Thousands of people visit the Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Museum and Library in Hyde Park each year. But many of them leave the property without ever seeing another one of the Valley’s historical treasures. Nestled on the grounds is the now 100-year-old Beatrix Farrand Garden at Bellefield.
A prominent landscape architect in the first half of the 20th century, Farrand designed gardens for many notable families and institutions, including the Rockefellers and Princeton and Yale Universities. In 1912 — very early in what would become a 50-year career — Farrand’s cousins, Senator Thomas Newbold and his wife, Sarah, commissioned her to create the garden at Bellefield, their 18th-century estate. The house, which was absorbed along with the surrounding property by the Roosevelt-Vanderbilt Historic Sites in 1976, now serves as the local headquarters for the National Park Service.
The walled garden is believed to be the country’s oldest surviving example of Farrand’s work. Lining the grass lawn are flower beds bursting with annuals selected for their soft color harmony, bloom sequence, and texture — a technique Farrand helped spearhead. This style became the standard for American garden design, as opposed to placing plants in beds cut into the lawn, an approach which was popular in previous generations.
The Beauty of Bellefield: This aerial view of the garden displays its telescoping structure
Photograph by Richard Cheek
Although disrepair plagued the garden for several years, the Beatrix Farrand Garden Association (BGFA) formed in 1994 and began an extensive restoration process that revived the landscape to its former splendor. Says Anne Symmes, BFGA director, “As this important garden continues to live and breathe, it can go on to teach the next generations about artful design and sustainable horticulture.”
To mark the anniversary of Bellefield, the association is launching several special projects. New educational features — including an audio tour and children’s programming — will be available this summer. The group is collaborating with the National Park Service on a Cultural Landscape Report of the garden and surrounding property. Once this account is finished, the “wilderness” beyond the garden will be reconstructed as it appeared in 1912. And the FDR site’s Wallace Center will display interactive panels and banners that showcase Farrand’s work. “These will be the first official representations of the garden,” Symmes says. “The centennial is providing us with many wonderful opportunities to get the word out.”
The Beatrix Farrand Garden at Bellefield is open daily from dawn to dusk. 4097 Albany Post Rd. (Rte. 9), Hyde Park. 845-229-9115, ext. 2023 or www.beatrixfarrandgarden.org.