Introducing the Life and Work of Beatrix Farrand, Landscape Gardener and Writer (1872-1959)

Legacy: A Journal of American Women Writers, January 2008 | Go to article overview

Introducing the Life and Work of Beatrix Farrand, Landscape Gardener and Writer (1872-1959)


Within the broad realm of gardening literature produced by women, many examples of entertaining and informative texts exist. For instance, there are the vivid collections captured in the words of the women of belles-lettres, such as Celia Thaxter's An Island Garden and Katharine S. White's Onward and Upward in the Garden. Numerous examples of gardening literature written by women may be found outside the realm of belles-lettres, as well. These writers' dedication to the natural world and earnest belief in the power of their writing were part and parcel of their design to influence public tastes and opinions. Today, a heightened scholarly and popular interest in recovering earlier texts and in environmental and ecocritical concerns has made much of this gardening literature available for a new generation of readers.

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Despite this renewed interest, Beatrix Farrand stands in a unique and perhaps disadvantageous position. Her accomplishments are many: She designed campus gardens for more than eight major US universities and five smaller colleges, including Princeton, Yale, Harvard, and Oberlin. Her other work includes the gardens of the National Cathedral in Washington, DC, the New York Botanical Gardens, Dumbarton Oaks, the Santa Barbara Botanic Garden, and the gardens of Woodrow Wilson's White House, as well as hundreds of smaller commissions. She is also often remembered as a founding member of the American Society of Landscape Architects and as its first woman member.

As a landscape architect and gardener, Beatrix Farrand is best known for her blueprints and gardens, rather than for her writings. (1) Moreover, Farrand did not consider herself to be an author. She did not write as prolifically as some of her colleagues, notably her English counterpart, Gertrude Jekyll. Thus, her writing has remained, until recently, largely overlooked. (2) Initiating the recovery of Farrand's writing in 1997, the Island Foundation of Bar Harbor, Maine, published The Bulletins of Reef Point Gardens, a collection of informative articles, many written by Farrand, on the gardens and flora of the area surrounding Bar Harbor, illustrated with blueprints and photographs. Farrand's archives hold many other essays that appeared in both popular and professional publications or that she read at conferences. Beginning at the age of twenty-one, from 1893 to 1895, she maintained a detailed garden journal. Finally, throughout her career, she was a prodigious letter writer, sharing her professional concerns and opinions with clients and colleagues. The fact that this literary output has never been collected into a single text helps to explain the lack of interest scholars have shown in Farrand's work as a major contributor to gardening literature.

It has repeatedly been demonstrated that within the quasi-domestic realm of gardening literature women have been able to voice concerns that reach far beyond their own private gardens and traditional domestic spaces. (3) Many fledgling women writers "cut their public authorial teeth" by writing initially about gardening, an acceptably feminine topic, particularly in Victorian and Edwardian times. Following their initial publishing successes, many of these same writers moved confidently into genres reflective of broader public concerns. Similarly, Farrand began her career in landscape gardening in what, at the time, was considered a socially acceptable, albeit novel, pursuit for a young woman. (4) Initially, her projects were small private commissions for close family friends. However, as the years passed, both her design work and her literary output moved into more public venues.

Farrand's maturation as a public figure suggestively parallels that of her aunt, Edith Wharton, who was only ten years older. Wharton's initial publishing career began with The Decoration of Houses in 1897, written in collaboration with architect Ogden Codman, Jr. (Lewis 77). …

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