Who needs to see another public garden with masses of primary colored annuals and 50 different tea roses? I’d rather be in a garden that is intimate, formed by the signatures of people who love it. This is difficult to achieve in a public space. Blithewold is a unique example of a property open to the public which manages to capture the intimacy of a carefully tended private garden.
Blithewold is a Mansion, Garden and Arboretum in Bristol, RI overlooking Narragansett Bay. The first dwelling on the property was built in 1895 as the summer residence of Augustus and Bessie Van Wickle, and from the very beginning the family began planning stone walls, establishing rare trees and developing gardens. Marjorie Van Wickle Lyons, Augustus and Bessie?s oldest daughter, loved this property immensely, and continued to nurture the gardens until her death in 1976. Fortunately for us all, the current stewards of Blithewold Inc. have continued to care for this property in a tradition that Marjorie would be most pleased with.
As you wander Blithewold’s grounds, you’ll move from one planting to the next, each a testimony to the keen plantswomen and men who tend these gardens. The Rose Garden exudes summertime romance. David Austin roses mingle with both blowsy and supportive perennials, such as Coreopsis ‘Full Moon’ and Euphorbia ‘Ascot Rainbow’ and annuals such as Nicotiana ?Lime Green? and Salvia ?Indigo Spires?. A stone wall and a classic moon gate serve as a dreamy back drop.
The North Garden, an outdoor room planted in pastel shades, is a popular spot for wedding ceremonies. ‘Limelight’ panicle Hydrangeas, Garden Phlox, Kalimeris incisa ‘Blue Star’ and a blend of annuals surround you, as a double seated Adirondack chair beckons you to pause and gaze out across the great lawn towards the bay. (I hope the gardeners at Blithewold remember to pause occasionally).
You?ll pass through the bosquet (a French term referring to a somewhat formal grove of trees), towards the stand of towering Bamboo, Phyllostachys aureosulcata (yes they know it spreads!) or veer right to the Enclosed Garden with its inviting summerhouse accented with a stand of massive Hydrangea ‘Alpengluhen’. Either path will eventually lead you to the Display Gardens and Greenhouse.
The Display Gardens are where horticulturists Gail Read and Kris Green have fun! In neatly lined out beds go sturdy backbone plants such as Sanguisorba, Agastache ‘Summer Love, Asclepias, tender Phormium and Citrus (over wintered each year in the glass house) as well as a mix of Dahlias they have been collecting for years, and dozens of annuals they start from seed.This summer check out Zinnia ‘Queen Red Lime’, Gomphrena ‘Fireworks’ and the various annual grasses. The assortment not only provides a riot of color for garden visitors, but attracts an abundance of butterflies, bees, beneficial insects and hummingbirds. The Display Gardens also provide a wealth of cut flowers for arrangements to grace the mansion?s tables.
There’s more…the Rock and Water Gardens, the working vegetable garden, and the trees, after all Blithewold is an arboretum. There’s a Garden Map on their website, listing all the trees, including a Giant Sequoia. The trees may not demand as much attention in high summer as all the flowering plants do, so you must come back again, in early fall. The trees and shrubs, not to mention the grand finale of herbaceous plants will be painting the landscape in early October. One last chance to experience this garden’s intimacy before the killing frost.
Blithewold is open to visitors mid-April through Columbus Day.