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Touring Greenwood Gardens, a classic garden of the Arts and Crafts Movement

by Timber Press on November 27, 2018

in Design, Gardening

William Whetten Renwick, House and Garden at Pleasant Days [Greenwood Gardens], Short Hills, New Jersey, ca. 1924. Photo courtesy of Greenwood Gardens Vicki Johnson.

Once the estate of a wealthy New York real-estate mogul, surviving gardens known as Greenwood Gardens are an extraordinary example of the diversity and ingenuity of individual Arts and Crafts designers:

It is hard to know what Gustav Stickley (1858–1942), often regarded as the “American William Morris,” might have thought of Pleasant Days, the Short Hills home of New York real-estate mogul Joseph P. Day. Now known as Greenwood Gardens, the surviving grounds provide an excellent example of regional Arts and Crafts sensibilities.

M. H. Baillie Scott, House [The Close] at Short Hills, New Jersey (Studio Yearbook of Decorative Art, 1914). Image from the author’s collection.

The fanciful twenty-eight–room stucco mansion was designed around 1911 by William Whetten Renwick (1864–1933), a nephew of the famous Gothic Revival architect, James Renwick, Jr. William Renwick was not only a talented architect, but also a sculptor and painter who had studied at the École des Beaux-Arts in Paris. The exterior and interiors of Pleasant Days as well as the garden were enhanced with his innovative polychrome fresco-relief panels and custom-made Rookwood tiles.

Rookwood tile in grotto at Greenwood Gardens, Short Hills, New Jersey. Photo courtesy of Greenwood Gardens Vicki Johnson.

Renwick’s distinctive metope-like bas-relief panels decorated the exterior of the once-amazing house with its distinctive undulating gray-green whaleback slate roof. The whole house was alive with decorative birds and flowers, bringing the pleasures of the summer gardens indoors.

Rustic teahouse at Greenwood Gardens. Photo courtesy of Greenwood Gardens Vicki Johnson.

The surviving garden structures, including a rustic stone teahouse and summerhouse, in addition to the foundation walls, water cascade, and other features, still retain their Arts and Crafts decorations. The formal gardens on the south side of the house consist of a series of grass terraces with ornamental pools and fountain figures. The Garden of the Gods is framed by a semicircular pergola enclosed by openwork trellises and polychrome herms on pedestals. Other pergolas serve to connect the house with the garden and provide pleasant walkways. Day’s fortune vanished during the Great Depression, and years later the crumbling house was torn down and replace with a smaller, more conventional house.

 

Judith B. Tankard is a landscape historian, award-winning author, and preservation consultant. She is the author or coauthor of ten books on landscape history and has been honored with a Quill and Trowel Award from the Garden Writers Association as well as book awards from Historic New England and the American Horticultural Society. She taught at the Landscape Institute of Harvard University for more than twenty years. A popular lecturer in the United States and Britain, Judith is a frequent speaker at conferences devoted to the preservation of historic landscapes.

 

 

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