1. A garden for a dying sycamore restored in 1951 to its life

Winterthur, Delaware, legacy of Henry Francis du Pont, 1880-1969, American

 

Sycamore Hill

 

There are flowering plants in a rolling wave across the park from late February through November by design of its owner.

Its June flowering is on Sycamore Hill.

 

 

There Henry Francis du Pont found an American sycamore (Platinus occidentalis) already two hundred hundred years old, growing by a former stream bed. 

In 1951 it was dying. 

Consulting with arborists, he had it filled with 10 tons of concrete, whole train rails and other sundry metals. 

It returned to life and its former magnificence.

 

 

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the sycamore with its seed heads:  they form in winter and fall in spring

 

 

 

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The sycamore in summer

 

 

 

 

The old sycamore stands in the heel of an L formation where the vertical and horizontal legs of the L  are green swards planted with trees and bushes and flowers. 

They bloom primarily in June.  

On the left side of the L and up its vertical leg is open parkland where you can sit with your back to the sycamore.

 

 

 

 

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On the right side of the vertical leg of the L and above its horizontal leg is more parkland. 

 

 

 

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This is separated from the sward by a fence along which have been planted some of the only rose bushes which I have seen at Winterthur.

 

 

 

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The grass in these parklands is kept very trim. 

This year, however, for reasons not obvious, a sheath of ivory grass was left to grow directly in front of the sycamore. 

 

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Like a glittering pathway.

 

 

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Sometimes in spring and summer you see people with their palms on the bark of the sycamore, their heads bowed, holding still. 

So immense is its girth and broad its shade; and unlikely its huge presence after near-death.

 

At the junction of the two swards, you can sit with a stand of coniferous Arborvitae (Thuja accidentalis), a native tree whose name derives from the medicinal uses to which it is put by native Americans. 

 

 

 

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Arborvitae cultivars, called cypresses but not true ones

 

 

You sit until called by this extraordinary shape a few feet away and closer still to the heart of the junction between the two swards.

 

 

 

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Japanese maple cultivar

 

 

 

You wonder if the leafless state of this tree and its supplicating boughs indicate that it is in message overload from its rich environment;

and being pulled apart.

 

 

The greenway along the horizontal of the L

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ends with a gazebo at the edge of an escarpment.  The gazebo is planted on one side with roses

 

 

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and sits underneath the boughs of  a large tulip poplar (Liriodendron tulipifera), a native hardwood.

In the magnolia family, it produces

 

 

 

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magnolia-like saucer flowers in yellow, cream and pale green in late May and June.

 

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There in the gazebo you can sit on the edge of the escarpment looking down to a body of water. 

 

 

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Until this year, a tent was placed in the field below, behind a frieze of thistles.

Winterthur said the tent was Ottoman in shape

 

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The colour of the tent faded after a few years

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but we believed it to be our favourite Indo-Saracenic. 

 

 

Also almost at the edge of the promontory, a Western catalpa (catalpa speciosa)  with flower bundles hanging in June and dropping singly to the ground.

 

 

 

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On the left and sharply below this  promontory, the last of Henry Francis du Pont’s gardens: the Quarry Garden. 

filled with irises and  candelabra primulas.  It is fed by springs which flow out to that body of water.

 

 

 

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The Quarry Garden culled recently of the deepest pink primroses, deemed an aggressive

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candelabra primula in the Quarry Garden

 

 

 

 

The tree closest to the sycamore tree is a mature kousa (Japanese) dogwood.

 

 

 

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Kousa dogwood and its flowers in June

 

 

From the sycamore and its companion kousa dogwood roll upwards and sideways two broad swards 

bleak in winter

 

 

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in terms of width, one third of the greenway which extends along the horizontal of the L in winter

 

 

and transforming in May and June and July

 

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American fringe tree arching over one of three allees formed in the horizontal of the L from sycamore to promontory

 

 

 

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looking out to parkland in June from beneath the kousa dogwood

 

 

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looking back towards the sycamore and the kousa from the gazebo on the promontory in June

 

 

into a garden fit to make the old sycamore marvel at its second life.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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