Blithewood Garden

Photos of Blithewood Gardens

Project Team

Matthew Sprague '18
Amy Parrella, Horticulture Supervisor; Arboretum Director
Bessina Harrar, Blithewood Gardener
Michèle Dominy, Professor of Anthropology and Environmental and Urban Studies; Director of Environmental and Urban Studies
Gretta Tritch Roman, Digital Projects Coordinator for EH

Project Partners

Environmental and Urban Studies Program, Bard College
Landscape and Arboretum Program at Bard
The Garden Conservancy

Brief History of Blithewood

The historic Blithewood estate, located in Annandale-on-Hudson on Bard College’s campus, has captivated onlookers for centuries. The estate, which has undergone vast renovations since its infancy, has nonetheless maintained the character of its past owners and architects. The property was name Blithewood in 1835, meaning ‘happy’ wood by Susan Donaldson, wife of the previous owner Robert Donaldson. The Donaldsons enlisted the help of two prominent architects of the time, Andrew Jackson Downing and Alexander Jackson Davis, to design the landscape and mansion on the property. Downing and Davis were vanguards of the Romantic Picturesque movement which incorporated nature and the agrarian lifestyle into its elements of design. The hexagonal gatehouse, which still stands today, is an example of these architect’s designs.

Blithewood as we know it today was constructed under the ownership of Andrew Zabriskie. He hired Frances Hoppin to design the georgian mansion and Italianate garden in 1903. Hoppin’s design privileged the garden as a center piece in the plan and it is the garden, rather than the mansion, provides the spectacular view of the Hudson. The garden was constructed to give its former inhabitants solitude and a sense of enclosure within its walls. Today, Blithewood is lively on pleasant days year round, as Bard students, faculty, and the greater community alike flock to the estate to enjoy the lush garden and dazzling view of the Hudson.

Read More about Blithewood Gardens on the Bard College Arboretum website

Project Goals

The aim of this project was to create an accessible and interactive map of the Blithewood garden that is open to the public. We hope to put a face to the garden and share its beauty with all that are interested, wherever they might be. The map highlights the hard work that goes into maintaining the large collection of plants that bring life to Blithewood. This ongoing project provides a look into the ever changing nature of the garden and showcases the beauty of Blithewood.

We will be continuing to add features to the map, including views of the garden from key points as well as the viewsheds from the garden, overlooking the Hudson River.

Project Narrative

Over the summer 2017, Matthew Sprague ‘18 (EUS student) collected data to bolster our knowledge of the plants growing in the garden at Blithewood. He conducted research on all plants displayed in the garden map and documented this research in a digitized database accessible to the horticultural staff. This allows Blithewood’s gardeners to easily access information about plants if needed in the future, and provides the public with resources they can use to learn more about the plants they interact with in person. The architecture of the garden and the beds are all to scale and the featured plant points reflect the actual position of plants in the garden. Amy Parella, the Horticulture Supervisor and Arboretum Director, chose the featured plants based on the frequency of questions she and Bessina Harrar, the head gardener of Blithewood, receive about the plants.

The digital design of the garden and the beds was created using on-site measurements and historic blueprints completed by Francis Hoppin. The digital reconstruction of the garden was drawn in AutoCAD, exported to Adobe Illustrator, and then georeferenced on QGIS. under the supervision of Gretta Tritch Roman, Experimental Humanities Digital Projects Coordinator. The web map was built using the javascript library, Leaflet.

How to use the map:

Click on each bed in the garden to see what’s growing!
Click on the green points to see information about our featured plants and a picture of that plant!
Zoom out to see the garden in context and to change the base map to satellite imagery.

More about the Project Partners

The EUS internship program provides students with experiential learning opportunities during the academic year and summer. The program aims to foster an understanding of how a liberal arts and sciences education applies to professional work, and provides students with a sense of career opportunities. An internship enhances student knowledge and skills development through a productive working experience with organizations in the Hudson valley and nationally and globally. Students formally present their work to EUS program faculty and students at the conclusion of the internship.

The Landscape and Arboretum Program at Bard strives to preserve and enhance the natural and landscaped resources of the Bard College campus and to promote knowledge and appreciation of ornamental horticulture and conservation; and to provide a campus environment rich in horticultural diversity and beauty that can be readily enjoyed by the College and surrounding community. Our future vision is to have Bard Arboretum become a destination for individuals to understand and appreciate a nationally-significant historical landscape in the Hudson Valley. The summer internship has been an integral educational component since 2007, the founding of the Bard Arboretum.

The Garden Conservancy is the nation’s leading national nonprofit dedicated to saving and sharing outstanding American gardens for the education and inspiration of the public. Headquartered in Garrison, New York, the Conservancy helps new and emerging public gardens become community-based public resources and established public gardens manage both natural and manmade challenges to their survival. In everything it does, the Conservancy champions the vital role gardens play in our shared culture, history, and quality of life. Founded in 1989 by renowned plantsman Frank Cabot, the Conservancy has assisted more than eighty gardens across the country and created more than one million opportunities to visit private gardens nationwide.