Monday, July 7, 2014

George Eastman House Garden Tour: August 9, 2014

Canandaigua Botanical Society’s
George Eastman House Garden Tour
Saturday, August 9, 2014

Fifteen people gathered on a pleasant sunny day with Landscape Volunteer Mike Bellavia for a fact filled tour of the East Avenue gardens of George Eastman.
George Eastman was born on July 12, 1854 in Waterville, NY to George Washington Eastman and Maria Kilbourn Eastman. (Eastman’s birth home was moved to the Genesee Country Museum).  His father began a business school in Rochester in the early 1840s, although George resided on a farm in Waterville, NY with his mother and two older sisters until 1860 when they moved to Rochester.  George Eastman’s father died in 1962 when George was 8 years old.  George Eastman never married and kept a close relationship to his mother until her death in 1907.

In 1902, George Eastman purchased the last 8.5 acres of the Marvin Culver Farm on East Avenue in Rochester for his new Georgian Revival style mansion (modeled after the Root House on Delaware Avenue in Buffalo, NY). Assisted by landscape architect Alling Stephen DeForest and architects J. Foster Warner and William Rutherford Mead, Eastman transformed the farmland into a unique urban estate that functioned both as a working farm and as an elegant floral setting for entertaining.  Because the property lacked sufficient shade, George Eastman had mature shade trees with root balls greater than 6 feet planted while the house was being built.
In 1916, Eastman purchased two additional acres next door where the copper beech tree still stands today but the Ross mansion was torn down.  Stone from the Ross mansion was used in garden walks and walls.  The resulting landscape provided the finishing touches, tailored to Eastman’s needs as well as his character. In addition to spacious lawns, eight flower gardens, and five greenhouses, the estate also featured an orchard, a poultry yard, dairy, vegetable gardens, stables, pastures, a rolling east vista, and a magnificent house. In this way, Eastman was able to enjoy the benefits of life in the country without even leaving the city.

Today’s efforts try to keep the existing property true to the original landscaping that Alling Stephen DeForest planned a century ago.  Features include: Mock Orange, Wisteria, Honeysuckle, and Boston ivy on the house with English ivy kept only as ground cover.  There are Elm tree “look-alikes” along the front circular drive to provide privacy from East Avenue.

Boston Ivy growing up the sides of the George Eastman House
Mike shows us a photograph of the "imported mature shade trees"
Copper Beech from Ross property
Ross copper beech
west garden

Mike told us that George Eastman loved to entertain and would pin an orchid from his gardens onto the female guests.  He also told us about the garage/coach house having a revolving floor to easily accommodate rotating coaches in a confined area.
Wisteria growing on loggia


snow berries
In 1919, unhappy with the sound in his conservatory, Mr. Eastman had the mansion cut in half. The north (rear) section was moved 9 ft. 4 in. north. The cost was $750,000; the project took approximately 3 months, moving 7 hours on one day. The house was moved with horizontal hydraulic jacks on railroad ties with special wheels and tracks.
You may notice the darker colored brick to the left of the second story terrace where the additional 9 feet were added

Ellen Dryden (daughter of Eastman’s sister, and his favorite niece) and her husband, Mr. George Dryden donated the money for the construction of the Dryden Theatre in 1950, in Mr. Eastman’s memory.

Great example of Boston ivy allowed to grow up on the buildings while English ivy (more invasive roots) is contained to only ground covering.
Linden Lane - from parking area to Main Entrance of the George Eastman House Museum

During Eastman's residency at the house between 1905 and 1932, he ordered tens of thousands of bulbs from Holland every year (except 1918, when a wartime coal shortage forced him to close his greenhouses) to decorate his Conservatory. The orders were mostly for tulips, narcissus, and hyacinths for indoor forcing, plus tulips for the outside beds. These bulbs were forced in his on-site greenhouses and transported to the house via underground tunnels.  Eastman's nostalgic annual bulb orders stemmed from a trip he made to Holland in 1890, when he was lured by the tulip fields while bicycling through the countryside. The Dutch Connection continues each year with February displays based on Eastman's original orders placed with Dutch bulb-importing companies.
looking at rock garden from GEH museum entrance
Rock garden on left, northeast copper beech tree center and GEH entrance right
Four Gingko trees grow in the Rock Garden...Three are female with "stinky" fruits
grapes in rock garden - 3 varieties: red, white, and blue
in rock garden looking south east
copper beech on northeast corner
looking north on east lawn
Katsura tree - has a distinct caramelized sugar smell
Katsura tree
Katsura leaves - turn golden in autumn
East lawn facing north - Scholar tree on far right
walking toward "roof garden"
"elevator house"
looking west toward GEH - elevator house on right
These Florentine fountains were believed to be used as water heaters
covered garden to the east of the GEH
Looking west to the GEH from the covered garden - glass walls were removed in the summer months
Roof top garden looking north
Looking towards the front of the GEH from the east lawn

south east corner of the GEH
George Eastman was very philanthropic towards the ARTS, HEALTH, and EDUCATION.  Mike left us with this quote by George Eastman: "What we do during our working hours determines what we have; what we do in our leisure hours determines what we are."

When Eastman died in 1932, the estate became the University of Rochester’s presidential home until 1947. During this time, the expense of maintaining an urban farmstead proved to be too costly. In 1936, landscape architect Robert Chamberlain was hired to simplify the grounds. The most significant changes were made in the terrace garden. Flower beds and brick walks were taken out and covered with turf. The central sunken lily pool was filled in, and a rectangular reflecting pool was built on top.
In 1947, the University of Rochester transferred the estate to the Board of Trustees of the newly formed George Eastman House, Inc. The house opened to the public as a photography museum in 1949. Gradually the grounds evolved to accommodate this new land use. On the west side of the property, the peony garden and greenhouses gave way to a parking lot. In 1950, the Dryden Theatre was built. The garage (formerly the carriage house), stable, heating plant, yard, and poultry house were converted into gallery space in 1951. The west garden was redesigned by the Museum in the 1960s. The interior beds and walks were replaced by turf with a central octagonal pool surrounded by semi-circular beds of bulbs and annuals.
Landscape preservation and restoration began in 1984 in the west garden and continued between 1987 and 1992 in the terrace, library, and rock gardens. DeForest’s plans, existing historical photographs, correspondence, and invoices were used by garden historians to reconstruct the original gardens and grounds. The Museum, a National Historic Landmark, is listed in the National Register of Historic Places and is a member of the American Association of Botanical Gardens and Arboreta.
The landscape collection is being carefully restored, conserved, and interpreted for the public by Museum staff, volunteers, and docents as it relates both historically and horticulturally to George Eastman.

The 12.5 acre historic landscape collection comprises lawns, trees, ornamental shrubs, vines, and features four restored/adapted gardens planted with perennials, bulbs, annuals, and ground covers typically grown during Eastman’s residence. Historic architectural elements such as the grape arbor, pergola, sunken oval lily pool, seventeenth-century Venetian wellheads, and garden house are also part of this collection. The George Eastman Collection houses Eastman’s estate photos taken between 1902 and 1932, correspondence, plant lists, and original maps of the property. Past and future landscape preservation and restoration plans are based on these documents.
The terrace garden contains more 90 varieties of perennials with Latin and common name labels. The library garden, an adaptation of Eastman’s cutting garden, contains six bulb varieties, 16 shrub species, six tree varieties, ground cover, and vines. The rock garden is planted with 39 varieties of perennials, six bulb species, three ground covers, and six shrub species among dolomite rocks arranged in scallop-shaped beds. The west garden adaptation currently contains 48 kinds of shrubs, three types of perennials, and an assortment of ground cover.
In spring 1998, the front lawn of the house was rehabilitated to appear the way it did during George Eastman’s time, from 1916 to 1932. The rehabilitation included the planting of 21 varieties of shrubs and 29 trees, a total of seven varieties of trees that stood about 15-feet tall upon planting. Some of these trees will grow as high as 90 feet in about 20 years. While the trees will provide a natural canopy, the house will not be hidden from East Avenue — the plan includes 70 feet of open lawn directly in front of the house.
The front lawn project has been in the works for a decade. In 1988 the Eastman House hired garden historians Gerald and Christine Doell to develop a restoration plan for the gardens and grounds that was based on landscape architect Alling DeForest’s original plans dating between 1902 and 1921. Mr. Eastman worked closely with Mr. DeForest to develop the landscape plans, which called for the planting of shrubs and trees that would provide privacy from the street while allowing a view of the house from East Avenue. Many estates built during this same time period had similar “woodland drive” landscape designs. However, most of the trees from the early 1900s eventually died (many from Dutch Elm disease) and were removed.  Restoration planting plans for the west garden and vista will be implemented in the future.

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