Seeing green at historic garden estates

Editorial Staff Art

Although it may already seem like summer—with record-breaking temperatures in some areas this week—spring has actually just arrived, and with it, the chance to explore some of the country’s finest historic estates and gardens. Here The Magazine ANTIQUES has selected a few favorites which offer a taste of some “green design.”

The Fells, Newbury, New Hampshire

The summer retreat of American statesman and author John Milton Hay, the Fells features 1,000 acres overlooking Lake Sunapee. Its 22-room colonial revival style Main House was renovated from a 1890s cottage by the New York City architect Prentice Sanger in 1915, and the formal gardens were designed by Alice Appleton Hay (the wife of Hay’s son Clarence, who inherited the estate in 1905). In spring, the Fells welcomes visitors with lilacs, azaleas, rhododendrons, and mountain laurel. The grounds include a 100-foot long perennial border planted with iris, delphinium, hollyhocks, and phlox; a rose terrace; the wooded Old Garden from 1909; and an extensive hillside rock garden featuring 600 species and cultivars of rock garden and alpine plants.

Complementing the gardens and grounds, a new exhibition of sculpture by over twenty artists, Animal Attractions, will open on May 23, and runs through October 12. An accompanying gallery exhibit opens on June 28 (from 10 am to 4 pm when the Main House is open).

The gardens and trails are open from dawn to dusk year round. The shop and Main House are open 10 am-4 pm weekends and Monday holidays, Memorial Day through Columbus Day; and Wednesday to Sunday, from June 17 through Labor Day. $8 adults, $7 seniors and students, $3 children ages 6-17. For more information call the Fells at 603-763-4789 x3 or visit

Filoli, Woodside, California

The house and gardens of Filoli were built for Mr. and Mrs. William Bowers Bourn, who moved to the 654-acre estate, some 30 miles south of San Francisco, in 1917. (The estate was donated to the National Trust in 1975 by Mrs. William P. Roth, its owner since 1937.) The property’s 36,000-square-foot Georgian revival mansion was designed by Willis Polk, and houses an extensive collection of 17th- and 18th-century English antiques. The 16-acre English renaissance-style garden was designed as a succession of garden rooms by artist Bruce Porter and horticulturist Isabella Worn. Highlights of the grounds include: a sunken garden; walled woodland gardens; a gentleman’s orchard that contains a rare collection of American hybrid table grapes; a bonsai collection; and a daffodil meadow with over one million examples of the flower.

Filoli hosts several events throughout the summer, including its 21st annual flower show, (May 7-10) with floral arrangements and table settings created by seventy professional and amateur designers. The event includes an opening night reception, and throughout the weekend boast an open greenhouse, talks, a Mother’s Day brunch, and more (advance ticketing recommended).

Filoli is open to visitors from February 10 through October 25 (except certain holidays), Tuesdays to Saturdays 10 am-3:30 pm, and Sundays 11am-3:30 pm. $12 adults, $5 students, and free for children ages 4 and under. Call 650-364-8300 x507 or visit

Hollister House Garden, Washington, Connecticut

Set among the rolling hills of northwestern Connecticut, this 25-acre site contains a pre-Revolutionary saltbox farmhouse built by Samuel Hollister and gardens developed since the 1970s by the American American decorative and folk art dealer and collector George Schoellkopf. (He and his partner, the fine art photographer Gerald Incandela, have restored, expanded, and decorated the house in authentic 18th-century style although it is not opnen to the public). The gardens, a preservation project of the Garden Conservancy, are formal in structure but informal in plantings. Among its features is a formal parterre, a reflecting pool, and high walls and hedges that create both enclosed garden rooms and frame expansive vistas.

On July 11 Hollister House hosts “Twilight in the Garden” from 6 to 8 pm-an informal outdoor reception, and on August 29 a special plant sale will be open to the public.

Open Saturdays, in May & September from 10 am to 12 pm and 2 pm to 5 pm, and in June, July and August from 8 am to 10 am and 3 pm to 6 pm. $3 donation requested per person. Call (860) 868-2200 or visit

Our readers might also want to visit:
*  Dumbarton Oaks, Washington DC
During the regular season from March 15 to October 31, the gardens are open daily (except Mondays) 2-6 pm. $8 general admission, $5 seniors, students, and children. Call 202-339-6410 or visit

*  Montrose, Hillsborough, North Carolina
Guided tours by appointment on Tuesdays and Thursdays at 10 am, and on Saturdays at 10 am and 2 pm (year round). $10 per person, $5 for children ages 6 to 12. Call 919-732-7787 for more information.

*  Greenwood Gardens, Short Hills, New Jersey
Guided tours offered May through October, Thursdays at 2 pm and the first Saturday of the month at 10 am. Reservations required, $10 per person. Call 973-258-4026 or visit

*  Long Vue House and Gardens, New Orleans, Louisiana
Open year round (except select holidays), Monday through Saturday 10 am to 4:30 pm, and Sundays, 1 to 5 pm. $10 for adults, $5 for students and children. Call 504-488-5488 or visit