Blithewood Garden

Main Image for Blithewood Gardens
Situated on a steeply sloping bluff, approximately 130 feet above the Hudson River, Blithewood is a 45-acre section of the Bard College campus that was once part of a historic estate comprising a manor house, outbuildings, drives, gardens, lawns, and meadows. Blithewood Garden is a classic example of a walled Italianate garden. Located in the heart of the Hudson River National Historic Landmark District, the garden was designed circa 1903 by Francis L. V. Hoppin (1867–1941) of the architectural firm Hoppin & Koen. Blithewood Garden today remains as breathtakingly beautiful as ever, including its awe-inspiring backdrop of the Catskill Mountains and Hudson River.
 
“Few places that we have ever seen exhibit such marked evidence of refined taste, and correct appreciations of rural beauty, as Blithewood. The spot itself is one possessing great natural attraction, and these have been heightened and improved to the greatest possible advantage.”
      —author unknown, The Cultivator, 1845
Rehabilitation Project

Rehabilitation Project

Bard College and the Garden Conservancy, a national nonprofit organization dedicated to saving and sharing outstanding America gardens, are working together on repairs to the historic garden’s structures and hardscape.
History

History

Located in the heart of the Hudson River National Historic Landmark District, the garden was designed circa 1903 by Francis L. V. Hoppin (1867–1941) of the architectural rm Hoppin & Koen. It is a classic example of a walled Italianate garden. Blithewood Garden today remains breathtakingly beautiful, including its awe-inspiring backdrop of the Catskill Mountains and Hudson River. In keeping with the turn-of-the-century trend toward Romanticism, the formal Italian garden acts as an extension of the Georgian-style mansion. Hoppin designed the house in 1900 for Captain Andrew C. Zabriskie (1853–1916) and his wife, Frances Hunter Zabriskie (d. 1951), who owned the Blithewood estate from 1899 to 1951, when their son, Christian Zabriskie, donated it to Bard College.
Layout

Layout

Blithewood Garden is a quintessentially architectural garden. Built during the Gilded Age (1870–1900), it follows the traditional Italianate design, with a at ground plane, paths on  geometric axes, symmetrical beds, a central water feature, statuary, marble ornaments, and walls that form an enclosure, creating a green “room.” The main axis of the sunken, rectangular garden and its terraces terminates at a pavilion overlooking the Hudson River. Hoppin wanted the walled garden to create a sense of solitude, a haven, for its owners. During an interview in 1903, Hoppin expressed his thoughts about the relationship between the house and garden, saying that both “are properly parts of a single design . . . rather than afterthoughts.”
Plantings
Modern view of Blithewood Garden overlooking Hudson and Catskill Mountains

Plantings

Blithewood’s formal garden, lawn, and woodlands contain remnants of vegetation that once existed around much of the estate. Historically, Frances Hunter Zabriskie would have included clipped evergreens, tree peonies, tulips, irises, hyacinths, gladiola, daodils, phlox, delphiniums, lavender, forget-me-nots, ivy, buttery bush, rhododendrons, lilacs, wisteria, and rugosa and climbing roses, as well as maintained turf. Potted oleander and orange trees, geraniums, nasturtiums, cosmos, snapdragons, and zinnias also graced the garden each year. There was no singular color scheme.

"Robert Donaldson “shaped the land into pleasure grounds of aesthetic delights: shaded bowers, terraced gardens, waterfalls, and long vistas, utilizing what nature had so bountifully supplied. Integral to his design were the farm and its fields, pastures, barns, and livestock."
    —Jean Bradley Anderson, Carolinian on the Hudson, 1996