Robert Cridland

In the 1910s the Vanderbilts engaged Robert B. Cridland. Cridland had been employed with Thomas Meehan and Sons prior to 1913 and likely worked on the original plans for the loggia garden. Cridland was trained as an architect and published a book in 1916 entitled, Practical Landscape Gardening, with the dedication, “Joseph Meehan, Eminent Horticulturist, Adviser, and Friend.”

Beginning in at least 1913 and continuing until 1934, Cridland developed new designs for each area of the formal gardens, in addition to preparing plans for the Mansion foundation planting. During his twenty year association with the Vanderbilts, his major contributions were to reconfigure and modify structural elements in the garden and to revise planting schemes rather than to develop new garden areas. Cridland’s work was additive, embellishing and changing the texture and quality of the garden spaces while building on the works of Greenleaf and Meehan.

The estate purchase ledgers suggest that Robert Cridland was working for the Vanderbilts by 1913. In 1916 Cridland designed and oversaw construction of the loggia at the east end of the rose garden, which he called the garden house. In 1916 Cridland developed planting plans for the fountain terrace, annual terraces, a portion of the lower perennial garden terrace near the pool and pool pergola, and the rose garden below.

In his book, Cridland articulated planting design principles. For color arrangements, he recommended that cool purples and blues be used in the background with warm lighter colors in the foreground for the effect of making the planting bed appear larger. He also recommended balance of form and color rather than symmetry. Lastly, he stated that evergreens, preferably pyramidal, should be placed at regular intervals and always at the corners and ends of the beds bisected by walks. Cridland’s plant lists from his book are grouped according to season and color. It appears that Cridland applied the principles outlined his book directly to the Vanderbilts’ garden.

 

Annual Garden Terraces

The configuration of the planting beds of the upper garden terraces remained similar to the configuration depicted in the 1897 survey, though as early as 1906 the small rectangular beds were eliminated and the curved beds were enlarged. The lower annual garden also remained largely unchanged during this period. The one notable change evident in historic photos is a simplification of the center beds. Early photos show a smaller circular bed in the center surrounded by a perforated ring of eight beds. Sometime in the early 1920s, the smaller beds of the perforated ring were enveloped by an enlarged circular bed. An alternative layout for both the upper and lower annual gardens was included in the 1916 drawing by Cridland in which he reconfigured the upper and lower curvilinear annual beds to rectilinear beds with mixed perennials. It doesn’t appear that the proposed configurations for the annual gardens were implemented during the historic period.

Photos taken during the historic period are an excellent source for determining the form and character of the vegetation, and in some cases the plant species, in the annual beds. The majority of the photos show the arborvitae hedge along the east side of the lower annual garden, which was installed in 1922. Some species are identifiable in the historic photos. The cannas and pennisetum in the central beds are visible, as are plants resembling heliotrope, petunias, pelargonium, and alyssum. Positive identification is difficult in the grainy black and white photographs, and any identification involves a fair amount of speculation.

In combination with recollections of the Vanderbilts’ former gardener Alex Knauss and the information in the estate purchase ledgers, however, identification of these species may be made with reasonable confidence. The estate purchase ledgers show purchases for many annuals throughout the Vanderbilt residency. Many of these were purchased for the greenhouses to be used as cut flowers in the mansion, to be shipped to the Vanderbilts’ other residences, or to be entered into flower shows and competitions. Many, however, were planted in the gardens. Annuals that appear in large numbers for multiple years that may have used as bedding plants include cannas, begonias, petunias, zinnias, alyssum, heliotrope, pelargonium, primroses, pansies, nasturtiums, marigolds, asters, cosmos, cineraria, verbena, lantana, and salvia.

In 1967, Alex Knauss drew sketches of the annual gardens, indicating the plant arrangements as he remembered them. Knauss was a gardener for the Vanderbilts from 1924 through 1938, and his recollections help reveal the garden plantings of the later years of the historic period. Knauss provided only one planting arrangement for each of the two annual gardens, although photographs show that the plantings varied during the period. Nonetheless, the Knauss sketches show what might be considered a typical arrangement of the annual beds, and the annual species and overall planting strategy are consistent with both the historic photographic record and the estate purchase ledgers.

According to Knauss’ sketches, the round center beds of the upper and lower annual gardens were planted with pink cannas with a border of pennisetum. This corresponds to nearly all of the historic photos. In the rest of the beds, according to Knauss, were planted with begonias, petunias, zinnias, and heliotrope. Each of these appears repeatedly in the estate purchase ledgers and are identifiable in historic photos. The only notable change to the bed layout of the annual gardens during the historic period involved a change to central circular bed on the lower annual garden. Some photos show a smaller circular bed surrounded by a perforated ring of eight beds. Later photos show a single larger circular bed. The ring of beds appears in photos along with the arborvitae hedge, indicating that they were present at least as late as 1922.

It is not known who made the decisions about what was planted in the annual gardens. Cridland’s only plan for this area, the 1916 plan, does not appear to have been implemented, and no other plans have been located that reflect the layout of the annual gardens as they appear in historic photos. It is possible that the layout of the annual beds were inherited from Langdon’s gardens, and that year-to-year decisions about the plantings were made by Vanderbilt, his gardeners, or both.

 

Path above the Lower Perennial Garden

In April 1922, Cridland developed plans that altered a portion of the garden frame and edge plantings between the lower annual terrace and lower perennial terrace. A plan entitled “Proposed Improvements in Formal Garden” includes elevations and plans for wire arches, pergolas, retaining walls and plantings. A second plan entitled “Pergola Plan” detailed the wooden lattice to be set on top of the existing pergolas. These elements are shown along the east walk of the lower annual garden. The hedge on the east side of the walk also turned at a right angle eastward to connect with the existing walls at the central north-south walk in the perennial gardens. This area was previously enclosed by a continuous trellis wall with window openings, developed by Greenleaf.

Cridland specified hedges to frame both sides of the walk and three wire trellis structures. The hedges were arranged in two straight rows but curved around each of the three wire vine support arches that were evenly spaced along the walk. The three arches were covered with honeysuckle vine.

 

North Pergola

In 1922, Cridland developed a “Design for Remodeling Pergola.” Cridland retained the brick and stone piers developed by Greenleaf but replaced the former peaked rafters with a series of graceful ogee curved members. Cridland’s modification in the 1920s helps to date photographs in this part of the garden. Historic photographs indicate that when Cridland’s plans were implemented, the vines planted by Greenleaf were either removed or severely pruned.

 

Upper Perennial Garden

Around 1934, Cridland re-designed the upper perennial garden area. Cridland’s plans included the replacement of overgrown evergreens with smaller flowering trees and shrubs, reshaping of the sloped banks along the central walk, adding low dry laid stone retaining walls to hold the banks, and planting perennials and bulbs on top of and below the stone walls as well as in small pockets in the wall itself.

Cridland’s plan for the upper perennial garden specifies the removal of all former plantings from this portion of the Italian garden. Cridland’s plan shows a linear design for the space. The grading is changed from slopes flanking the central walk to a pair of dry laid stone retaining walls.

Cridland specified rows of densely planted ornamental trees and shrubs. Closest to the walk were two rows of six, double pink, Japanese cherry trees set in a rectangular lawn panel. Behind the cherry trees stood two pairs of mirror image plant rows at the garden edges paralleling the cherry trees. The first row contained long plantings of hydrangea punctuated with five single blue flowering hibiscus shrubs. The hibiscus plants were centered between the Cherry trees. The back row contained fifteen columnar Japanese cherry trees of the variety ‘Amanogawa’ in five groups of three, and six pyramidal arborvitaes.

At the southern end of the upper perennial garden, where the brick walls retained the slope, Cridland called for an evergreen hedge running east to west across the southern end of the upper level to terminate the cherry tree row and linear plantings. This hedge resembled the hedge installed by Greenleaf, which had become overgrown.

At the lower level clusters of paired baptisia added an element of height to the low perennial plantings which were followed by a mass of delphinium and lilies. Matching bay plants were shown at the corner of each wall and the periwinkle border extended around to the end of the bed.

A plan prepared by Cridland in September 1934 detailed the contents of the long narrow beds in front of the dry laid stone retaining walls. The beds were designed to showcase a mix of seasonal color including yellow, blue, lavender, pink, and white as described above. The plants included 9 types of assorted bulbs and 50 species of perennials. An additional sixteen species were specified to be planted in wall pockets including creeping phlox, alpine aster, and sedum. The lower ends of the beds were punctuated with stands of assorted delphiniums, Madonna lilies, and periwinkle. While the overall design was implemented and many of the individual plants can be identified, it is unclear whether all the specified plant materials were used.

Cridland also added a new retaining wall along the west and north side of the lower perennial garden, between the steps on the southeast corner and the central walk, connecting to an existing wall. The wall separated the large pergola and pool house area from the higher level of the terrace to the west.

 

Lower Perennial Garden

Cridland’s overall plan for the garden in 1916 included a redesign of the lower perennial garden, which was partially implemented in the 1920s. This plan for the gardens offered a detailed planting plan of perennials for these beds. The plant list for the lower perennial garden contained over fifty different species and varieties. This planting plan was likely implemented, at least in part, but was modified through the years. Although the plants planted in these garden beds changed over the years, the character of this terraces remained relatively static.

Structural elements around the lower perennial garden were also modified by Cridland. The piers punctuating the wall between the lower perennial garden and the rose garden were raised and fanciful iron arches were added between them to provide picture-frame views of the garden below (a technique similar to Greenleaf’s lattice wall).

Plantings around the pool appear to have been carried out in accordance with Cridland’s design reflecting the detailed planting plan and annotated final planting list, portion near the pool, developed in 1916. The conical evergreens are keyed as fern-leaved arborvitae (Thuya plicata) while approximately one hundred perennials are indicated. This area was planted with a combination of conical evergreens and perennials in two generally rectangular masses edged by turf borders. The bay plants in pots were similar in form and scale and were positioned at the pool.

Photographs taken between 1932 and 1935 by Alex Knauss show that the conical evergreens were removed by this time and beds of perennials in bloom appear with interior turf walks separating planted areas. Digitalis was placed sporadically throughout the beds punctuating the perennial masses. All areas were heavily planted, full of blooms, and well maintained.

 

Rose Garden

Cridland prepared an undated plan entitled “Rose Garden Arrangement for F.W. Vanderbilt Esq.” in about 1916. Cridland also designed and oversaw the construction of the rose garden. Cridland organized the rose beds by color and form rather than by cultivars. He specified assorted roses in the edge beds with climbers on the fence and white climbing roses at each brick pier. White roses were to be planted at the face of the upper brick wall between the two steps. The two upper parterres are shown in mirror image arrangements of pink, white, yellow and red roses around the edges. A note to these center beds states, “See plan from Wadley and Smyth for baby ramblers and bedding roses.” No plan by Wadley and Smyth is in the park’s collection.

These baby rambler, or polyantha roses, would have been full and short and were likely intended to fill in the bed below the standards. Six rose standards are also lined up on each side of the central steps at the upper level while climbing roses and assorted hybrid teas are shown at the base of the wall flanking the steps. At the lower level the parterres are also arranged in mirror image by color. Two central beds on each side are shown with five standards each and bear the same note regarding baby ramblers and bedding roses as the one above.

Former Vanderbilt gardener Alex Knauss recalled that red and crimson carnations and roses were a favorite of Fredrick Vanderbilt, and they were sent to his bedroom each morning. Louise Vanderbilt had a passion for yellow and insisted that yellow roses be placed on the French desk in the drawing room each morning. These color preferences, together with white and pink, were featured in Cridland’s layout. Deep red roses, Frederick Vanderbilt’s favorite, were placed around the fountain pool as a focal point, with pink and white roses in adjacent beds. Mrs. Vanderbilt’s favorite, yellow roses, were placed along the outer walkways and along the center walkway of the upper terrace. White and pink roses fill out the balance of the internal bed, with assorted roses in the perimeter beds and white climbers on all of the brick piers and the west wall.

The narrow beds on the lower terrace appear to have been used to showcase specific varieties of roses. These were mostly tea roses, hybrid teas, and hybrid perpetuals, and like the other beds, were arranged by color. Cridland favored hybrid teas, offering his assessment of them in his 1916 book Practical Landscape Gardening:

The hybrid tea Roses are popularly known as monthly or ever-blooming sorts. They are most satisfying for garden purposes, as they are usually of neat habit with pleasing foliage and fragrant flowers, in many delicate and beautiful colors. There are so many varieties to choose from now, that a selection must depend largely on the taste of the individual.

Cridland also recommends the incorporation of hybrid perpetuals or June roses as they:

make a splendid showing in June when the plants are in full bloom. After that they have but a scattering bloom during August and September. A few of the best varieties are Frau Karl Druschki, white; General Jacqueminot, crimson; Ulrich Brunner, cherry red; Mrs. R. Sharman-Crawford, deep pink; Magna Charta, bright pink.

While these roses do not appear specifically on Cridland’s plan, they do, with the exception of Magna Charta, appear as entries in the ledgers between 1913 and 1917. Cridland’s Plan also indicates the use of assorted roses in the beds skirting the perimeter pathway, and it is likely that hybrid perpetuals were included in these borders as well.

Cridland’s plan does not specify rose varieties, but only indicates the color and form of the roses to be planted. A separate plan has hand-written notes (in handwriting different than Cridland’s) identifying rose varieties that correspond to the colors indicated by Cridland. These notes may have been added by one of the gardeners or by Vanderbilt himself. The varieties do, however, correspond to rose varieties Cridland recommends in Practical Landscape Gardening.

The Vanderbilt purchase ledgers list “900 roses” at the time of the original design, with no indication of variety. However, rose purchases over the next several years, ordered in small quantities likely as replacement roses, give an idea of how the colors were filled out. Deep red and crimson roses such as Hadley, General Macarthur, and Gruss an Teplitz surrounded the fountain pool. White Augusta Victoria roses provided calmness from the intensity of the crimsons before giving way to the soft creamy pink tones of Vicountess Folkstone that flanked the central axis of the garden. The perimeter path was surrounded on either side by the apricot hue of Lady Hillington, the deep rose of Jonkeer J L Mock, and the silvery pale pink of La Tosca, amongst others. On the upper level of the rose garden two long beds were filled with the deep crimson of Hoosier Beauty and contrasted with the white standards that lined the retaining wall overlooking the lower rose garden. Molly Sharman Crawford added the white accent, while Mme Abel Chatenay and Mme Ravary provided delicate pink. Turf paths connected each of the beds allowing access to the beds.

Many of the roses selected also are characterized by their deep fragrance and the most fragrant were planted in beds adjacent to central pathways and the loggia pool and building, further enhancing the sense of romance of the location. The location of the garden was also conducive to enjoying the garden in the later afternoon and early evening when the sun bathed the loggia in soft sunlight and allowed the fragrance to develop.

Neither Cridland’s plan nor the unattributed plan listing rose varieties specifies the variety of white climbing roses adjacent to the brick piers, but Cridland does recommend Alberic Barbier, a double pure white, and Gloire de Dijon, a white shaded with salmon, in Practical Landscape Gardening. There is no photographic evidence that the standard roses depicted on the plan were ever planted, or perhaps they were planted and failed and then substituted with something more suitable.

Cridland’s undated drawing for the loggia garden specifying rose plantings most closely corresponds to historic photos and to entries in the purchase ledgers. This plan, or something similar, appears to have characterized this terrace for about twenty years. Some of the earlier photos show perennials on the upper terrace and roses on the lower terrace, suggesting a possible phased implementation of the switch from perennials to roses, but later photos show the entire loggia garden planted with roses.

 

Shrub Plantings around the Gardens

A drawing done by Cridland in April 1917 shows additions to the perimeter planting around the rose garden. Since Meehan and Sons initiated the planting, it was either a style begun there by Cridland, or a style he adopted from them. He writes of this technique in his book:

The outside line of the garden on the lawn side should always be hidden with foliage. A mixed plantation of flowering shrubs, with a few pyramidal evergreens at the corners, is very effective….The flowering shrubs outside the garden, lifting their heads above the garden enclosure, add a charm to the scene quite in tune with the floral effects within, and the sinuous outline of the border plantation is in perfect harmony with the naturalistic aspect of the garden from without. At desirable viewpoints, the planting should be low so that a glimpse may be had of the lawn, plantations or distant scenes.

Cridland recommended in general upright shrubs that “produce their greatest wealth of bloom toward the top,” and specifically mentioned lilacs, Japanese snowball, deutzia, honeysuckle, and privet, which were included in his specifications for shrub planting around the Vanderbilt formal gardens. Other species included in Cridland’s planting plan included viburnum, spirea, hydrangea, barberry, stephanandra, forsythia, weigela, mock orange, yew, Virginia creeper, and English ivy. At the corners Cridland specified nine Oriental spruce and eleven arborvitae.

The purchase ledgers indicate that the Vanderbilts acquired numerous shrubs through Cridland between 1916 and 1919 including 36 rhododendron in 1916, unspecified quantities of nursery stock in 1917, 100 Japanese barberry in 1918, and many additional evergreen trees and shrubs in 1918 and 1919. Some of these shrubs may have been installed around the formal gardens while others many have been incorporated into Cridland’s foundation planting for the mansion.

 

Garden Ornaments

Numerous garden ornaments are visible in photos from this period. The sculpture of the odalisque in the pool house remained, as did the boy and dolphin fountain on the fountain terrace. The frog fountain in the rose garden was replaced in 1925 with a much larger fountain featuring Orpheus with a dolphin. A large carved marble vase was located between the two wings of the rose house on the south edge of the gardens and was likely matched by a second one between the wings on the north side of the rose house, as visible in a 1938 aerial photo. The Corinthian capitals, initially placed near the reflecting pool were moved to the upper annual terrace and the north side of the rose house. Metal gates marked the entrances to the gardens, including an ornate iron gate at the entrance on the palm house terrace and a more simple iron gate at the southwest entrance near the rose houses.

Last updated: August 29, 2020

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