Nov 12, 2010

Space Unfolding:
Paula Deitz

and that is the title of her new book.  A well-known fixture in the garden writing world, Ms. Deitz's academic background distinguishes her from others in the field.  Where she sees an open vista and is reminded of a Frederick Church painting, another might see a meadow filled with drifts of echinacea and monarda.

"The moment has to be right, a little after eight o'clock.  Suddenly moving slowly up and down both sides of the center islands, school buses and taxis fill the slick dark avenue with chrome-yellow shapes that gleam in the rain.  I move away for an instant, then, when I look again, this world in a mist seems transformed into a stream in an old Kyoto garden where golden carp weave in and out of dark waters, their backs glistening as they turn." excerpt from A Winter Garden of Yellow, New York Times, February 27, 1995 collected in Of Gardens.

Ms. Deitz spoke to a packed house at the Annual Meeting of The Horticultural Society of New York on Thursday night.  Her topic The Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Garden on Mt. Desert Island.  As one expects from a landscape historian, Ms. Deitz began with a 19th century map of the island and the origin of the name.

"Some natives stress the second syllable (de-ZERT), in the French fashion, although many others pronounce it in a fashion similiar to the English name of a landscape devoid of vegetation (DEH-zert). French explorer Samuel de Champlain's observation that the summits of the island's mountains were free of vegetation as seen from the sea led him to call the island "Ile des Monts Deserts", or island of the bare mountains."

Ms. Deitz spends her summers in Maine.  Her relationship to the Rockefeller Garden at Seal Harbor is part neighbor and part historian.  This personal relationship to the past and present owners give her unique access and perspective.

The Rockfellers were inspired to create the garden at Seal Habor after a trip to Peking for the opening of the Peking Union Medical College.  What was it that inspired them to take a rugged part of the Maine coast and turn it into an Asian garden?

Ms. Deitz alluded to the answer.  Mrs. Abbey Aldrich Rockerfeller had a predilection for quiet spaces and saw the opportunity to turn her Maine property into a refuge.  Mrs. Rockefeller is quoted as saying
"only gardens know how to yield such happiness."

After working at Hidcote this summer,  I wondered if Lawrence Johnson, the creator of Hidcote, was influenced by his passion for all things English or if there was any remnant of his American childhood that influenced his building of the gardens at Hidcote. 
For me, gardens can yield happiness, but also sleepless nights.  In the case of the origins of the  garden at Seal Harbor, Deitz provided me with a good night's sleep.