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Diggin' It

Touring the gardens of Kykuit can make you feel 'rich as Rockefeller'

In New York's Hudson Valley, the gardens of the Rockefellers' Kykuit estate can enrich your gardening experience.

By Lois J. de Vries / June 10, 2011

The grand facade of the Greek Revival Rockefeller home at Kykuit near Tarrytown, N.Y., is covered with wisteria. Family and guests still live on the upper floors, even though the first floor and art galleries are open to the public.

Courtesy of Lois J. de Vries

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The classic tune promises that, if we just stay On the Sunny Side of the Street, we'll be "rich as Rockefeller."

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On a recent trip to see the great houses of the Hudson River, we treated ourselves to a tour of Kykuit, the Rockefeller estate. It was a brilliantly sunny spring day and, after a month of rain, the gardens were lush and green. For an hour or two, we could at least feel as rich as the Rockefellers.

Why not learn from the experts?

Spectacular setting

Kykuit (Dutch for "lookout") sits atop the Pocantico Hills, near Tarrytown, N.Y., affording spectacular views of the Hudson River. The design of the formal gardens was originally commissioned to the famous landscape architect who also designed New York City's Central Park, Frederick Law Olmstead.

But John D. Rockefeller Sr. wasn't happy with the result and soon began redesigning the property himself. Ultimately, landscape architect William Welles Bosworth was called in to finish the work, creating the Beaux-Arts style gardens visitors see today.

In all, Bosworth created seven distinct gardens at Kykuit, including a Japanese garden, a morning garden, and a rose garden.

Many examples of formal design

While many of the fountains and classical sculptures are from the original period of construction, former New York Governor (and, later, US Vice President) Nelson Rockefeller changed some of the garden terraces and incorporated a number of monumental sculptures into the surrounding landscape.

For those who appreciate formal garden design, Kykuit offers many examples of the use of axes and focal points, mass, scale and proportion, perspective, controlled views, symmetrical balance, etc. [To see examples, scroll through the three photos at top. Click on the arrows at the right base of the first and second photos to go back and forth among them]

For gardeners, Kykuit is a good reality check on how much garden (or how little) we should aspire to, if we want to manage it ourselves.

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