By Stuart Mitchner
Her love of beauty and order is everywhere visible in what she planted for our delight.” The words honoring landscape architect Beatrix Farrand (1872-1959) are engraved on a bench adjacent to the Princeton University chapel.
Reviewing the 2009 edition of Beatrix Farrand: Garden Artist, Landscape Architect (The Monacelli Press $60), The New York Times Sunday Book Review alerted “English majors” to the fact that the book “does double duty as a companion” to the novels of Farrand’s aunt Edith Wharton, whose friend Henry James knew young Beatrix as “Trix.” An updated edition of Judith B. Tankard’s monograph has been released on the occasion of Farrand’s 150th birthday.
Farrand was still Beatrix Jones when she sent a letter to the editor of the September 6, 1893 issue of Garden and Forest, observing how “the White Pine makes an excellent background for the Red Oak (Q. rubra), which in spring emphasizes the gray tree bearing its ‘candles,’ as the country children call the new white growth, while in the autumn the Pine retires to its place as foil for the Oak, which is first gorgeous in red and fades into brown as it prepares for winter.” Also mentioned, the “Hemlock and White Ash” are “striking together in spring or fall, and at the turn of the leaf the Scarlet Maple seems ablaze near a group of the White and Black Spruces.” Beatrix ends the paragraph with a flourish that must have impressed Aunt Edith and Mr. James: “the stately Yellow and Paper Birches are noticed in damp places, and the Pitch Pine, clinging like a limpet to an impossibly steep rock, looks like a tree on a Japanese fan.”
At 21, “Trix” clearly not only showed signs of her aunt’s literary abilities, she had the eye of a painter, and would one day envision the owner of a garden as “the leader of an orchestra” who must know “which instruments to encourage and which to restrain.” With the last analogy in mind, you could compare the Princeton campus to a symphony created and conducted by Farrand during her years (1912-1943) as the University’s landscape architect.
Her melodious handiwork included the graduate college, McCosh and Blair walks, Holder courtyard, and Prospect Gardens. An architectural tour of the campus conducted in Princeton University and Neighboring Institutions (The Campus Guide $12.55) finds the rules Farrand established for Princeton’s landscape design “as defining an element of the Princeton style as Collegiate Gothic.” Even after her relationship with the University ended, “succeeding landscape architects and gardeners followed the design and planting principles she laid down.” more