Book Review: The Gardens of Bunny Mellon
I recently listened to the Bunny Mellon biography on Audible. It was fascinating, riveting and sad. She had many passions in her life. Gardening was certainly the one that was continuous and fulfilling. Bunny lived a life of true style. She expected and had only the best.
Vendome Press kindly sent an advance copy of this beautiful book of her inspiring gardens. I am ready to rip out my garden and hire a crew. The perfection of her many homes in enviable to say the least.
Enjoy the walk through the
Photographs by Roger Foley / Introduction by Sir Peter Crane
Rachel Lambert Mellon was born an heir to a great fortune—her grandfather invented Listerine and her father was the president of Gillette—and married one of the wealthiest men in America, the banking heir and philanthropist Paul Mellon. Known to her friends as Bunny, Mrs. Mellon cut a distinguished presence in rarified circles in Washington, New York, London, and Paris, where the Mellons maintained homes celebrated for their refinement and taste. But Mellon’s greatest love, and her signature accomplishment, was landscape and garden design. Linda Jane Holden, author of The Gardens of Bunny Mellon, interviewed Mellon extensively before her death in 2014 and has been granted access by her family to her journals, correspondence, photographs, sketches, and memorabilia.
Although she had no formal training, Mellon read widely in horticulture and made contributions to several landmark gardens, including the restorations of the Potager du Roi at Versailles and Monet’s garden at Giverny. She also designed the gardens and landscapes of many of the Mellons’ properties, chief among them the gardens and farm of their sprawling estate, Oak Spring, in Upperville, Virginia.
Mellon’s longtime friendship with the Kennedys began in the 1950s with a visit to Oak Spring by Jacqueline Kennedy, whom Mellon later advised on fine arts and antiques during the Kennedy White House restoration. In 1961 President Kennedy asked Mrs. Mellon to redesign the White House Rose Garden. She created more open space for public ceremonies and introduced American species of plants into the intricate planting scheme. She had begun plans for the White House’s East Garden, but work was interrupted by the president’s assassination. After his funeral, for which Mrs. Mellon arranged flowers, Lady Bird Johnson asked Mellon to resume her work on the East Garden. Holden has uncovered a previously unknown mock-up of the Kennedy grave site in an old family cemetery at Oak Spring. And the Kennedys asked Mellon to design the grounds of the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum.
In France, Mellon designed the formal and vegetable gardens at Hubert de Givenchy’s Château du Jonchet. Mellon enjoyed a warm friendship with Givenchy, who designed much of her wardrobe, from her gowns to her gardening hats and smocks.
Much like one of Mrs. Mellon’s landscapes, The Gardens of Bunny Mellon has slowly matured over several years, allowing the gifted landscape photographer Roger Foley to record Oak Spring, her cherished home, in all four seasons. The book also features vintage photographs by Horst, Aarons, and others of Mellon’s gardens for her homes in Cape Cod, Nantucket, Antigua, and New York.
Linda Jane Holden is a garden historian and the author of Presidents’ Gardens. She first became aware of Mrs. Mellon’s contributions to landscape design while working in the White House during the Reagan administration. Holden’s text is based on extensive interviews with Mrs. Mellon and gardeners at Oak Spring and other Mellon family properties. She has been granted access to the Mellon archives by the Mellon family and the Oak Spring Garden Foundation.
Roger Foley is a preeminent garden and landscape photographer with an extensive editorial practice. Over the past decade he has received top honors sixteen times from the Garden Writers Association for his books, portfolios of current editorial work, magazine and newspaper stories, and the Gold Award for Best Talent in Photography (2007 & 2010). Foley’s work has been published widely in hundreds of websites, magazines, and newspapers, including Coastal Living, Martha Stewart Living, The New York Times, Smithsonian, and Southern Living. He lives in Virginia.
Sir Peter Crane, a renowned botanical researcher and evolutionary plant scientist, is the inaugural president of the Oak Spring Garden Foundation, the former Mellon estate. Its mission is to perpetuate and share Bunny Mellon’s residence, garden, and extensive library, to serve the public interest. Crane was previously Director of the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew.
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