging my big pelargoniums outside to get sun (and maybe a nice rainwater shower)—and then usually hauling them right back inside at night if my weather app says “below freezing.”

Happily meeting more and more gardeners around the country, I have heard with increasing frequency the term “ephemerals.” I have always been aware of certain of these plants in my own gardens, favorites like Mertensia virginica and certain Dicentras and Erythroniums. All have the rather annoying habit of vanishing after blooming. I often cursed this “hide-and-seek” aspect (with the spring bulbs as well) when I forgot where these beauties were, only to dig them up rather savagely and unexpectedly with a sharp-bladed spade.

“Ephemeral” also frequently occurs in another context. Many people, when discussing the preservation work of the Garden Conservancy, or upon inquiring about my profession, remark something to the effect of “but gardens are so ephemeral.” Or, to reassure me that they do indeed value gardens, they will say “ah, gardens… the most ephemeral of the arts.” Although I understand this perception, I have increasingly been reminded not of the expected disappearance of gardens, but rather by their unlikely persistence. One of my earliest “garden memories” was a ramble with my parents to a long-abandoned farmstead on a Mother’s Day. What lingers in my mind is the disappearance of all but foundation stones of the farmstead’s structures, beautifully surrounded by a stand of lilacs in full and sweetly scented glorious bloom, persisting untended and forgotten amidst what was otherwise a return to the wild. Here It was the garden, not the house and barn, that persisted, waiting to be discovered and tell its story. What was ephemeral now?

In this newsletter, guest writer Christina Bevilacqua helps us to celebrate a far more significant survival. In Montecito, CA, Lotusland, the second preservation project of the Garden Conservancy, is marking its 30th year as a public garden, thanks to passionate board and staff members who believe that great gardens can and should survive. Also, our own Dr. Horatio Joyce investigates a long and flourishing garden tradition, that of “garden visiting,” the deep and persistent roots of the Open Days program.

James Brayton Hall, President and CEO

Corrections: In our December 2022 newsletter, the image for the membership holiday card should have been identified as star-of-Bethlehem (Ornithogalum umbellatum), not rain-lily (Zephyranthes atamasco). In addition, our cover story in the same issue omitted reference to the tremendous contributions that the Hillside Garden Club in Lynchburg, VA, has made to the garden at the Anne Spencer House and Garden Museum. Since 1983, the Hillside Garden Club has been active in the garden’s maintenance and rehabilitation. Club member Jane Baber White described the process in a beautiful and practical guide to restoring a historic garden, Lessons Learned from a Poet’s Garden (Blackwell Press, 2011). Read more about the Hillside Garden Club’s work on page 12 of this newsletter.


Courtnay S. Daniels Chair

Robert M. Balentine Vice Chair

James Brayton Hall President and CEO

Susan Payson Burke Secretary

Sharon J. Pryse Treasurer

Benjamin F. Lenhardt, Jr. Chair Emeritus

Mary-Randolph Ballinger

Shelley Belling

Allison K. Bourke

Camille Butrus

Barbara Whitney Carr

J. Barclay Collins II

Kate Cordsen

Elizabeth Everdell

Alease Fisher

Cathy Barancik Graham

Lionel Goldfrank III

Susan Zises Green

Suzanne Kayne


Linda Allard

Douglas H. Banker

Josephine B. Bush

F. Colin Cabot

Edward N. Dane

Page Dickey

Dorothy H. Gardner

Thomas B. Hunter III

Dr. Richard W. Lighty

Frederick A. Landman

Elizabeth Locke

Joseph J. Marek

Jean-Paul L. Montupet

Stephen Orr

Katie Ridder

Ann Copeland Rose

Jorge A. Sánchez

Christopher Spitzmiller

Raun L. Thorp

Marshall Watson

Dana Scott Westring

Susan Lowry

Joseph F. McCann

Chapin Nolen

Barbara Paul Robinson

Deborah G. Royce

Patricia A. Steffan

Susan Stone

Nancy Thomas

Louise A. Wrinkle

The Garden Conservancy Post Office Box 608 Garrison, NY 10524 845.424.6500

Open Days toll-free number 888.842.2442 #gardenconservancy


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Cover: The Japanese Garden at Lotusland in Montecito, CA PHOTO: KIM BAILE, COURTESY OF LOTUSLAND

Garden Visiting is Booming, but Why? History’s Greatest Gardens Offer Answers

Better than drugs. There’s a buzz in the air. Can’t get enough. That’s how people have been describing the Open Days experience.

Indeed, something special is happening in garden visiting. As we emerged from the pandemic last year, the Garden Conservancy’s Open Days program and other public programming attracted more than 40,000 people. This year is shaping up to be even bigger. 245 gardens have signed up for 2023 Open Days so far; around two dozen will open more than once. Increasingly, garden hosts and visitors have been asking for Open Days in the winter!

Other organizations, too, are seeing a surge of interest in gardening visiting. “Today, gardening is the #1 activity in the US, and garden-oriented tourism generates the highest revenue of any tourism activity, reports garden tourism expert Dr. Richard Benfield. It gets even better. “Since 2013, garden visitation has exhibited one of the highest and most significant growth rates in the tourism industry, growing at 7 percent per annum.”

Historically, garden visiting boomed when new aesthetic sensibilities were on the rise. A development, say, like the rise of formal gardening in France or the English landscape garden or their influence on American tastes in past centuries, required great amount of interaction between gardeners. Sharing is a fundamental part of creating a landscape, says Open Days co-founder Page Dickey. “I think gardeners who create a landscape really enjoy sharing it. Not just sharing it, but also exchanging ideas, which is always exciting.”

This certainly rings true, for instance, for the origins of Versailles. The palace and its gardens can be traced to a 1661 visit by King Louis XIV to Vaux-le-Vicomte, near Melun, France, the recently completed château of his finance minister, Nicolas Fouquet. After touring the house and grounds, Louis had Fouquet arrested, charging him with embezzling state funds to pay for Vaux-le-Vicomte’s splendors. “At six in the evening Fouquet was the king of France: at two in the morning, he was nobody,” was Voltaire’s summary up the minister’s sudden fall from power.

Louis XIV confiscated Vaux-le-Vicomte’s orange trees and had them moved to Versailles. But far more valuable than orange trees was the design triumvirate of André Le Nôtre (garden designer), Charles Le Brun (interior architect), and Louis Le Vau

Eighteenth-century garden owner Henry Hoare II opened his garden, Stourhead, in Wiltshire, England, to visitors of all classes. Stourhead’s picturesque landscape was likely influenced by paintings such as the one above, Landscape with Aeneas at Delos (National Gallery of Art, London), which Hoare saw on the Grand Tour.

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Top: Open Days garden host Christopher Spitzmiller greets enthusiastic visitors at Clove Brook Farm, Millbrook, NY, in early spring 2022. Bottom: A busy Open Days welcoming table at the Vineyard at River Hills at a Milwaukee Open Day in July. PHOTOS: BRIAN JONES

(architect), whose creative collaboration, born at Vaux-le-Vicomte, reached its apogee in the creation of modern Versailles.

From the start, Louis XIV’s interest in Versailles’ gardens extended to how visitors experienced them. In 1689, on the occasion of the ex-Queen of England, Maria d’Este’s, visit to Versailles, Louis wrote a garden guidebook, La Maniere de montrer les jardins de Versailles. Between 1689 and 1705, Louis XIV penned several versions of the text as he continuously expanded and revised the palace grounds.

It’s unclear what Queen Maria thought of Versailles’ gardens. She spent just two hours there owing to her depression at the prospect of permanent exile from England (her husband, the Stuart King, James II, had fled to France earlier that year). Nor is it clear what Louis XIV thought of Queen Maria’s abbreviated visit. In La Maniere, he presents a massive itinerary, taking the better part of a day.

Other European monarchs couldn’t get enough of Versailles. A fair number even attempted to outdo the palace and its gardens back home. This was true of Hampton Court Palace in England, Herrenchiemsee in Bavaria, and the Royal Palace at Caserta, Italy, to name only a few examples.

Americans also came to Versailles. The author and humorist Mark Twain, who visited in the late 1860s, experienced an aesthetic epiphany in the gardens. Previously Twain “always thought ill of people at home who trimmed their shrubbery into pyramids and squares and spires and all manner of unnatural shapes,” but the scale and variety at Versailles impressed

him. “In a little yard no bigger than a dining room,” topiary looked absurd. But there, at Versailles, “the eye is not fatigued with anything in the nature of mathematical uniformity.”

Twain wrote those words in Innocents Abroad, or the New Pilgrim’s Progress, about his travels on an early transatlantic steamship. It was published in 1869, shortly after the end of the Civil War, as America was opening up again and prepared to take in the aesthetic world beyond its own borders. In a sense, he and his fellow passengers, the “pilgrims,” were establishing a new American tradition of cultural tourism on the model of the European Grand Tour, established by British aristocrats more than a century earlier.

It was the Grand Tour that helped bring about the English landscape garden movement and the rejection of everything that Versailles encapsulated: spanking new buildings, artificial waterworks, strict axial programs of parterres and flower beds planted with military precision. Unlike Vaux-le-Vicomte’s unique influence on Louis XIV and Versailles and later formal garden design, English landscape gardening evolved from a variety of sources including the experiences of Grand Tourists visiting picturesque Roman ruins and charming but dilapidated Renaissance palazzos, and seeing (or better yet acquiring) landscape paintings by Nicholas Poussin, Claude Lorrain, and Salvator Rosa.

This is precisely the story behind the great garden of Stourhead in Wiltshire, England, created by the wealthy banker Henry Hoare II. Hoare toured Europe and

fell in love with masterpieces by Claude Lorrain and Nicholas Poussin. After returning home, Hoare embarked on the transformation of his family estate, creating a veritable three-dimensional Claude Lorrain picture like Landscape with Aeneas at Delos, a copy of which hangs in the Stourhead collection, replete with classical temples pleasingly situated around an artificial lake.

Just as Hoare had toured private gardens in Europe, he was keen to open Stourhead, his masterpiece, to visitors of all classes, which he did in the 1740s. He even went so far as to open an inn where they could stay overnight. Its popularity caused one visitor, Mrs. Philip Lybbe Powys, consternation: “We intended laying at the inn at Stourton, built by Mr. Hoare for the company that comes to see his place, but to our great mortification, when we got there at near ten o’clock, it was full, and were obliged to go on to Mere.” She returned the next day, however, when the gardens “answered every difficulty we had met with the preceding evening, as both house and grounds are vastly worth seeing.”

Some English aristocrats, cash rich but time poor, hired others to do the Grand Tour for them. That’s how the great English landscape gardener William Kent (16851748) got his professional start. He spent much of the second decade of the eighteenth century in Italy collecting and copying works of art for his patrons back home as well as studying to become a top-notch painter. On his return to England, it soon became plain that his real talents lay elsewhere and so he parlayed his knowledge and training into a career as an erudite

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The grand scale of the gardens at Versailles changed Mark Twain’s view of topiary. Contemporary artwork such as the above Panoramic View of the Palace and Gardens of Versailles (Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York), an impressively 165-feet-wide, circular oil painting by John Vanderlyn, c. 1818, extended the appreciation of gardens even to those unable to visit in person.

landscape architect practicing in the new, more “natural” style then coming into fashion.

Never fully leaving painting behind, Kent designed gardens like a series of landscape paintings—one breathtaking view after another. This was theatrical. It was new. It was also often political. Almost from the start, Kent’s patrons were mostly Whigs, a political faction devoted to parliamentary checks on royal power. One such patron was Richard Temple, Lord Cobham, the owner of Stowe House in Buckinghamshire. When Lord Cobham went into political exile for his views, he

dedicated his newfound time to gardening, turning the grounds of his house into an elaborate allegory of the corruption he saw in contemporary politics.

Not unlike Henry Hoare at Stourhead, Lord Cobham and Kent also worked at Stowe to draw tourists. Everything was designed to have a message. The most politically latent area of the gardens designed by Kent was the Elysian Fields just east of the main house. Here Kent erected a Temple of British Worthies, which markedly excluded any contemporary individuals. More to the point, he designed a temple of Modern Virtue, designed inten -

tionally as a ruin, and a temple of Ancient Virtue, in a pristine state. Even the natural mode of landscape gardening came to symbolize liberty in contrast to the formal style of gardening associated with absolute monarchy at Versailles.

Just how much the visiting public actually appreciated Stowe’s political messages is difficult to say. Many, if not most, were probably interested in the gardens for their beauty. Still, for those who did wish to grapple with the iconography—and that’s exactly what it was—there was Benton Seeley’s guide to the gardens, first published in 1744. Seeley, an entrepreneurial printer in the nearby town, Buckingham, produced nearly twenty editions of the guide as the grounds evolved over the decades.

Two politically attuned visitors who came to Stowe in 1786 with a copy of the Seeley guide were John Adams and Thomas Jefferson. Jefferson had taken a sabbatical from his diplomatic post in Paris to assist Adams, who was serving as the American minister to Britain and negotiating a sensitive commercial treaty. But an intransigent King Charles III and his unresponsive ministers left the two frustrated and with time to kill, time they spent touring gardens outside London.

In anticipation of the tour, Jefferson ordered special red slippers with extra thick soles from a cobbler in London. Talking to gardeners, he once insisted, was preferable to wasting his time “on good dinners and good society.” Adams was like-minded. During intense sessions of the Continental Congress in New York City years earlier, Adams found garden visiting outside the city to be absolutely essential,

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A view of the Temple of British Worthies at Stowe Garden in Buckinghamshire by Thomas Rowlandson (Stowe School/SHPT). Stowe Garden’s natural landscape design with political allegories drew many visitors, including John Adams and Thomas Jefferson.

writing to his wife, Abigail, “Such Excursions are very necessary to preserve our Health.”

The liberty-loving Adams and Jefferson were clearly smitten with Stowe. “We have Seen Magnificence, Elegance and Taste enough to exclude an Inclination to see more,” Adams reported to Abigail. And indeed, they did, extending their trip longer to see more gardens further north. Within months of visiting Stowe and seeing its Temple of British Worthies, Jefferson began collecting his own worthies for his home, Monticello, including some that had featured at Stowe such as Francis Bacon, Isaac Newton, and John Locke. However, Jefferson omitted monarchs, substituting instead fellow founding fathers like Adams.

A few years later when Jefferson was serving as secretary of state, it was politics yet again that stirred him towards garden visiting, this time in New England. Both seeking a degree of respite from the growing divisions among the founding fathers on the extent of federal power and wishing to parse out his own views for limited federal power, he set off with the sympathetic James Madison, together making their way north up the Hudson River, before turning east into Massachusetts. Along the way, both Virginians marveled at non-Virginian species. They were particularly taken with

a species of conical coniferous arborvitae, the northern bayberry, and a flowering shrub that was “loaded richly with flowers of a strong pink fragrance.” Not unlike Open Days visitors today, they were eager to combine gardens with a nursery visit, concluding their tour with a visit to William Prince’s nursery in Flushing, Queens.

Wonderfully, both Jefferson’s and Madison’s gardens at their respective homes in Virginia, Monticello and Montpelier, are recipients of funds raised by the Garden Club of Virginia’s garden visiting program, Historic Garden Week, which is celebrating its 90th anniversary this year! A more recent garden visiting program in Los Angeles, run by the Theodore Payne Foundation with a focus on native plants, has seen its numbers jump to 2,000 from 800 before the pandemic. The Trustees of the Reservations in Massachusetts has also leaned hard into garden visiting in recent years, pivoting interpretation at several properties from being about historic houses to being about gardens that have historic houses.

What’s motivating folks to get out and visit gardens? All these programs support

good causes. Open Days help fund the Conservancy’s preservation work protecting historically significant landscapes around the country, as well as public educational programs and Garden Futures Grants for small nonprofit organizations helping communities through garden-based programming. Supporting a good cause is part of the answer, but it doesn’t fully explain the growth of Open Days nor the enthusiasm and passion so apparent during Open Days.

If the history of garden visiting at places like Versailles and Stowe is any guide, a big reason why garden visiting is booming is that that the aesthetic canon is changing. Just as visiting became popular during key moments in the development of formal and landscape gardens, the contemporary imperative to plant natives and to garden without chemicals is pushing a new definition of beauty. Something as momentous as this doesn’t happen all at once or in a single garden. It takes a whole community of gardeners constantly exchanging ideas. This might just be the most exciting era of Open Days yet.

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James Golden’s Garden at Federal Twist in Stockton, NJ, combines a new aesthetic sensibility together with an environmental imperative, new directions helping to drive enthusiasm in visiting gardens today. PHOTO COURTESY OF JAMES GOLDEN Rain or shine, intrepid garden visitors turn out for Virginia Club of America’s Historic Garden Week PHOTO BY KAREN MILLER

Two-Day Garden Futures Summit to Explore Potential of Gardens

To be held at the New York Botanical Garden, September 29-30

What do the environmental and preservation movements share in common? Both were jump-started by conferences in the 1960s and 1970s. Like old fashioned salons, bringing folks together can have a powerful effect on achieving a common goal. That’s why the Garden Conservancy is organizing the inaugural Garden Futures Summit. We want to transform the extraordinary passion for gardening today into a full-fledged movement that will shape a better future for everybody.

The Summit will present a selection of

the most exciting projects and ideas animating the gardening world in three sessions: environment, community, and culture. Each topic will form the subject of a session to be chaired respectively by Edwina von Gal (landscape designer), Jennifer Jewell (host of the weekly public radio podcast  Cultivating Place), and Melissa Chiu (director of the Smithsonian’s Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden). Over the course of the Summit’s first day, more than a dozen influential voices from across the gardening world will discuss the remarkable potential of

gardens and gardening to improve our physical, cultural, and emotional health and wellbeing.

On the second day of the Summit, attendees will be treated to exclusive access at both private and public gardens throughout New York City and the greater metropolitan area that embody the forward thinking and transformative potential in gardens today. The breadth of speakers and the combination of talks and tours during the Summit will be of interest to any gardeners, designers, and architects who are passionate about gardens and their enormous potential in society.

Dr. Sue Stuart-Smith Kicks Off 2023 National Speaking Tour

The book The Well-Gardened Mind has been translated into nearly 20 languages, but it began life as a lecture. In 2013, its author, Sue Stuart-Smith, a psychoanalytic psychotherapist with a lifelong interest in gardening, spoke at the inaugural Garden Museum Literary Festival in England about the positive impacts of gardening on human health. The audience was enraptured.

Already, in preparing the lecture, Sue realized the subject represented a real gap in the market. There were plenty of academic papers, for instance, on how hospital patients recover faster in rooms with views of nature. She also found no shortage of horticultural therapies based on promising statistics showing, for instance, the effect of gardening on recidivism for incarcerated men and women. But no single book synthesized the many ways in which mind and garden can interact, and certainly nothing written for a wider audience.

So Sue embarked on a book that became The Well-Gardened Mind, published in 2020 after years of research, just as the pandemic hit. Without a book tour, her publishers braced for poor sales. Instead, the opposite happened. The lockdown gardening mania catapulted her book to bestseller lists. Interest in other countries led to translations.

The Garden Conservancy’s Spring 2023 National Speaking Tour launched the first

day of March with the Daniels Family Garden Lecture at the Norton Museum of Art in West Palm Beach, followed by stops at the New York Botanical Garden, where Sue appeared in conversation with her husband, the celebrated landscape designer Tom Stuart-Smith, before hitting the West Coast, first at Filoli Historic House & Garden in Woodside, CA, and then The Ebell of Los Angeles. Unfortunately, a planned lecture at the deCordova

Sculpture Park and Museum in Lincoln, MA, was canceled because of a snow storm.

The Garden Conservancy is proud to have played a part bringing this authoritative and compelling author to a wider American audience. Her book’s focus on the healing effects of gardens matches beautifully with the Conservancy’s mission to promote the wider culture and joy of gardens and gardening.

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C O M M U N I T Y C U L T U R E E N V I R O N M E N T G a rden Fu t u r e s Sum m i t
Dr. Sue Stuart-Smith speaking about The Well-Gardened Mind at The Ebell of Los Angeles on March 13, 2023

Lotusland: A Legacy of Life

While concise, this quote from Madame Ganna Walska, the creator of Lotusland, opens wide to accommodate the breadth of her vision, including the seemingly contradictory tensions it could hold: reality and fantasy, permanence and evanescence, evidence and imagination, life and death, body and soul. Born Hanna Puacz near the end of the 19th century in Poland, she would come of age as the twentieth century dawned, and her life would be buffeted, although never entirely defined, by its boundary-shattering world wars, the speed of its cultural and technological evolutions and revolutions. As the world transformed, so did she, moving through homes, names, nations, careers, marriages, and quests, never looking back at what she had to leave behind, but instead looking eagerly forward to see what exciting new ideas and initiatives might be possible in the future now glimmering ahead.

Her first great love was music, and she had an early career as an opera singer in Paris and New York; in 1922 she purchased the Théâtre des Champs-Élysées in Paris, which she owned for the next fifty years; she was later awarded the French Legion of Honor for contributions to French culture. Her sense of style and love of fashion were legendary, leading to a brief but successful career as a performer. At her Château de Galluis, very near to Versailles, she occasionally performed for guests, and this is where she began to garden. During this period of her life in and around Paris in the 1920s, she connected with many of the most important, groundbreaking thinkers and artists of all genres, from painters to composers to writers to designers to performers. She was at the center of a city filled with ideas and innovations, and she would continue to draw on this immersive experience of unfettered and unfearing experimentation for the rest of her life.

By the following decade her insatiable curiosity and desire for a greater sense of purpose led her to study philosophy, spiritualism, and other systems of thought and belief. During this period of searching, she undertook the practice of yoga, and met the yogi Theos Bernard, who had pioneered the teaching of Hatha yoga in the West. In 1941, she purchased a 37-acre property then known as “Cuesta Linda” near Santa Barbara, California; a year later he became her sixth and final husband, and they set about turning it into a retreat for Tibetan monks. But World War II made that dream impossible; by 1946, they had divorced. Walska was now at the end of another marriage, and at the end of her 50s. Another woman might have been discouraged, but as always, she looked assuredly forward. What she now envisioned ahead was an opportunity to combine all her experiences of art, experimentation, theatrical illusion, beauty, and gardening with her spiritual

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The Mediterranean Revival house at Lotusland, Montecito,CA, surrounded by exuberant plantings. PHOTOS: KIM BAILE, COURTESY OF LOTUSLAND.
“Living on this planet is not a reality but merely a passing moment in time and space allotted us for growth.”
— Madame Ganna Walska
guest writer

searching and desire for a meaningful life and legacy. More immediately, what she literally saw in front of her was a landscape alive with lotus flowers, and in homage to that flower’s sacred connections to the many aspects of the spiritual path, including purification and enlightenment, she named her vision “Lotusland.”

From the time she purchased the property until her death in 1984, Walska devoted all her resources, chief among them her limitless imagination and generative spirit, to realizing her ever-expanding vision for Lotusland. And while her vision was highly unconventional, she chose to carry out its realization in harmony with many of the more traditional features put in place by her predecessors. Original purchaser Ralph Kinton Stevens, a commercial nursery owner, had been drawn to the area for its unusually propitious microclimate, which could support the growth of an astonishing array of species; many of his early plantings formed the basis for gardens that still exist at Lotusland today. During their twenty-year tenure, later owners E. Palmer and Marie Gavit hired leading architects Reginald Johnson, who designed the Mediterranean Revival main house, and George Washington Smith, who added a perimeter wall, pavilion, stable, swimming pool, bath house, and living quarters for the staff. The Gavits also brought in landscape architect Paul Thiene to create the formal Italianate gardens that remain a Lotusland highlight even now.

For landscape architect, Garden Conservancy board member, and Lotusland trustee Joseph Marek, this horticultural conversation across decades, sensibilities, and aesthetics is part of what creates Lotusland’s unique and captivating dynamic. “The garden was originally founded as a nursery, and then, when the house is built, these formal Italianate gardens are put in. As a landscape architect, I love straight lines! But the formal strong lines of the garden, with Madame’s 40 years of overlay of the fantastical, the exotic, the unimaginable except to her, surprises people when they visit. They expect to see just a botanical garden, laid out with a cactus garden here, a ‘this’ garden, a ‘that’ garden—but when one singular person’s vision is overlaid on all the formal stuff, it takes on this magical, otherworldly character.” This almost ineffable quality is frustratingly difficult to convey in words, he laments. “There’s really nothing like being there.”

While the bones of the late 19th and early 20th century plantings and design might still be discernible, it is Walska’s fantastical overlay that attracts and bewitches the visitor. As someone steeped in the methods of theatrical illusion-making, she understood how to capture and cajole her audience’s eye. At Lotusland, this took the form of deploying unimaginably improbable extremes of scale and profusion in her plantings, to delight and occasionally even destabilize a viewer. (Marek summed up her credo: “If one is good, one thousand is better.”) While one of the thrills of Lotusland comes from the opportunity to walk among plants now so endangered by habitat loss, climate change, or other stressors that even the most intrepid botanist might never find one (such as the 150 species in the horticulturally invaluable Cycad Garden, several of which are now extinct in the wild), the sublime effect is felt even when the plants themselves are neither rare nor unusual for the area. Their massing and profusion lend the landscape an almost hallucinatory quality. Adding to the experience is the wide array of species, each given a starring role in the series of individual gardens and their particular climates that make up the whole of Lotusland, so that as if in a dream, a visitor might walk from the intimate, old world aura of the Olive Allée into the spiky, almost alien plantings of the Dunlap Cactus Garden, one enveloping environment giving way in an instant to another. While their plantings differ wildly, each nonetheless shares the quality of profusion, wonder, and immersion that was Walska’s signature.

Like Marek, Lotusland Executive

Director Rebecca Anderson highlights the garden’s unique and profound effect on visitors. She says that she fell under its sway as a young person growing up in the area, and despite its landscape having become part of her everyday experience, she still consciously feels its power, every day. For her, the almost hypnotic effect is due to a combination of the size of the property; the scale, massing, and diversity of plantings; the limited number of visitors (by strict county mandates); and the distance a visitor is from any geographical or sensory clue that might allow for orientation within the outer world. With an overall design that features a series of artfully curated gardens-within-the-garden, each of which is defined by a literally stunning profusion of its particular type—whether succulents, aloes, bromeliads, ferns, or others—one’s focus localizes, until, as she says, “You don’t know what time or place you’re in. It’s been described as ‘the most private public garden,’ and it can feel like you’re in a private home.”

While a walk through Lotusland can feel like a visit to a dreamland, Anderson stays alert. She is keenly aware of the ongoing work needed to keep the garden alive and thriving: the upgrades to infrastructure, the census and health of the plantings, the ongoing assessment of the garden’s pioneering organic and sustainability practices, the effects of weather on the plantings from day to day along with the analysis of how climate change more generally is affecting everything from the growing seasons to the durability and suitability of the materials in use throughout the garden, the outreach to schools and organizations, and the

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Lotusland’s Parterre is a formal Italian-style flower garden with Spanish and Moorish elements, all arranged on multiple axes.

appeals to philanthropists and foundations whose support is crucial to meeting all these pressing needs and more. Like Madame Walska, Anderson always has her eye on the future. And while she, like Marek, speaks gratefully of the continued influence of Walska’s sensibilities and priorities on decisions about the development of the garden, perhaps the aspect of Walska’s legacy most useful now is her bold bravery, her willingness to meet the future and its challenges, her unshakeable belief that new opportunities are always just ahead. Says Anderson, “We are always working to improve and sustain this iconic garden, and to make it relevant for today, to modernize it enough to make it functional, without compromising its spirit.”

The pandemic offered a good example. While the organization was forced to shut down and cancel regularly scheduled plans, she says, “It also gave us a break in expected activities. With no visitors or events, we could work on infrastructure projects, upgrade our technology, improve compliance with the Americans with Disablities Act, and make time for team-building.” The staff instituted an online booking system; within a year, 80 percent of ticket-buyers were making their reservations online, speeding communications with visitors and freeing staff to focus on other responsibilities. Lotusland is still dealing with the strict visitation limits that were imposed by the county when the garden first opened to the public thirty years ago. Current and past trustees and staff are working to try to have these limits amended this year, at least modestly, in order to be able to be open more regularly, to more people, so that Lotusland’s crucial support base can grow. Because the site is located in a residential area, neighbors were originally

suspicious that visitors, cars, and buses would quickly get out of control. However, there is a growing understanding now that to have a 37-acre haven for biodiversity and natural ecosystems is a benefit to the area, and that it is far preferable to what would result if that acreage were sold and broken up into individual lots.

In the years after she purchased the property, Walska’s view on her legacy evolved. While her earlier careers in music and theater had garnered the world’s attention, it had been fleeting. She would now employ her imagination and dramatic flair to transform Lotusland into a world-class garden to serve as her legacy. She worked closely with artists, designers, landscape architects, and stonemasons to expand, enhance, embellish, and add new collections and sections to the garden. Among the many additions, improvements, and creations during this productive period were the iron entrance gate, new swimming pool, rooster grotto, Theatre and Blue Gardens, and 25-foot horticultural clock planted with succulents, all designed by Ralph Stevens before his retirement in 1955; and the conversion of the old swimming pool into a water garden. In 1957, just over 15 years after creating Lotusland, she decided that she wanted it to open to the public after her death, and she started a foundation to support this dream. As if buoyed by this new sense of clarity about her vision for the garden’s future, she dreamed up ever more ambitious plans: improvements and ornamental additions to the Aloe Garden by artist Joseph Knowles, Sr.; the addition of topiary animals around the horticultural clock; the layout of the original Bromeliad Garden; the creation of the Japanese Garden, featuring stonemasonry by Oswald Da Ross; and the completion of the Fern Garden, renovation of the Cactus and Succulent Gardens, and redesign of the Aloe Garden. By 1977 she made another decision: she gathered her most rare and valuable pieces of jewelry— created by some of the 20th century’s most important designers and collected and worn by Walska during the years of her musical and theatrical careers, when her sense of sartorial style had been an essential feature of her public persona—and sold

them at auction, investing the proceeds back into the ever deeper, ever stronger roots of her garden.

When she died in 1984, the property was left to the Ganna Walska Lotusland Foundation she had established to support Lotusland in providing “educational and horticultural excellence.” But, says Anderson, “It did not say how to do that or what it meant.” For the next several years, general repairs and deferred maintenance were undertaken in preparation for a planned opening to the public.

Then in 1990, the nascent Garden Conservancy, founded only a year before by Frank Cabot to preserve Ruth Bancroft’s dry garden in Walnut Creek, CA, voted to accept Lotusland as its second sponsored garden. Recognizing both the aesthetic and scientific value of the collections, the Conservancy pledged to support the trustees of Lotusland in their efforts to obtain the needed permits to allow public access to the garden and to work for the preservation of what one Garden Conservancy member called “an irreplaceable national resource.” As Lotusland repaired and prepared for opening to the public, the Garden Conservancy invited its members to two special Open Days on the property.

Says Joseph Marek, “When the Garden Conservancy decided to commit its sponsorship to Lotusland, it was the early days. The Conservancy was new, and Lotusland was an unknown. Now, 34 years later, the stamp of the Garden Conservancy carries weight, and while Lotusland is an important story locally. The Conservancy’s support helps people understand that it’s also a nationally important preservation success story. And, because Lotusland is just unlike anything else, its preservation also goes to the Conservancy’s larger mission of preserving and sharing the diverse gardening traditions of America.”

While the Garden Conservancy’s value to Lotusland’s efforts is perhaps easily recognized, the Conservancy’s president and CEO James Hall says that the relationship goes both ways. “Lotusland was the Conservancy’s second attempt, very early on in our existence, to try to get our heads around something that Americans had really never considered: how do you preserve a garden, and what does that really mean? Preservation is a familiar notion in Europe and other parts of the world, but in the United States preserving a garden is still an evolving understanding. Thirty years into it, with Madame Walska’s vision all around but without her living presence, the

10 I The Garden Conservancy News I April 2023
Lotusland’s spiky, almost alien plantings in the Cactus Garden include rare specimens from around the world.

stewards of Lotusland as well as everyone involved in the Garden Conservancy are still working to figure it out. How much can gardens change? How much should they be allowed to change? The sponsorship and preservation of Lotusland helped the Conservancy make the case for asking and answering these questions. It was not only the expression of Ganna Walska’s goal to create ‘a greater perfection,’ as Frank Cabot would say of gardeners; it was also a repository of essential horticultural collections. The Merritt Dunlap Cactus Collection is a perfect example, in part because of the sheer preposterousness of the undertaking.” Dunlap’s collection of cactus, which he cultivated for 70 years, was filled with rare specimens from around the world. He had promised it to Walska in 1966; the move from his property to Lotusland finally began in 2001, and was completed in 2003, when he was 97. The operation required almost impossibly intricate planning for the delicate removal, transportation over nearly 200 miles, and then careful repositioning and planting of more than 530 individual cacti.

Dorothy Gardner, a founding member of the Garden Conservancy who was involved in the organization’s decision to sponsor Lotusland in 1990, and who is now a Trustee Emerita of Lotusland and a Director Emerita of the Conservancy, also recognizes Lotusland’s role as a place of refuge for endangered plants and a laboratory for horticultural research. “It’s a wonderful resource for seeds and curatorial work,” she says, “and for researching which plants and plant products can be used to promote human and environmental health.”

Anderson underscores Lotusland’s commitment to environmental health through its sustainable horticultural practices. “We became organic 25 years ago, when plants at Lotusland failed to respond to strong fertilizers. The staff researched and committed to natural remedies and practices, and we’re now putting our sustainable horticulture program out as a resource. Our Master Plan includes developing ways to teach these practices, and we have two dates scheduled for a sustainability symposium. We continue to research new practices as well, and recently began

partnering with a local fish Community Supported Agriculture, using its fish waste as fertilizer, creating a model of sustainability and closed circle horticulture.”

Marek highlights another benefit of this sustainability ethos, recalling an astonishing concert of birdsong that accompanied an event in the Theatre Garden last year. “So many birds and animals live there,” he says. “They know they’re safe!”

While Walska did not live to see the effects of climate collapse that are evident today, it’s easy to imagine that if she were to come back she might well approve of any efforts that would, like hers, sustain and strengthen her beloved Lotusland. For a woman who spent her early life in constant motion, whether by choice or necessity, and who devoted her early passions to the sorts of ephemeral experiences—song, performance, even perfume—that disappear quickly and leave only fleeting memories, was a garden the logical next step? A garden is in many ways a site of ephemerality; what’s flowering one day has withered the next. Yet it’s also elemental, and literally rooted in its place. Merritt Dunlap’s traveling cactuses notwithstanding, most gardens stay put, and are defined as much or more by their place as by their contents; we say we’ll meet in the garden, not at the plants. Yet the preservation of a garden is not like the preservation of an art collection, and while the idea of preservation can evoke stasis, a garden is a living, evolving entity, so its preservation will actually require unceasing action. The garden in April may not be the garden in June, or September, but some version of the garden will come up next year. Still, the version with hundred-year-old trees and vibrant native species cannot be taken for granted; its stewardship must be ensured, or the loss is irrevocable and incalculable.

Lotusland’s historian/archivist Rose Thomas described Walska as someone who, while very independent, determined, and confident, could be persuaded to think differently or try something new. The capacity to withstand upheaval, embrace the new, and embody contradiction that defined Walska’s life has been made manifest in her garden, where cactus coexist with lotus flowers; where a visitor is surrounded and even overwhelmed by teeming, evergrowing life forms, yet can feel a serenity unknown outside of the garden’s walls, where the spirit of the woman whose imagination fueled this vision is vibrantly alive yet peacefully at rest, where the efforts to create a landscape of nature, but beyond it, have resulted in a place where the human will to control is exerted and ceded in equal measure. Thirty years after opening to the public, Lotusland is significant as an artistic expression, a place of wonder, a haven of biodiversity, a laboratory for sustainability, and an incomparable archive of plants and seeds, some of which no longer grow anywhere else. Walska’s legacy is not ephemeral, but rather deeply rooted. She spent her passing moment in time creating a space allotted for growth of all kinds

The Garden Conservancy News I April 2023 I 11
“Madame’s 40 years of overlaying the fantastical, the exotic, the unimaginable except to her, is something that surprises people when they visit. It takes on a magical, otherworldly character.”
The Insectary Garden attracts an array of pollinators as well as providing color and fragrance. Lotusland was one of the first public gardens to become fully organic.

It Takes a Community: The Hillside Garden Club and the Anne Spencer Garden

Not long after the death of Harlem Renaissance Poet and civil rights advocate Anne Spencer in 1975, the exquisite garden that she created and that inspired much of her poetry became overgrown.

Spencer’s son Chauncey loved this garden. At 75, knowing its deeply rooted importance to his mother, her poetry, and their community, he took a small step that would change its path forever. In 1981, he reached out to Jane Baber White, a landscape designer and member of the much-loved Hillside Garden Club, asking for help in making Anne Spencer’s garden “look like it did in my mother’s time.”

This phone call catalyzed a community and preserved a nationally significant cultural landscape.

The Hillside Garden Club is a force of nature in Lynchburg, Virginia. What began in 1935 as a group of young women meeting under a neighborhood oak tree has grown into 55 active members who host and participate in flower shows, Red Cross drives, and citywide tree plantings. Members have given thousands of hours to the maintenance and beautification of local gardens and also supported the restoration of gardens and grounds at Poplar Forest, the summer home of Thomas Jefferson.

What the Club has accomplished at Anne Spencer’s garden, now known as the Anne Spencer House & Garden Museum, is quite extraordinary.

In 1983, the Hillside Garden Club did a deep dive into the site and, since then, has conducted two rehabilitation projects;

the first was recognized with the 1987 Common Wealth Award from the Garden Club of Virginia. In 2008, Jane Baber White approached the Garden Conservancy for assistance with the garden’s preservation. The Conservancy made recommendations and provided guidance for its restoration. Later, she documented the project in Lessons Learned from a Poet’s Garden.

Eager to learn more, the Garden Conservancy recently connected with club members Jane Baber White, Bobbi Oldham, Julie Schietinger, Sonya Wodicka, Susan Wright, and Leigh Barth, who generously shared their story:

“Lynchburg is a traditional Southern town and adheres to the tried and true in classical garden design. However, residents also emphasize native plants in their garden designs and avoid the use of pesticides, increasing the availability of safe habitats and desirable food for our native pollinators and resulting in Lynchburg’s certification as a Bee City through the Xerces Society.

“What began as a phone call in 1981 blossomed into a life-changing experience for Jane. Several days later, she met Chauncey Spencer in the garden. ‘I knew that I knew how to restore the garden and could think of nothing else from that point forward. I also knew it was going to take money that the Spencer Foundation did not have, so I realized this could be something Hillside might consider undertaking.’

“Jane introduced each member of the Club to the garden; only one, a high school English teacher, was familiar with Anne

Spencer’s work. For the others, the introduction was truly expansive, and they could see that Anne shared their love of gardens. Later Jane proposed formally adopting the restoration of the garden as a Club project. It was unanimously approved!

“For 40 years, the Anne Spencer Garden has been the signature project of the Hillside Garden Club. Members happily gave perennials from their gardens. They paid for the major cleanup of vines and brush that had to be removed with heavy equipment and for trucks to haul them off. Drawing inspiration from Spencer’s poetry, Chauncey’s memories, and the remaining structure, Jane led a plan directing the Club’s effort, including countless hardscape and landscape rehabilitations and maintenance, with members taking responsibility for everything from painting fences to raking gravel.

“To this day, we clean gutters and prune giant roses, emerging as if from battle with bloody arms. We pull weeds, rake leaves, and sometimes we mow. We plant historic bulbs and appropriate natives such as ferns. It’s a strong community-building activity for all ages and abilities. We have also provided substantial financial support over the years to ensure the garden remains authentic, educational, and appealing. The garden is a unifying activity for the Club, and a source of pride. We are gratified to have helped preserve the garden and to bring about appropriate recognition of this gem, so long overdue.

“To visit this garden is a privilege; it is a special privilege to dig in Anne Spencer’s garden soil. Lines of her poetry come to mind, and one feels in harmony with Anne and her world. Feeling connected to her in this space offers tranquility, satisfaction, and pride. The permanence and security found in preserved gardens provide rootedness in our rapidly changing world. Because of its tangible history, the Anne Spencer House & Garden Museum continues to exude the feeling of refuge, peace, and beauty that Spencer cultivated here with her contemporaries, friends and family.”

This is what it means to be preservationists. The Hillside Garden Club, a unifying force, like so many clubs across the country, does the work that broadens our understanding of gardens as cultural legacy and places of beauty. Preservation takes a community.

12 I The Garden Conservancy News I April 2023
Right: Anne Spencer in her garden, c. 1930 COURTESY OF THE ANNE SPENCER HOUSE & GARDEN MUSEUM Left: All smiles, Hillside Garden Club members pose at a Anne Spence Garden workday in 2022. PHOTO BY CORNELIA VRANIAN, COURTESY OF THE HILLSIDE GARDEN CLUB

Mountains, River, and Mansions: Cultural Heritage on the Hudson

The Garden Conservancy and Bard College are hosting a series of programs in celebration of Blithewood Garden in Annandale-on-Hudson, NY, and in support of the garden’s rehabilitation. A panel discussion on April 23 in Blithewood Mansion, now known as the Levy Economics Institute at Bard College, will explore the dialogue between Gilded Age architecture and the landscape, and the garden’s place as a nationally significant cultural landscape. Guest speakers include historic preservation expert Kurt Hirschberg of Jan Hird Pokorny Associates, Harvey Flad of Vassar College, Dimitri Stratis of the National Park Service, and Amy Parrella of Bard College. We will also premiere the Conservancy’s documentary film about Blithewood’s preservation, narrated by actress Blythe Danner (a Bard alumna). In the late summer, we will host historic and

horticultural tours at the garden in collaboration with the Conservancy’s Digging Deeper program.

Since 2016, the Conservancy and Bard College have partnered to rehabilitate this iconic garden. To chart a roadmap for the garden’s preservation, the Conservancy and Bard raised funds to produce a series of reports that provide a record and analysis of historic significance and current conditions. Most recently, in 2020, a historic vista was restored after Blithewood horticulturists discovered a historic 1947 photo of the landscape that revealed a previously unknown vista.

Framed by the Hudson River and Catskill Mountains, Blithewood Garden is one of the few intact Hudson River estate gardens from the Gilded Age. It is an Italianate garden with important connections to the evolution of American landscape design. It was designed in 1903 by Francis L. V. Hoppin, who

Garden Futures Grant Program Expands

The Garden Futures Grant program (previously known as Gardens for Good) is an initiative through which the Conservancy awards grants—typically ranging from $5,000 to $10,000—to small public gardens and other nonprofit organizations making a significant impact in their communities through gardenbased programming. Through this program, the Conservancy celebrates and highlights the work of innovative and diverse gardening practices throughout the United States. This year, we also welcomed applications from nonprofit organizations contributing to the study or preservation of garden history.

Applications were due April 15 and are being reviewed by our national committee of respected friends and colleagues in the gardening world, listed on the right. Bios can be found on the Garden Conservancy website.

apprenticed with the renowned firm McKim, Mead & White, designers of the Vanderbilt Mansion in nearby Hyde Park. Dr. Samuel Bard, physician to George Washington during the American Revolution, lived at what was to become the Vanderbilt estate for a period. Much later, his grandson, John Bard, would eventually donate Blithewood’s grounds to Bard College.

More than 100 years old, Blithewood Garden, though well-loved and much visited, is in urgent need of rehabilitation to sustain its beauty, ensure visitor safety, and continue serving as a valuable community resource. The garden’s architectural features have been hard-hit by the passage of time and exposure to the elements. The rehabilitation of Blithewood Garden will enable this piece of living history to continue providing a connection to the past for generations to come.

Camille Butrus (Mountain Brook, AL)

Page Dickey (Falls Village, CT)

Kona Gray, FASLA, PLA (Fort Lauderdale, FL)

Lawana Holland-Moore (Washington, D.C.)

Wambui Ippolito (Staten Island, NY)

Jennifer Jewell (Chico, CA)

Joseph Marek (Santa Monica, CA)

Maureen Ruettgers (Carlisle, MA)

Jabari Taylor (Brooklyn, NY)

Lynde Uihlein (Port Washington, WI)

To learn more about the Garden Futures Grant program, please visit or email

The Garden Conservancy News I April 2023 I 13
Left: Blithewood Garden’s design enhances the adjacent historic mansion and commands majestic views of the Hudson River. Right: The classical façade of the historic Blithewood Mansion, now the Levy Economics Institute at Bard College

In Memoriam

In mid-March, as this newsletter was in layout, the Garden Conservancy was deeply saddened to hear of the passing of two of our most stalwart friends and supporters, Rodman Ward and Suzanne Rheinstein. We are immensely grateful for their many contributions to our organization and extend profound condolences to their families and friends.

Rodman Ward, Jr. joined the Conservancy’s board of directors in 2005, chairing the board’s Audit committee for many years and serving until September 2018, when he was named a Director Emeritus. With a distinguished legal career in corporate law and governance in Delaware, he brought to the Conservancy not only extensive legal expertise but also a deep knowledge and enthusiasm about gardening, cultivated from experience gardening in three different climates and two hemispheres. He also served on the board of other cultural organizations in Delaware and Maine. Among his many contributions to the Garden Conservancy was making a garden-study tour to South Africa possible, advising on tour planning as well as graciously hosting visitors at his own home and garden in Constantia.

Suzanne Rheinstein was a longtime friend, leading supporter, and a key guiding light for the Garden Conservancy. A member of the Conservancy’s Society of Fellows since 1998, Suzanne was elected to the Conservancy’s board of directors in 2004 and served on it in many leading roles until this past December. She was an energetic ambassador for the organization, introducing and involving countless friends in the Conservancy’s mission and activities. She provided both the vision and the leadership to create the Suzanne and Frederic Rheinstein Garden Documentation Program, a new avenue for the Garden Conservancy’s preservation efforts, which is creating new documentary film footage as well as organizing historical archival materials to capture and preserve a multi-dimensional experience of the essence and beauty of a garden. Herself an internationally renowned interior designer and author, Suzanne always brought exceptional grace and an elegant sense of style to whatever she undertook, setting a high bar for all Conservancy activities. Suzanne’s third book, A Welcoming Elegance, was just published by Rizzoli in March.

Announcing Celia Hegyi Matching Challenge Grant for Education

The Garden Conservancy seeks to raise $50,000 toward a matching challenge for educational programming from Celia Hegyi (a member of our Society of Fellows since 1997!) This is Celia’s second matching challenge for the Conservancy’s education program, and we are honored by her commitment to expanding and strengthening our base of support. An early supporter of the Garden Conservancy, Celia has been instrumental in our success. From supporting our first endowment campaign to recent educational programs, she has been by our side advocating for the importance of preserving and sharing gardens with the public. Inspired by gardens from a young age, Celia gardens at her homes in Southport, CT, and Pebble Beach, CA. In her professional life, she provides art advisory services. She formerly served on the board

of directors of the Couture Council at the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York City and is involved with various philanthropic organizations.

We are deeply grateful to Celia for her generosity and enthusiasm for our mission. Like so many of our friends and members around the country, Celia has been delighted and inspired by the many important voices in the gardening world that the Conservancy brings to its constituents through both virtual and in-person programs. Celia described how these programs have encouraged her to explore her relationship to gardening more deeply, asking “Wouldn’t we all love a little voice in our head that shines a light on something new about the garden… either physically or metaphysically?”

To donate to this matching challenge, please visit the Garden Conservancy’s

website or contact Sarah Parker at or 845.424.6500, ext. 214.

14 I The Garden Conservancy News I April 2023

Welcome Our Newest Board Members

Rebirth and renewal are as important to organizations as to gardens. Please join us in welcoming these seven talented and accomplished individuals to the Garden Conservancy board of directors.

Camille Butrus, Birmingham, AL

A Garden Conservancy member since 2000, Camille Butrus joined our Society of Fellows in 2018. Since then, she has traveled extensively with the Conservancy, generously supported our education and grant programs, served on the Grant Advisory Committee in 2022, and is closely involved in the Conservancy’s documentation of Louise Wrinkle’s Garden in Birmingham. Camille and her late husband purchased their Mountain Brook home in 1996 and spent two years restoring the house, which was built in 1931, and completely redoing the gardens. Camille has opened her garden for Open Days as well as for the Southern Garden History Society tour. She was elected to the Conservancy’s board in December 2022.

Kate Cordsen, New York, NY

Kate is a fine art photographer well known for her ethereal, large format landscapes. Her work, which she prints in her Essex, CT, darkroom, is housed in public and private collections, including at Harvard University and American Express, and has been published in a number of publications including the New York Times. Kate studied art history at Harvard University and has a master’s in public policy from Georgetown University. Passionate about arts education, she has served on numerous arts related boards including Aperture Foundation, The Japan Society, NYCSALT, and Lyme Academy of Fine Arts. Kate lives in New York City and the Connecticut River Valley. She was elected to the board in March 2023.

Alease Fisher, Greenwich, CT

A clothing designer with a historic landscape in Greenwich, CT, and a contemporary garden in Palm Beach, FL, Alease Fisher is a true plant-lover at heart. Alease’s father’s work as a research scientist in plant pathology influenced her passion for botany from an early age. She organized and led the Conservancy’s garden-study tour of Greenwich, CT, and Bedford, NY, in June 2022. Alease and her husband, Paul Tallman, have also opened their Greenwich garden for Open Days and hosted Garden Conservancy events, including a Salon Series program in 2019. She has been a member of Fellow since 2016 and was elected to the board in December 2022.

Cathy Barancik Graham, New York, NY

An award-winning artist and fashion illustrator, Cathy Graham has also contributed editorial work to leading newspapers and magazines and served as a contributing editor at Elle Décor and House Beautiful magazines. For more than a decade, Cathy worked with the late floral designer and event planner Robert Isabell, noted for his unique lavish and innovative parties. She is a New York City resident and a board member of the Lincoln Center Theater and other cultural organizations. Her first book was Second Bloom: Cathy Graham’s Art of the Table (Vendome Press, 2017). Cathy was elected to the board in March 2023.

Stephen Orr, New York, NY

A vice president and group editorial director at Dotdash Meredith, Stephen Orr is the editor-in-chief of Better Homes and Gardens. Previously he served as executive editor at Condé Nast Traveler magazine and garden editor at Martha Stewart Living, House & Garden, and Domino magazines. Stephen is also the author of two gardening books: The New American Herbal (Clarkson Potter, 2014) and Tomorrow’s Garden: Design and Inspiration for a New Age of Sustainable Gardening (Rodale, 2011). He serves on various boards, including ACLU Iowa, and on the Wave Hill Friends of Horticulture committee. Stephen and his husband, Chad Jacobs, live in New York City and Cape Cod. He was elected to the board in March 2022.

Raun L. Thorp, Los Angeles, CA

Raun Thorp is a licensed architect and co-owner with her husband of the multi-disciplinary design firm Tichenor & Thorp Architects, Inc., in Los Angeles. Since 1990, their firm has completed more than 400 projects nationwide, both commercial and residential, which are featured in the monograph Outside In: The Gardens and Houses of Tichenor & Thorp (Vendome Press, 2017). A native Californian, Raun is active with various museums and charitable organizations. She has been a member of the Garden Conservancy’s Society of Fellows since 2010 and was elected to the board in March 2023.

Marshall Watson, East Hampton, NY

New York-based interior designer Marshall Watson is best known for creating classic, light-filled, elegant interiors with a modern sensibility. Internationally recognized, Marshall’s work has been featured in numerous shelter magazines, and, of course, his own book: The Art of Elegance: Classic Interiors (Rizzoli, 2017). He was born in Kansas City to a family steeped in gardening: his father was a great rosarian; his mother and aunt were both presidents of the Westport Garden Club. Marshall is an avid amateur gardener; his home and gardens in East Hampton are regular stops on local charity garden and historic house tours, as well as in Garden Conservancy Open Days. He was elected to the board in December 2022.

The Garden Conservancy News I April 2023 I 15

Garden visiting is in full swing!

Check the calendar on for hundreds of Open Days gardens, nearly 30 Digging Deepers, plus new Garden Masters Series and virtual programs.

Now is the perfect time to become a Garden Conservancy member!

Join today and take advantage of the exciting in-person and virtual programming happening this spring. Members receive a complimentary copy of the Open Days Directory and discounted prices for all our educational programs including Open Days, Digging Deeper, virtual talks, and more!

Memberships start at just $50, include exclusive member benefits, and keep you connected to all we do through our print and electronic communications.

Make special memories by treating loved ones to a gift membership this Mother’s or Father’s day.

Connect your loved one with a community that celebrates America’s gardens, explores diverse gardening traditions, and provides opportunities to visit and explore gardens first-hand. Gift memberships can be personalized with your gift message and sent to you or your gift recipient.

Our spring card features the Olive Allée at Lotusland in Montecito, CA. A Garden Conservancy preservation partner, Lotusland is celebrating its 30th anniversary as a public garden in 2023! To commemorate the occasion, we are highlighting this spectacular garden throughout the year.

Learn more and join by visiting or call 845.424.6500, M-F, 9-5 ET.

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