Blue Garden

Newport, RI
United States
Blue Garden

Designed between 1911 and 1913 by Frederick Law Olmsted, Jr., and the Olmsted Brothers firm for the expansive estate of Arthur Curtiss James and wife, Harriet Parsons James, blue-tiled pools and monochromatic purple and blue plantings gave this garden its name. Olmsted created a unique garden room in the Italianate style, set in a hollow area, blasted from the ledge, enclosed by low walls topped with vine-covered trellises. The garden was defined by a strong central axis, terminated at each end by pergolas, with a cross axis at the southern end, denoted by semi-circular planting beds. The principal axis was emphasized by a tiled water runnel that connected two pools, one rectangular and one square, adding a Persian influence to the garden. An antique well-head and potted plants were artfully arranged to embellish the garden’s classical effect. Surrounded by a dense screen of evergreens that serve to seclude the garden’s formality from the rugged natural landscape beyond, the Blue Garden was inspired by the medieval hortus conclusus, a secret garden.

The garden remained relatively intact, except for an Italianate structure which replaced the rustic northeastern pergola in the mid 1920s. Both Jameses died in 1941; the garden slowly succumbed to neglect and the mansion was destroyed by fire in 1967. Parts of the original estate, including Surprise Village Farm, now SVF Foundation, were eventually purchased by philanthropist Dorrance Hamilton, who, working with landscape architecture firm Reed Hilderbrand, brought about the rehabilitation of the Blue Garden. Completed in 2014, the private garden is open for limited public visitation through arrangement.