This summer, M. and I will be traveling to downstate New York to become acquainted with our new home, and so that I can attend orientation for fall quarter. The last time I was in New York was 2009, volunteering at Linwood Gardens through the WWOOF program.
Linwood is a large, gorgeous, old private estate, established in the early 1900’s and listed on the National Register of Historic Places. In the 1930’s, William Gratwick the Third moved there with his family and set up a rare plants nursery. While not a commercial nursery, tree peonies are still grown there. Our group was tasked with some weeding and pruning, but primarily with doing repair work on the 100-year-old walls of the Italian Garden. Returning to Linwood Gardens is #73 on my 100-in-1000 list, and I hope to return when the peonies are in bloom and under circumstances that don’t involve power-washing in the heat!
The Italian Garden in the 1930’s, photo by William Gratwick the Third, and in 2009.
The property remains in the Gratwick family, and is maintained in part by the very friendly and hard-working Lee Gratwick herself. It was a privilege to stay with her and work on the grounds. We all stayed in a separate wing of the house, and in my off-hours, when I wasn’t exploring, I found my way into a scrapbook or two regarding the history of the grounds. Here are a couple of photos of Lee, taken by her father:
The Gratwick property regularly hosted cultural events and provided a place for artists and writers to get away, especially in the 1930’s-70’s. Evidence and ephemera from earlier days certainly evokes ideas of Gatsby-esque affairs, evolving into something more bohemian as the decades progressed. Ansel Adams, Minor White, and William Carlos Williams were regular visitors, and the Williams poem “The Yellow Tree Peony” was printed for the first time in an account of the estate by William Gratwick the Third titled My, This Must Have Been a Beautiful Place When It Was Kept Up.
William Page conducts Mozart’s Requiem during the Sunday Evening Concert series, 1957.
Photo by Eric Guteman.
The same pond in 2009, after cleaning it out in anticipation of a weekend wedding.
During precious weekend hours, I would practice lap dulcimer in the little “chapel”-like structure above. Barn swallows made nests high on the walls, flying in and out at dusk, and one could light candles in the iron chandeliers hanging from the ceiling.
Not all of the old structures survived the years. On one exploratory walk, I came across this old fireplace and chimney.
If you ever have the chance to visit during the season when the grounds are open, it is well worth the trip. The grounds are positively magical. Finally, here is a very calm and photogenic frog beside the lily pond, just one example of the fauna to be found. I hope to revisit the topic of Linwood Gardens here when we’ve gone to the grounds after our big move.
Phil Eliot, who took many photos of the gardens. Photographer unknown.
“Gratwick History.” Linwood Gardens. Web. 30 May 2017.
Gratwick, William. My, This Must Have Been a Beautiful Place When It Was Kept Up: As Documented in the Year 1965. Pavilion, NY: W. Gratwick, 1965. Print.
“Linwood Gardens.” The History of Buffalo, New York. Web. 30 May 2017.
Citing this page:
Solomon, Alana. “Peonies and Poetry Upstate.” Ortolana Studio & Press. Ortolana Studio & Press, 30 May 2017.