A Garden is a Lovesome thing…

The poem in the title (and below) , by Thomas Edward Brown, is carved in stone at the entrance to the private pleasure garden Ellen Biddle Shipman designed for Gertrude Seiberling at Stan Hywet Hall.

Sculpture at the end of the garden

There is an innate femininity to Shipman’s gardens.  As a divorced, single parent with a career at the beginning of the 20th century I can’t even imagine the prejudice she faced.  When I visit her surviving gardens I am always aware of their rigid formalism tempered with softer plantings and color.  Gardens are always an expressive art and bare the imprint of their makers.

The reflecting pool at the garden's center

During her long career, Shipman made many gardens.  Some are wild, but most have an underlying formality typical of the times.  The design features are always softened by other elements–much like Shipman must have been in real life.

Geometry softened by plantings

That the garden is called the ‘English Garden’ does it a disservice.  It is uniquely American both in its design and its designer.  The garden is of its time and place and has been faithfully restored to Shipman’s plans.

Garden Cottage

I loved that her plan, which is shown at the garden’s entrance is very adamant about not substituting plants or features.  She must have had a steel backbone to stand up and make sure her vision was realized exactly as she saw it in her mind’s eye. Plantings included boxwood, hydrangeas, espaliered apples, climbing roses, peonies, standards, iris and most suprisingly the day I was there, the native–and a personal favorite of mine–Thermopsis caroliniana.

Thermopsis caroliniana

Whenever I visit a Shipman garden or their remnants, I’m always in awe and don’t necessarily take the best photos…I’m too busy trying to get inside this woman’s head…to feel what she wanted me to feel and to learn from her all these years later.

A garden is a lovesome thing, God wot!
Rose plot,
Fringed pool,
Ferned grot–
The veriest school
Of peace; and yet the fool
Contends that God is not–
Not God! in gardens! when the eve is cool?
Nay, but I have a sign;
‘Tis very sure God walks in mine.


3 thoughts on “A Garden is a Lovesome thing…

  1. I can’t afford the stuff in the first four photos but the Carolina Lupines (last photo) are starting to make a tall statement in my wife’s cottage garden.

  2. Great backgrounds (and clients) make great gardens. If only all adversity resulted in such things that are “lovesome”! The hardscape, pool, sculpture and relation with plantings are so inviting and peaceful.

  3. Thanks on 2 counts.
    Well three really because I am always interested in these early 20th century american gardens.
    But one point is the Thermopsis, which does it all so early and has that funny slatey blue cast to the stems and leaves and no one ever mentions it or uses it!
    The second is the poem, which I truly think is dreadful, but does make the point of finding God in gardens – in fact it says, not God in gardens-outrageous!
    Wotever god is of course to any of us.
    I would have said I was irreligious!
    But some afternoons recently alone in the garden I have come the closest I have ever come to some kind of fulfilment, peace, understanding, I almost don’t know what to call it.
    So yes God in gardens! Whatever we think that means for us.

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