that could be tended by the Jameses’ staff of 30 to 40 gardeners. The
garden opened on an August evening in 1913 with a party attended by
Newport’s social elite, who were treated to a nymphlike dancer skitter-
ing across a shallow reflecting pool and disappearing into a lily pond.
“I think the original Blue Garden was unusual even for its time,
which was an era when beautiful landscapes were being created in
America,” says landscape architect Doug Reed, partner at Reed
Hilderbrand, the Cambridge, Massachusetts, landscape architecture
firm that worked with Parker Construction of East Providence, Rhode
Island, to restore the Blue Garden. “With its overall concept and the
beauty of its proportions and scale, the Blue Garden was truly a work
of landscape art.”
Indeed, the Blue Garden’s historical significance derives in some
measure from the fact that it is part of a grander plan for the original
James estate. “The Blue Garden is much more than a garden — it is a
landscape. It has terraces, pools, pergolas, walkways, and a densely
planted enclosure that frames the garden. The plantings of shrubs,
perennials, annuals, and vines within the garden are part of a much
larger and complex plan,” says Sarah Vance, director of the Blue Gar-
den and a former senior associate at Reed Hilderbrand.
However, it was anything but an artful landscape when the restoration began in 2012. The original property had been subdivided over
the years following the Jameses’ deaths in 1941, and the garden gradually had become covered with a thick layer of vines as overgrown trees
cast the site of former splendor in shade. (The James mansion was
destroyed in a fire in 1967.)
Fortunately, the shallow pool where the nymph once danced had
survived, and remnants of the garden walls, water features, and structures were intact. When Hamilton was able to secure the original Blue
Garden property, which is adjacent to land she purchased for a new
house she was building, the endeavor began.
The work of physically clearing the site and re-creating the infrastructure of the garden required excavators, bulldozers, chain saws,
backhoes, and dumpsters, not to mention several rounds of permitting
and zoning. For example, the south pergola of the original Blue Garden, if rebuilt, would stand in a location that violated modern-day setback requirements; because it was considered a key feature of the historic Olmsted Brothers design, the Newport Zoning Board of Review
granted a variance.
Thanks to the trove of archival material documenting the original
design collected by the National Park Service’s Frederick Law Olm-
true blue urns in the south pergola and throughout the garden were chosen
by preservationist and garden lover Dorrance Hamilton, who purchased the
land where the original Blue Garden was located and decided to restore it
based on its significance as an Olmsted Brothers design. Wisteria ‘Amethyst
Falls’ grows on the pergola.