Tuesday, June 07, 2011

Linwood Gardens

Tree peonies
Every year, Linwood Gardens holds a Tree Peony Festival, and last weekend I finally got around to going. It's on the estate of the Gratwick family, who built it in the early 1900s. They were a wealthy family from Buffalo, and Linwood Gardens was their summer home for many years. Right before the Depression, they lost all their money, and decided to move there. One family member still lives on the property.

Large feline
William Henry Gratwick III was an artsy fellow, and created new gardens, added sculptures, developed the Rare Plants Nursery, and became obsessed with tree peonies. "Obsessed" is not a word that the brochure uses, but there are a lot of tree peonies, and at least three of the sculptures are of tree peonies.

Folded-up tree peony bud
Not to mention, it takes twenty-five years of grafting and whatnot to create the color peonies that he wanted. Apparently they only naturally come in a few pinkish colors. He went for yellow, and eventually he got it.

This is not yellow. This is pinkish-yellowy-dawn. Better, I think.
In addition to obsessing over flowers, Mr. Gratwick III displayed a rather unique personality. In the house, there is a room he bought from Louis Comfort Tiffany's son (all the rich people, they're pals), which the son had disassembled and brought over from a manor in Europe. Gratwick really just wanted the fireplace, which was the only part that was being used, but Tiffany the Younger said, "Sure, I'll sell you the fireplace, but you have to take the rest of the room, too. It's in my garage." Okay, I don't know if he had a garage. But I'm trying to illustrate the ridiculousness of this. It cost $13,000 then, which is something like $165,000 now. I'm not saying it wasn't a nice room. It was a nice room. But it wasn't even that big, and half of what's great about it is the view, which it didn't have when he bought it.

You can see the view reflected in the glass. Sort of. It is the Genesee Valley, apparently.
This Gratwick person was kind of a hoot. When the local railroad stopped using its station, he tried to buy it. But they wouldn't sell it to him. So he and a friend when down in the middle of the night and stole it. They used it as a pool house and then a shed. I'm not quite sure what struck his fancy, as it's not much to look at, but it makes a good story, and I can believe a shed that really speaks to your soul, as this one evidently did to his, is hard to come by.

Victorian cupolas repurposed as play houses. Presumably not stolen, but who knows?
There was also the obligatory walled garden. I love obligatory walled gardens. I wish I could have an obligatory walled garden, but at my pay rate, they make exceptions as to your obligations. In the gift shop you can buy a book of old pictures of what life used to be like there, which is entitled something like "This place sure must have been pretty . . . when it was kept up properly." It's true, it does suffer from a lack of money. It also suffers from fire: the "big house" is only a third as big as it used to be. The rest burned down in the 1973. I'm certainly not happy there's no money and that the house caught fire, but it is sort of atmospheric the way it is. The house looks modest, like a large farmhouse, and the gardens are lovely without being intimidatingly regal. You don't feel that you should have worn a hoop skirt just to fit in with your surroundings.

The bricks in the obligatory walled garden have shifted and now resemble beaten dirt paths.
The air of dilapidation is slightly melancholy, which suits old houses that nobody lives in. It would be indecent if one forgot that people used to live there -- who threw parties and had the philharmonic down to play by the lily pond and planted vegetables and spent twenty-five years creating a yellow peony -- and aren't there anymore. The book of old pictures testifies to a lively, cheerful, and interesting family. If that period is over, then by golly, the fountains should be left to grow moss just out of respect.

Is it moss? Or is it algae? They must be related.
As delightful as all this is, my favorite part was the idea of having breakfast on the terrace with the whole valley in front of you, or sitting out on the lawn and reading a book on Sunday afternoon. The tour guide said that you can see Rochester on a clear day. The day I went was distantly hazy but blue-skied most of the time, and breezy and very pleasant; excellent for wandering around taking pictures.

To the left of this photo are four librarians. The office is obviously following me around.
It only takes a couple of hours to see everything, so after I took five thousand pictures, I had a slice of lemon icebox cake from their extremely enticing display of incredibly quaint food and went home. It was the perfect day.

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