🇫🇷 return of garden scandal: nemours estate photo tour 📷
plus upcoming events, reminders, & encouragement
“If being an artist seems too good to be true to you, you will devise a price tag for it that strikes you as unpayable.” - Julia Cameron, The Artists Way
I have not written in two months. The longer you go, the harder it is to come back. I promised when I began this newsletter I would not shoot the second arrow, but here I am. I’ve been firing it for weeks since I turned all my attention to the business of building gardens through the rush of spring.
I do not like to skate. I like to dig. Writing for me is an exercise of research and simplification of my own brain. Journaling the happenings of life seemed silly to me once I realized that despite what Louisa May Alcott and Jane Eyre may have implied in their books; no one was going to read all my journals after I died to see what I had done with my time. This makes showing up for practice feel effortful, when in fact once it begins, it is effortless. A terrible trick of the mind.
I started The Artists Way with Marlee Grace last Friday and I have not done morning pages faithfully since 2015, when I attempted to complete the book last. Writing 3 pages of stream-of-consciousness each morning before my day has made words and paragraphs feel easy again, so here I am.
Before I share what I HAVE BEEN WAITING TO BEGIN SHARING…
I finally published two portfolio projects of gardens this week! Maplewood is a homesteading-meets-English-cottage garden that we designed and built this spring, collaborating with two gifted and determined homeowners. The Gardens at Fieldstone were semi-established when I met the family, who had newly acquired the property. We have focused on bringing the existing structures to life, with additional cut flower borders, custom trellising and seating, and year round planting. Both of these projects have been exceptionally rewarding because in each case, the homeowners have a distinct sense of personal style, which has allowed me to blend my own eye with theirs, and create something unique to the home.
July Garden Club will be next Saturday at 7pm EST. This past month was a first; I worked straight through the event and did not even realize I’d missed the 1st until Kait brought it up the next day while we were working on a new garden together. :( So — this month will be focused on spring harvesting, transitioning to the summer garden, trellising, and troubleshooting. If you want me to prepare for anything specific, please comment!
My year-round garden calendar tool is still available, as are my classes on improving soil and starting seeds. You can get them here.
Growing Floret Season 2 is out! The 4-part series is on HBO Max and made me fall in love with roses against my will.
We are currently scheduling projects with construction (raised beds, pathways, etc) for August so the property is ready for fall shrub & perennial planting as well as fall gardening. If you have been waiting for a Floricult garden and this is the time, email me! firstname.lastname@example.org
Delaware Garden Tours
One of the VERY BEST on-a-whim decisions I may have ever made is to drive to the Brandywine Valley in Wilmington, Delaware with the bestest of friends after learning they have the densest population of public gardens in the country. A few weesk ago, Meredith and I took 5 days off and went to see Delaware Botanic Gardens (designed by Piet Oudolf!), Nemours Estate (the largest formal French garden in the US!), Longwood Gardens, Winterthur, Marian Coffin Gardens (the first female landscape architect!), Mt Cuba, and Hagley Museum & Estates. I cannot recommend this experience enough. We stayed at an Airbnb in Kennett Square, PA — with nearly all these gardens only 15 minutes away.
Unbeknownst to us at the time, all of these (sans Delaware Botanic) were properties of members of the duPont family - so we became quick experts on an unusual family that played a key role in developing America.
(My highlights on the duPonts are: Our economy is predominantly built by families profiting on either slavery or war; wealthy families can and do dictate our politics; and my strong belief remains reinforced — there is no great garden that comes without great scandal. I do find it interesting that gardens seem to be the sole redemptive act left behind by families who caused such other damaging effects. One day I hope to write in detail about this.)
Nemours is the largest formal French garden that we have. It was created recently, by garden standards, in 1909. According to Wikipedia and the on-site plaques, Alfred l duPont built it for his second wife, Alicia. The tour staff were adamant: “This was a happy home!”
The truth is that it was constructed in exceptional haste for $54m in today’s dollars as a last ditch attempt to persuade his cousin to love him.
But let’s start earlier. Alfred had first married Bessie — also a cousin — and they had 4 children together. Alfred’s younger brother Luis who was head over heels for Bessie had introduced them, and after Alfred married her, Luis took his life. Bessie was known for publicly embarrassing Alfred, and their marriage caused a lot of turmoil.
Alfred’s cousin Alicia caught his eye and he paid his secretary a large sum of money to marry her and bought them a home near his property. He then assigned his secretary a traveling position, and over the years, Alicia had a child.
In 1906, Alfred went on a hunting trip and lost an eye when a friend accidentally shot him. He immediately divorced his first wife Bessie, estranged himself from his children, evicted them all from the family home, married Alicia — who divorced her husband simultaneously — and adopted her new daughter.
The gossip surrounding their affairs and re-marriages was so disruptive to the enormous extended family and its businesses that he sued multiple family members for slander.
After two children together with Alicia, neither of whom survived, he undertook Nemours as a way to woo her. Though not written anywhere, I cannot imagine she was happy with her choices, and the property became referenced by others as a prison for their love. Despite her love for French gardens, it is assumed that the marriage never recovered, and she died in 1920. Suspiciously, I might add, and suddenly at age 44 — on a train to Charleston.
Alfred’s third wife, Jessie Dew Ball, whom he married within a year of Alicia’s death, spent far more time in the home and on the property helping the gardens come to life.
I give her credit for maintaining the Temple of Love built for another woman. But then again, they met when she was 14 and he was 34 — and they communicated frequently since they initially met in 1898 — so we shall continue this story with our eyes open.
Jessie Ball was a force. Alfred met his match (or stronger) in her. Highly unusual for the time, she lived across Texas, Maryland, Virginia, and California as a child — and created her own wealth through investing in real estate and the stock market in her early 20s.
She became Vice Principal of an elementary school, taught for many years, and received 13 honorary degrees during the course of her life. When she married Alfred, she took on management of the business and estate, and grew both under her vision. Despite her education and philanthropy, she remained pointedly racist and withdrew funds to Virginia Theological Seminary in 1951, writing the Dean: “I do not contribute to schools in the south that take negroes as students.”
Jessie’s foundation, one of the largest of its time, is now dedicated to “Increasing equitable access to opportunities and resources for members of society who have historically been excluded” — her wealth and her gardens continue on after her, to do what she did not.
I remain fascinated with gardens of the wealthy. Like a house of mirrors, they both reveal and hide the truth of the time and studying them is worth the time.
I have fallen back in love with photographing gardens, and you can find the rest of my images from Nemours Estate here: floricult.com/nemours
Until the next scandal,
The true mystery of the world is the visible, not the invisible. - Oscar Wilde