Frances Hodgson Burnett’s 1911 novel The Secret Garden, along with the 1949 and 1993 movie renditions that followed, charmed readers with the concept of a secret paradise in the heart of an English estate. The allure of a secluded oasis in the heart of society remains at the core of the tale’s undeniable magic.
On the eastern border of the Hudson River in Dutchess County, that very same magic hides in Bellefield, a lesser-known historic estate in Hyde Park. Yet unlike Springwood, Franklin D. Roosevelt’s home, and Val-Kill, Eleanor Roosevelt’s year-round retreat, Bellefield, which is part of the Home of Franklin D. Roosevelt National Historic Site, remains a very local secret.
Bellefield’s origins date back to 1795, when Judge John Johnston bought 175 acres to build the Federal-style home that forms the core of the current house. In 1885, then-state Sen. Thomas Newbold and his wife, Sarah Coolidge, purchased the home and part of the land. Significant renovations were completed by McKim, Mead & White (the firm responsible for many of New York City’s most famous Beaux Arts masterpieces) in 1911 — the same year that visionary landscape designer Beatrix Farrand was commissioned to create an expansive garden on the site.
As the earliest existing private garden by Farrand, the terrain shines through its harmony of colors, bloom sequences, and textures. Farrand, who studied at Harvard’s Arnold Arboretum, earned a reputation for clever use of perennials and mixed border landscapes.
“We are fortunate to have the earliest existing example of [Farrand’s] work here in the Hudson Valley,” says Anne Cleves Symmes, the garden educator at the Beatrix Farrand Garden Association. “The garden is thoughtfully connected to the McKim, Mead & White architecture of the house and, while it starts out as a highly formal structure, it gradually becomes more naturalistic, moving finally into what [Farrand] called the ‘wild garden’ beyond.”
In 1993, the National Park Service chartered the Beatrix Farrand Garden Association to revive the grounds, and the garden has flourished. According to Cleves Symmes, the best times to visit are in late May and early June, when the garden’s irises, foxgloves, and peonies reach full bloom.
The Bellefield grounds and the Beatrix Farrand Garden are open year-round, free of charge.