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Gardens & Landscapes of the Hudson River Valley


Gardens & Landscapes of the Hudson River Valley

Oct 19, 2022

photo of the south porch at Locust Grove. It shows wrought iron pillars, and a high celing that frame views of the Hudson River in the distance. There are two urns with potted flowers which flank a gravel walk that approaches the porch stairs.

Many of us might take landscapes and gardens for granted, or we appreciate them but without ever stopping to wonder how and why they were created.

Did you know there is a whole profession dedicated to this very question? Or that, here in the United States, it was first “planted” in the Hudson River Valley?

This year, 2022, is being celebrated as the “Olmsted 200” anniversary, a celebration of Frederick Law Olmsted, perhaps our best-known designer of landscapes and gardens. Central Park in Manhattan and Prospect Park in Brooklyn are two examples that most people have heard of even if they have not visited. But Olmsted had a partner in those and most of his great works, and they shared a mentor who was the origin of the movement. Andrew Jackson Downing, the son of a nurseryman living in Newburgh, one of the country's first arbiters of taste, importing practices and designs from Europe and adapting them to the North American climate. He also imported Calvert Vaux, a trained architect and artist who would assist in developing plans for houses, gardens, and estates.

After Downing’s untimely death, Vaux would be the one to continue his practice in designing private estates and public grounds. It was Vaux who formed the partnership with Olmsted to execute Downing’s “Greensward Plan”, his vision for a people’s park in New York City. As a farmer and an author, Olmsted knew Downing through his publication The Horticulturalist and through his work on houses and grounds. While not without their differences, the partnership that  Vaux & Olmsted formed would last generations and transform cities, towns, parks, campuses, and private estates throughout the country.

Learn more about their work with our series of video podcasts by Hudson River Valley Institute interns Alex Prizgintas, Marist ’22 and Kevin Pakrad, Marist ’23.

Kevin shares his experience of creating documentaries about Poighkeepsie's Rural Cemtery, Samuel F.B. Morse's Locust Grove estate, and the grounds of Matthew Vassar's Springside estate: “the most valuable thing I learned through the entire process would be the workshopping aspect of the project. And this didn't only extend to the writing side of the project... From interview questions to the editing table, the process of making changes to be sure that the project worked never stopped until we knew it was done. …I can say you might set out to make one thing, and then you just end up making something completely different. This is never a bad thing either. Mystery should be welcomed, not discouraged.”

To watch these videos, and Alex Prizgintas' documentary about Olmsted's experience and influence in the region, click on the link or visit YouTube and search for “HRVInstitute."

If you would like to read more about the Hudson River Valley’s tradition of landscape and garden design, and to learn where to see examples in Dutchess County, you can do so by reading "Dutchess County Landscape Architecture: Nature as a Canvas" by Jessica Jaeb, Marist ’23.