Beatrix Farrand

Beatrix Farrand

Induction Category:
Arts & Humanities

Born: 1872

Died: 1959

Inducted: 2014

Town: New Haven

Among the first women to practice landscape architecture in the United States, Beatrix Farrand undertook projects ranging from White House gardens and private university campuses like Princeton and Yale to estate plans for some of America’s most prominent families. She was also the only woman among the founding members of the American Society of Landscape Architects and is considered one of the most important landscape architects of the twentieth century. Farrand used her extensive understanding of horticulture and her impressive eye for design to create some of the most extraordinary landscapes in the nation, including several major works in Connecticut.

Beatrix Jones was born in New York City on June 19, 1872, the only child of Frederick Rhinelander Jones and Mary Cadwalader Rawle and niece of author Edith Wharton. The family’s social circle included the J.P. Morgans, the Roosevelts, the Rockefellers and other prominent families among the East Coast elite. She became interested in plants while in her twenties and was encouraged by Charles Sprague Sargent, a close family friend and director of Boston’s Arnold Arboretum, to pursue study in the field of horticulture. She spent 1896 studying alongside Sargent and, at his suggestion, spent four months touring with her mother in Europe to learn more about design. Upon her return, Beatrix arranged to study civil engineering with tutors from Columbia University to round out her education and acquire engineering skills useful to her work.

Following her education, she began taking on private commissions in 1897, and her first major project was a garden in Maine on Mount Desert Island where her family also had a summer home. Over the course of her career, Beatrix would design gardens for more than 50 summer houses in the Bar Harbor area. In 1899, she joined Frederick Law Olmsted and others in the founding of the American Society of Landscape Architects, the only woman in the group of eleven. The same year, she created the initial site plan for the National Cathedral in Washington, D.C.

Throughout the first decade of her career, Beatrix took on a variety of public and private commissions, building her reputation and growing her list of clients. She became known for her style of designing “garden rooms,” outdoor spaces which transition distinctly from one to another, and was also a proponent of using native plant species wherever possible and of designing the outdoor space to fit and complement the natural contours of the land.

Her career in academic landscape architecture began in 1912 when she became the first consulting landscape architect for Princeton University, the first woman ever hired to landscape a college campus. This partnership would continue for thirty years even as Beatrix expanded in other areas. During her work at Princeton, she met her future husband, Max Farrand, a noted constitutional historian and chair of the history department at Yale University. The couple married in 1913, and Beatrix moved to New Haven where she lived for the next fifteen years.

That same year, she was commissioned by Ellen Axson Wilson, first wife of President Woodrow Wilson, to design the East Colonial Garden (on the site of what is now the Jacqueline Kennedy Garden) as well as the West Garden (current site of the Rose Garden).

In 1923, Farrand began working as consulting landscape architect at Yale University and continued in this capacity until 1945. As with all of her university campus work, Farrand’s designs at Yale incorporated wherever possible plants that would bloom throughout the majority of the academic year. She also used her outdoor designs to augment the architecture surrounding them, both to emphasize attractive aspects and mask any unattractive elements. Finally, she favored using tall and climbing plants in small spaces to best utilize the areas between buildings and give the appearance of more green space.

During the early portion of Farrand’s time at Yale, she also designed the two private gardens for which she is best known: the Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Garden in Maine, which combines her talent in designing formal gardens with her love for native plant species, and Dumbarton Oaks in Washington, D.C., which Farrand designed for Mildren and Robert Woods Bliss. Dumbarton Oaks boasts a series of formal gardens around the house with particular emphasis on ornamental trees and shrubs and then one of the most impressive naturalistic gardens in America where the property falls away to a 50-foot cliff.

In addition to her work at Yale, Farrand left her mark on other areas in the state of Connecticut. Eolia, summer mansion of the Harkness family in Waterford, Conn., is one of her major extant works in the state. Farrand was commissioned to do an extensive re-design of the gardens surrounding the home, and the site is now preserved as Harkness Memorial State Park.

Another important Farrand site still in existence in Connecticut is the sunken garden at the Hill-Stead Museum. As architect and Inductee Theodate Pope Riddle completed the design and construction of her Hill-Stead estate, she also undertook the landscape, creating a garden with traditional beds containing some of her mother’s favorite flowers. Then, around 1920, Riddle commissioned Farrand to re-envision the garden space. Farrand re-planted the sunken garden using her trademark style and choosing plants that would complement the collection of Impressionist art that decorated the home. In the 1980s, the garden was fully restored using Farrand’s original planting plans and is now home to the annual Sunken Garden Poetry Festival.

In 1927, Max Farrand accepted a position as director of the Huntington Library in San Marino, Ca., and the Farrands left Connecticut. Beatrix continued to consult at Yale for nearly twenty more years and maintained her East Coast clientele, traveling by train across the country to complete her commissions. She also made her mark on the California landscape, consulting on the landscape design for the California Institute of Technology and Occidental College, among others.

In addition to her extensive body of work designing and creating gardens, Beatrix Farrand was also a garden scholar, amassing a collection of more than 2,700 volumes and photographs. When Max Farrand retired in 1941, the Farrands returned to the Northeast, moving to Mount Desert Island, where they devoted themselves to opening a library and study center for New England flora at Beatrix’s family summer home at Reef Point. After Max’s death in 1945, Beatrix continued her work at Reef Point but chose to close the center ten years later, donating her full collection of materials to the University of California-Berkeley where they would be more accessible to students. She moved to the more manageable Garland Farm property, which would be her final home and garden.

Beatrix Farrand died in 1959 at the age of 86. Over the course of her lifetime, she received many honors including honorary membership in the American Institute of Architects, the 1947 Garden Club of America Achievement Medal and the 1952 New York Botanical Garden Distinguished Service Award. She also held honorary degrees from Yale University and Smith College.

In 2003, the Beatrix Farrand Society purchased Garland Farm and is in the process of restoring Farrand’s final garden to its original form.

During This Time
1921 - 1945: Prosperity, Depression, & War