NY - Hyde Park - Vanderbilt Mansion NHS - Vanderbilt Formal Gardens - Barefoot Kate
The Formal Gardens is just down the gravel path from the Vanderbilt Mansion, the centerpiece of the Vanderbilt National Historic Site in Hyde Park. The gardens were designed in the tradition of the Italian garden, which is characterized by terraces, fountains, pools and statues.
The statue at the edge of the reflecting pool, Barefoot Kate, or Katie can be seen dipping her toe into the water. Placed in the garden in the early 1920's, she and her reflection are one of the most photographed scenes in the garden. The black color of the water in the pool is achieved through a chemical, non-toxic dye, which gives the pool its reflective qualities and keeps down algae.
The first gardens on the estate were laid out in the early 1800's by Belgian landscape architect Andre Parmentier, when the land was owned by Dr. David Hosack. Walter Langdon, who owned the land after Hosack, continued to maintain them. Frederic W. Vanderbilt bought the propetty in 1895 and the estate was home for the Vanderbilts during the spring and fall seasons. Mr. Vanderbilt enlisted a series of landscape architects, most notably James L. Greenleaf, to radically revised and enlarged the gardens in 1902-3. Mr. Vanderbilt held a horticultural degree from Yale University and took a deep interest in the gardens. He and his garden staff were renowned at the Dutchess County Fair for their exhibits of flowers and vegetables.
The gardens thus represent several periods of development. They consist of three levels or tiers dedicated to specific types of plants. The top level, the greenhouse gardens, is the "annual" level. Most of the over 600 plants here do not survive winter and are replanted each spring. It consists of three separate parterre gardens within a rectangle framed on the west by the rose and palm houses and on the north by the toolhouse, carnation house, and gardener's cottage. The next level, the cherry walk and pool gardens, are located east and contain "perennials", which survive winter but bloom for just a few weeks a year, resulting in constantly changing colors. The lower level, the rose garden, still further east, has two terraces with rose panel beds. The rose garden was added by Frederick Vanderbilt, himself. It regularly contains over 1800 rose bushes. Many of them are considered "vintage" roses, which are old varieties which might have appeared in the original garden at the turn of the 20th century. There is a combination of tea roses, climbers and bush variety roses. Their best flowering is normally between mid-June and mid-July depending on the weather. All the beds are laid out in a formal, "Italian" style, referring to the symmetrical layout of the beds.
When Frederick W. Vanderbilt died in 1938, the Hyde Park estate, including the Vanderbilt Mansion was bequeathed to Mrs. James Van Alen, a niece of Mrs. Vanderbilt. Two years later, Mrs. Van Alen gave the estate to the Federal Government, and on December 18, 1940, it was designated a National Historic Site. The country soon went to war and there were no funds to maintain the gardens. Weeds and brush took over the garden beds and vines choked the arbors and crumbling walls. In 1974 the National Park Service began to restore the brick walls. A government grant in 1981 allowed the park service to complete the restoration of the walls and structures.
In 1984 the Frederick W. Vanderbilt Garden Association volunteer, not-for-profit organization, was founded for the purposing of restoring and maintaining the gardens.
Vanderbilt Mansion National Historic Site National Register #66000059 (1966)