Thursday, May 21, 2015

Old Westbury Redux

I've been patting myself on the back for weeks now, ever since my late March posting of a series of snowy misty late winter photos (the sort nobody else takes) of Old Westbury Gardens, the former Phipps estate on Long Island. What a moody place it was that day, and what a glorious place it was last week, on one of those erratic hot days that have peppered this cold spring.

The Phipps place, called Westbury House when built in the first decade of the 20th century, is an unabashedly gorgeous mansion which speaks with the 17th century accent of Restoration England. You can read all about it, and the Phippses, in my earlier post (titled 'Westbury House'). Today I'm revisiting the snowy gardens, and rephotographing them in bloom from, as often as possible, the same angles as before. Today's trip from the main gate on Old Westbury Road to the house is a qualitatively different experience.

The south side of Westbury House, seen below, gazes across a raised lawn terrace to a half-mile long allee, reached via a pair of wistaria hung stairs. When I climbed them last March I knew they'd be fabulous in the spring, and they have outdone my expectations.

If you like old houses - and why else would you be reading this? - you should definitely make plans for a day trip.

This enormous tree was moved here in the 1920s. That's the root ball you're looking at in the vintage image.

On that snowy afternoon last March, not for any good reason, I started at the west gate to the Walled Garden. That's where we'll start now. What a difference the smiling spring has made.

Horticultural Director Maura Brush is showing me and my pal Krisztina around. Maura has a great job.

A few more winter/summer contrasts...

The great ornament of the Walled Garden is a semi-circular arcade that borders a large lily pond at the garden's southern end.

"No Visitors?" Hah! For most of my life I've dreamed of having a greenhouse - meaning one with the windows intact (I've already had the others). This appealing vintage complex is the nerve center of Maura's staff of eight year-round horticulturists - six full-time, 2 part-time - augmented annually by an average of five student interns from around the world. This year's crop comes from Poland, Korea, China, France and Germany. Interns work and live on the estate for nine months to a year, and go on to jobs in everything from landscape architecture and education, to plant research and commercial growing.

Today's Head Grower, appropriately, lives in the original gardener's cottage.

The Allee, divided in the middle by what they call the South Gate, stretches a full half mile from a lawn immediately below the house to the Jericho Turnpike. It's a different world in winter than in summer.

Among various other gardens on the property is the Rose Garden....

...and the Cottage Garden, where Phipps daughter Peggie got the "petit hameau" thatched number and her brothers, Ben, Hubert and Michel, made due with mini-log cabins.

Their parents evidently had a "No dog left behind" policy.

Unlike so many divine vintage swimming pools at formerly private estates, this one has neither been filled in nor painted black and disguised as a lily pond. Employees use it regularly (I hope I'm not speaking out of school).

What estate is complete without a Temple of Love?

The life of Jay Phipps and family - and numerous others like them back then - was a stately progression from one luxurious destination to another. In the case of the Phippses, it was springtime at Westbury House, summer in Canada or Scotland, and winters at Palm Beach. Ergo, their Long Island gardens were planted with an eye to looking best when they were around to appreciate them. Much of today's planting scheme is historic, but much has been amended to bloom in other seasons, so visitors on alternate progressions will have something to look at.

Old Westbury Gardens is one of the grandest and most intact of Long Island's surviving country estates. Drive through those gates and you actually feel as though you're deep in the country - no mean trick in this part of the world. The link is


  1. At least two scenes from the much maligned film, "The Age of Innocence' were filmed here. The lovely porch, with its windows that descend into the floor out of sight, was used for a scene of the Archer family at lunch in Newport. It was a lovely summer day and muslin shades wafted back and forth as the Archers ate and gossiped. The garden arcade was substituted as a garden in Florida, where Newland surprises May and attempts to hasten their wedding. Say what you want about the quality of the script, the acting, etc., but the producers did choose some lovely "big old houses" to exploit for great effect.

  2. Such a beautiful place and one that was truly cherished and loved by the Phipps family. Very grateful for the thoughtfulness of the family to preserve this botanical and architectural treasure


  3. The artist commissioned by the Old Westbury Foundation to do the 3-paneled shell mosaics in the pool grotto ca 1969 was Artemis Skevakas Jegart Housewright, residing today in Maryland.

  4. The estate pool is large to say the least. Its 57' by 25'...not exactly Olympic but still sizable.

  5. It was also used, with much CGI enhancement, in Baz Luhrmann's also much maligned film of the Great Gatsby.

  6. Absolutely a great post! yes you can pat yourself in the back and give yourself a trophy...great job

  7. Yes, very nice photography. Any chance of a peek inside?

  8. Wonderful post, thanks for sharing it!

  9. Beautiful in winter and summer.

  10. Heavenly place John Foreman, thanks for going the extra mile, very much appreciated, great to think the public can enjoy amazed to see so
    many abandoned treasures in the US...Helen Wragg Perth WA