A Last Gift at Winterthur: the Quarry Garden

 

Henry Francis du Pont, 1880-1969, who left his 175-room collection of American decorative arts (1660-1850) to the management of the Winterthur Museum and Country Estate in 1951, and moved out of the house himself, never gave up responsibility for the park and gardens. 

Six years before his death, he created his last garden in an old quarry on the estate.

Flowers, he said, were his passion. 

———— 

Lingering in late May sun in the Sun Dial Garden to shelter

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among the Sargent crabapple trees coloured with azalea and deutzia,

 

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a man on a beautifully crafted wooden ladder greets you.  He was pruning the crabapple trees.   He reminds you of the sycamore tree in the park.

 

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On your way to cross the street which separates garden and park,  you step carefully around the dark domain of a tree which puts down multiple trunks. 

A label lying on the ground says that this is a gold thread false cypress. 

But then you have never seen the gold thread and you begin to think that this multi-trunked tree has starved the gold thread false cypress of light, stabbed it into the ground with its multiple trunks and replaced it.  A dark place and eerie.

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And then into the sunlight of the park across a bright roadway.

An ancient sycamore tree

 

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so old that it is extensively cabled both to preserve its structure (it is hollow) and against lightning.

Not far a mature Japanese dogwood with an army camouflage bark. The sunlight under the leaves is a yellow-beige-green-gold.

 

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On one side of these trees, benches facing open parkland

 

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And on the other, the park has been planted such that greenways lead away from the sycamore, through trees and bushes to the edge of a high escarpment overlooking agricultural land on one side.

And on the other, also below, is the old quarry and its garden.

 

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A fence separates the back of this park from agricultural land.

 

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You walk towards the escarpment edge through bushes and trees many of them in full bloom at this time in late May.  And several fragrant.

 Lilac, both white and lavender, an azalea of a singular color combination, weigelia and mock orange (Philadelphus) bushes, garland butterfly bushes, deutzia and double file viburnum.

American Fringe trees shedding their flowers in late May and smelling still of gardenia;  an American yellowwood tree in flower, red buckeye trees the colour of whose fulsome red blossoms have become less intense as though drained of blood.

Japanese dogwood in bloom; and mountain laurel just about to bloom.  

An Eastern Redbud, its flowers long gone, sends out boughs of heart leaves.

 

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And there, near the edge of the park, a gazebo, surmounted by an immense tulip poplar (magnolia family), itself in bloom in late May with magnolia-like saucer flowers: yellow cream and white.

 

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And at this high point, agricultural land comes into view directly in front and to the left

 

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And to the right, a glimpse of the Quarry Garden, overhung with a balustrade

 

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and a bridge over the confluence of the three springs which feed the quarry

 

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And down into the  old quarry. 

The Quarry Garden was as meticulously planned as any other part of the estate.  And is as meticulously maintained.

The  design principle used is an English one: a garden whose goal is a naturalism without any obvious formality.  Harmonious distribution of colour.  Balance:  no quarter of the garden and no individual plant or type of plant to boast on its own behalf;  but to contribute to a whole of delight and surprise and a lingering pleasure in the mind.

Every part of the quarry, in significant shade and cool because of large sheltering poplar and birch trees above, and humid for its three springs, has been planted, including the interstices of its walls of massive stone. 

Irises, candelabra primroses, Japanese primula (an aggressive species), azalea, mountain laurel, leatherleaf mahonia, lily of the valley bush, and phlox, several kinds of ferns, and hostas; and wild ginger are some of the plants here.

 

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Leaving the quarry, you climb up and behind the quarry into the sheltering trees,

 

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Flame shades of azalea pass you. They flower in late May.

 

 

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In the Visitors’ Center, a vase of leaves of magnolia grandiflora set with tulips, peonies and roses

 

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And so away.

 

 

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