Category Archives: Gardens

Thought of the Day 8.2.12 L’Enfant

Pierre Charles L'Enfant

Pierre Charles L’Enfant (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Pierre Charles L’Enfant was born on this day in 1754 at Anet, Eure et Loir, France. Today is the 258th anniversary of his birth.

L’Enfant was educated at the Royal Academy in Paris as an engineer before joining Lafayette  to help the American side during the War of Independence. He arrived in 1777 at the age of 23 and fought as military engineer. He joined George Washington’s staff  after recovering from injuries at the Siege of Savannah. He attainted the rank of Major of Engineers in 1783.

He moved to New York after the war and established a civil engineering firm. In 1788 he redesigned the  New York’s city hall to be the United States’ first capitol building, Federal Hall.  The building was the site of George Washington’s inauguration and where the Bill of Rights was signed.

Federal Hall, Seat of Congress 1790
hand-colored engraving by Amos Doolittle, depicting Washington’s April 30, 1789 inauguration. [Image Courtesy Wikimedia Commons: public domain]

In 1791 the US Congress authorized the building of a capital city on the Potomac River. George Washington appointed his old friend L’Enfant  to design the new city in 1791.

L’Enfant’s “Plan of the city of Washington” March 1792 is at the Library of Congress. [Image courtesy Wikimedia Commons. This image is in the Public Domain.]

“Congress House” (the Capitol) was to be on top a hill, a place of honor overlooking the rest of the city.  The “President’s House” (the White House) was to be a grand mansion fit for the leader of the country. His plan outlined the need for public spaces including a grand public walk (today’s National Mall) ). It would be 1 mile long and 400 feet wide and would stretch from the Capitol to an equestrian statue of Washington (the Washington Monument is now where the statue would have been).

The western front of the United States Capitol...

The western front of the United States Capitol. The Capitol serves as the seat of government for the United States Congress, the legislative branch of the U.S. federal government. It is located in Washington, D.C., on top of Capitol Hill at the east end of the National Mall. The building is marked by its central dome above a rotunda and two wings. It is an exemplar of the Neoclassical architecture style. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

According to “A Brief History fo Pierre L’Enfant and Washington, D.C.”:

L’Enfant placed Congress on a high point with a commanding view of the Potomac, instead of reserving the grandest spot for the leader’s palace as was customary in Europe. Capitol Hill became the center of the city from which diagonal avenues named after the states radiated, cutting across a grid street system. These wide boulevards allowed for easy transportation across town and offered views of important buildings and common squares from great distances. Public squares and parks were evenly dispersed at intersections.

Wide avenues and public squares would make it “people’s city”, while monuments  and inspiring buildings would give it the stature and importance of world capital.

While he was concerned with the grand vision of the city  his bosses on the Congressional appointed committee were concerned with how much the project was going to cost . They  wanted to keep the wealthy plantation owners in the area happy. L’Enfant “delayed producing a map for the sale of city lots (fearing real estate speculators would buy up land and leave the city vacant).” And he angered the commission when he had a prominent resident’s house torn down because it was in the way of one his boulevards.  When the city’s surveyor went behind his back and produced a lot map L’Enfant resigned. He was never properly paid for the work he did on the Capital.

The city was built, but the design had been greatly altered. Gone were the arrow straight streets and parkways. The Mall between the Capitol and the White House was a tree-covered park of irregular shape. Cows grazed on it.

Visitors ridiculed the city for its idealistic pretensions in a bumpkin setting and there was even talk after the Civil War of moving the capital to Philadelphia or the Midwest.

But in 1901 the McMillan Commission resurrected L’Enfant’s ideas and updated them for a modern city. The Mall was reclaimed, cleared and lined with American Elm trees. Memorials to Lincoln and Jefferson were added, and Museums and government buildings lined the perimeter.

L’Enfant worked on commissions

after the Capital, but non were very successful. His design for Philadelphia millionaire Robert Morris’ mansion was called Morris’ Folly. His final years were spent at the home of his friend William Dudley Digges, near Bladensburg, Maryland. He was buried there, but his body was exhumed and reinterred at Arlington National Cemetery with full military honors. His tomb now overlooks the city he helped design.

Tomb of Pierre Charles L'Enfant, designer of W...

Tomb of Pierre Charles L’Enfant, designer of Washington, D.C.’s original city plan, on the grounds of Arlington House (the Robert E. Lee Memorial) at Arlington National Cemetery in Arlington, Virginia, in the United States. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Thought of the Day 7.28.12 Beatrix Potter

“Thank goodness I was never sent to school; it would have rubbed off some of the originality.”*

-Beatrix Potter

English: A picture of Beatrix Potter

English: A picture of Beatrix Potter (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Helen Beatrix Potter was born on this day  in South Kensington, London in 1866. Today is the 146th anniversary of her birth.

Beatrix and her younger brother (Walter) Bertram were raised in London, but enjoyed long holidays in rural Scotland and the English Lake District. According to the web site for the Beatrix Potter Society she was educated by a governess at home and loved languages and literature especially fairy tales and folk tales. Her early talent for drawling and as a water colorist was encouraged and she illustrated several popular fairy tales for her family’s entertainment. She wrote stories about the family pets . The children kept  “rabbits, a hedgehog, some mice and bats…” most of which would one day wind up in her stories.

She kept a journal — written in a code she invented herself (and which was not deciphered until 1958) — and a sketchbook. In her 20’s she “sold some of her artwork for greetings (sic) cards and illustrations” but she largely concerned herself with the study of natural  history, giving special focus to mycology — the study of fungi. She produced beautiful and technically accurate watercolors of mushrooms and became an adept scientific illustrator. She wrote a paper on the reproduction of fungi. On April 1, 1897 the paper was presented by a male scientist since women weren’t allowed to attend, much less present at, The Linnean Society (“the world’s oldest biological society” has since changed their  Men Only policy).

She also wrote delightful letters to children of her acquaintance that were wonderfully illustrated and told tales of little woodland creatures and pets. In 1901 she adapted some of those letters into The Tale of Peter Rabbit.

Cover of the first, privatley printed edition ...

Cover of the first, privatley printed edition of The Tale of Peter Rabbit by Beatrix Potter (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Since she couldn’t get any commercial publishers to take on the book she self published the initial edition. But then Frederick Warne & Co.  agreed print Peter Rabbit and Potter converted the black and white illustrations to color.

Cover of the first edition, The Tale of Peter ...

Cover of the first edition, The Tale of Peter Rabbit (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Norman Warne, the youngest son of the publishing magnet was assigned as Potter’s editor and the two brought twenty Potter books to market, usually at a rate of 2 or 3 a year. Potter also marketed stuffed animals, paint books and wall paper based on the characters in her books.

In 1905 Norman Warne proposed to Beatrix Potter. Her parents vehemently against the match because Warne was socially inferior and “from Trade.” Beatrix found this ironic since her grand parents had been engaged in the cotton trade. But ultimately their pressure won out and she kept the engagement a secret. It didn’t matter. Norman had lymphatic leukemia — a disease that was hard to diagnose at the turn of the century — he died within a month. Potter was summoned to the sick bed, but she arrived too late.

Photo of Norman Warne ca 1900

Photo of Norman Warne ca 1900 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Beatrix bought Hill Top Farm in the Lake District  in Lancashire as a sanctuary. She wanted to paint, write and learn about  land management. Later she purchased Castle Farm across the road from Hill Top Farm. Her goal was to preserve land in the area from development.

English: Hill Top Farm, Near Sawrey, Cumbria. ...

English: Hill Top Farm, Near Sawrey, Cumbria. Home of children’s author, Beatrix Potter. As requested in her will, the interior has been “left as if she had just gone out to the post”: a fire burning in the hearth, cups and saucers on the table ready for a visitor! (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In 1923 she bought and restored Troutbeck Park. The sheep at Troutbeck were disease-ridden and under her stewardship the Herdwick sheep were restored to health.  She became very involved in the local community and joined several committees to help improve rural live including the founding of  a nursing trust to improve local health care. In 1913 she married a local solicitor, William Heelis.In 1926 the semi-autobiographical The Fairy Caravan was published in the United States (it didn’t show up in England until after she passed away).

At her death Beatrix Potter Heelis left 4,000 acres, on 15 farms, in the Lake District to the National Trust.

Beatrix Potter and her husband William Heelis ...

Beatrix Potter and her husband William Heelis on their wedding day (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The Beatrix Potter Society was founded in 1980 to promotes the appreciation of the life and works the author. Please see their web site and the excellent article by  Linda Lear for more information on Potter.

The relationship between Beatrix Potter and Norman Warne is basis of the film Ms. Potter starring Renee Zellweger and Ewan McGregor.


*Perhaps her teachers were forced to teach to the TEST!

AND Maggie would like you to know that Beatrix Potter is NOT Harry Potter’s Muggle cousin.

Harry Potter

NOT related to this guy. Also not a lego. Yet I love all three. Harry Potter (Photo credit: Profound Whatever)

Winterthur Museum and Garden

“In beauty may I walk…with beauty before me…with beauty behind me…with beauty above me… with beauty all around me… may I walk…”— Navajo saying

[found on the stones of the labyrinth in the Enchanted Woods]

Winterthur was Henry Francis du Pont’s (HF)  masterpiece. He was born to a live of privilege on the estate in 1880 and began to supervise the gardens when his father, Henry Algemon du Pont (HA), went to Washington to serve as a Senator. HF and his wife Ruth had houses  in South Hampton, Long Island and Boca Grande, Florida, and an apartment in New York City, but he was never away from his beloved Winterthur for more than a few weeks at a time. He died there in 1969.

Oil painting of Henry Francis du Pont as a young man.

HF worked with the formal gardens that were already established on the estate and created his own. And he planted the March Bank. The March Bank was designed so guest and family members would see thousands of flowers in bloom from their bedroom windows every morning. As seasons changed from early spring, to late spring, to summer, etc the rooms would be transformed. Rugs, curtains and other color accents would be swapped out to match the show outside.

Du Pont considered the natural topography of the land when planting. He was a naturalistic gardener. His woodlands were composed of ground cover, shrub, small and large trees. When he planted azaleas he didn’t just pick one shade of pink or purple, he used gradations of the colors to create his “masterpiece of color.”

Looking north from the bowl of the Quarry Garden.

HF began his Quarry Garden when he was just 22 years old. A short hike down the slate stairs brings the visitor to a hidden gem of color and cool solitude. It is the perfect place to sit and relax on a hot summer day.

A more recent addition to Winterthur is the Enchanted Wood. This fantasy garden delights children of all ages. This fairy-tale inspired  garden delights children of all ages with its misty mushrooms, troll bridge, thatched roofed Faerie Cottage, tulip poplar house, May pole, labyrinth and a story circle that feels like a miniature Stone Hedge.

The estate was a working farm with a prize winning herd of Holstein-Friesian cows before it became a museum. While on a  trip to Vermont to visit the Webb dairy operation in 1923 HF was smitten with the antique American furniture he saw on display. He was attracted to the color combinations of pink porcelain  against the pine cabinetry. It was an “ah-ha” moment, and it started him on major trek in his life. When he got back to Pennsylvania he went antiquing in Chester County and purchased his first American Antique, a 1730 chest of drawers.

The house at Winterthur was originally built by  HF’s great-aunt and uncle the Bidermanns in 1837. It had a mere 12 rooms. Eventually they sold it to Henry du Pont, HF’s grandfather. Henry gave it to HA who added a wing and upped the room count to 30, brought in the cows, and added a railway station.    But Winterthur really blossomed under HF. At its peak the estate employed around 300 people, and had a post office, fire station and its own baseball team.  The house expanded too.  He needed room for his growing collection of American Antiques. He recycled facades and interiors from houses slated for demolition. The magnificent spiral stair case in the entrance hall was rescued from a Southern Plantation that was about to be torn down.  When he was through the mansion had tripled in size and had 175 rooms.

HF had the spiral staircase installed while the family was on vacation. It was a surprise for them when they got back to Winterthur.

If you were a guest at Winterthur when you pulled your car up to the entrance they (the du Ponts or more likely their staff) threw the front and back doors open so the first thing you’d notice was the gardens.  And They kept meticulous records. Guests never ate off the same china or saw the same flowers on the table.

In the formal dining room guest were expected to only speak to the person to their right or to their left (never across the table) so Mrs. du Pont manipulated the conversation at dinner.

Guest usually arrived in the afternoon in time for tea which was sometimes taken out in one of the gardens and was following by a game of Bridge. The best way to curry favor with Mrs. du Pont was to play bridge with her. In fact if you didn’t play bridge, you probably wouldn’t be invited back anytime soon.

Visiting Winterthur doesn’t require an invitation nowadays. The museum and garden are open to the public Tuesdays thru Sundays from 10-5 excluding Thanksgiving and Christmas. For details on planning your trip go to

The Chinese Room at Winterthur. HF found rolls of elegant wall paper with a seamless Chinese image (with no repeats) and knew he wanted it for his home. The only problem? When they unrolled it the room wasn’t tall enough. To solve the problem they curved the top of the walls to meet the ceiling and were able to extend the wall paper to its full height.

A hallway on the sixth floor of Winterthur.

Wooden eagle is one of the thousands of pieces of American Art that graces the halls of Winterthur

RitaLOVEStoWrite and her husband enjoyed their trip to Winterthur. I hope you enjoyed this blog and will be inspired to travel to the Brandywine Valley and see the magnificent house and gardens in person. In the mean time please LIKE the blog or follow me (at the top of the page.) 🙂

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