Thursday, August 26, 2010

Secret Garden

Tucked away on Long Island’s Gold Coast, the enclave immortalized by F. Scott Fitzgerald’s Great Gatsby, a most unusual garden lies forgotten in the woods of a large estate.

The gardens most unique feature is a tiny Tudor house situated at its heart behind which hides a walled garden designed especially for the enjoyment of birds. Built to resemble a fairytale witches cottage, this romantic folly was built in 1917 by Mrs. Payne Whitney at Greentree the family’s country estate to serve as a private place for reading and quiet contemplation. To give a sense of age the masonry exterior incorporates beams from old Long Island barns and a deliberately sagging roof of multicolored slate specially laid to encourage the growth of moss. A candle fixture framed in the tiny window above the Tudor door romantically illuminates the entryway.

The cottage was named Cromwell House for it contains an actual Tudor room imported from a house in Gloucestershire, England believed to have once been the bedchamber of Oliver Cromwell. Upon entering the visitor is greeted by a large multi-paned window looking into the walled bird garden, the only entrance to which lies through an antique iron door tucked away on the side of the house. Looking out from this cozy paneled room the Whitney's and their guests could view the wild birds without disturbing them.

The bird garden is surrounded by nine-foot high walls crawling with wild grapevine and features a raised stage-like area at the far end. The garden is centered on a birdbath surrounded by formal paths and planted with shrubs specially selected to attract birds. Today the estate is preserved by the Greentree Foundation which has hosted high level UN-led meetings on the property as Cromwell House and its bird garden sit nearly forgotten in a copse of trees just beyond the tennis court.

Photos from House and Gardens Book of Houses.
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