Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Old Westbury Gardens

This is the last stop on our Mansions of Long Island tour. Old Westbury Gardens was built between 1903 and 1906 by John Shaffer Phipps, for his wife. They had four children: John, Hubert, Peggy, and Michael. Unlike the other mansions we visited, this one was not just one of many seasonal homes. This was the house the Phipps family considered their home, and they seem to have been a pretty happy and well-adjusted family. By which I mean there are no reports of gruesome murders, love affairs gone awry, or tragic accidents connected to the house. While I was on Long Island I read a whole book on Gold Coast mansions and the number of premature deaths was frankly shocking. But this house seems to have escaped all that. And, in spite of being enormous, it feels a lot more like a family home than the others do.

Let's not be coy, however. It is extravagant.

That glassed-in room has the best feature ever: when you ring for afternoon tea, a section of the floor sinks down to a lower level, someone puts a tray on it, and it comes back up. It's a magically-appearing tea tray! I want one very badly.

To the right of this, the garden part starts. We saw a lot of really nice gardens that week, and I was really fond of the Planting Fields Arboretum because it was a nice balance of natural landscape and cultivated gardens, but for sheer mind-boggling impressiveness, Old Westbury Gardens wins.

Mrs. Phipps was in charge of the gardens. She was rather good at it.

This is Peggy Phipps's playhouse. Inside there's a rocking horse, a doll tea party, and a cage from which stuffed guinea pigs are in the permanent process of escaping. It is unbearably adorable.

This arbor circles around a rose garden, from which we ended up in a little space with peacock-shaped planters:

and then there was a creepy, fir tree-lined "ghost walk,"

and then there was an enormous walled garden:

Here I learned a new word from my father: espalier. It is the "process of training a tree or shrub so its branches grow in a flat pattern." Or, in my terms, "process by which gardeners torment apple trees into giving up the launch codes." Like so:

From here we wandered up what they called the South Allée, between rows of linden trees, and saw the back of the house.

Just yesterday I was amused to find this view featured in an episode of Pushing Daisies. I forget which one, but there was an explosion inside and all the windows lit up, and it was quite pretty!

Naturally, there is also a pool, to the right of this, and a lake with what looks like a gazebo or rotunda at the other end.

And that is Old Westbury Gardens, in a very expensive nutshell. If you want to see more pictures, in more seasons, their website has a very thorough online tour here.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Quite the beautiful place! I have no clue about any of their other houses, but this one does seem very much a comfortable home.