How to Grow an Historic Urban Garden

September 27, 2010 by


Photo by Nancy Moon

When everything above 14th Street in Manhattan was considered “the country,” fashionable folks from the city headed up to 61st Street by stagecoach or steamboat to the Mount Vernon Hotel where they spent the day sipping lemonade in the ladies’ parlor or playing cards in the gentlemen’s tavern. The Hotel advertised itself as “free from the noise and dust of the public roads, and fitted up and intended for only the most genteel and respectable” clientele.

Built in 1799 as a carriage house for a 23-acre estate on land owned originally by Colonel William Stephens Smith, and his wife Abigail Adams Smith, daughter of John Adams, the estate was converted into and operated as the Mount Vernon Hotel from 1826 until 1833. When the hotel closed, it reverted once again to a private estate for three generations of one New York City family, was purchased 1905 by  Standard Gas Light Company (today’s Con Edison), then changed hands again in 1924 when the Colonial Dames of America bought, renovated, and opened it to the public in 1939 as the present Mount Vernon Hotel Museum and Garden.


Photo by Audrey Svensson

Today, one can experience a bit of 19th century New York by touring through the eight period rooms to the sound of pianoforte music. Visitors can hear stories of the well-to-do guests sipping turtle soup in the Lower Hall, and then take a relaxing stroll through the Hotel’s 18th century gardens.


Photo by Audrey Svensson

The Hotel’s current  gardens were designed in the mid-1970’s by landscape architect Alice Recknagel Ireys. Plans are under way for expanding the present Herb Garden to include an “Edible Kitchen Garden” that will cultivate the same edible and medicinal plants that grew in the museum’s gardens in the early 1800’s.


Proposed garden and drawing by Gina Ingoglia, ASLA

The proposed garden transformation has been designed by Gina Ingoglia, ASLA, landscape and garden designer, who has served as Garden Advisor to the museum since 1995. Ingoglia, vice president of the Brooklyn Botanic Garden Florilegium Society, is also a columnist, author and illustrator of over 80 gardening books and articles, including her award-winning The Tree Book for Kids and their Grown-Ups. The edible garden is the first step in the museum’s initiative to revive its historic gardens along the sprawling property, slated for completion in time for the museum’s 75th anniversary in 2014.


Photo by Nancy Moon

Monday, October 4, from 6-9 pm, greater New York’s prominent garden and landscape designers, media personalities, authors and garden lovers, will gather for First Bloom of Autumn Benefit and Silent Auction in the museum’s picturesque gardens and on the property’s sprawling lawns. The evening’s festivities will include cocktails, hors d’ouevres, music, and a silent auction featuring a vacation week at Chateau de Rochebonne near La Rochelle, France; a private tour of the Richmond, Virginia gardens at Agecroft Hall and Redesdale; a Society of Four Arts garden tour and lunch in Palm Beach; a flower arranging class at Little Flower School in Brooklyn; and private studio tour with artist Frederick Brosen, who will have a solo exhibition at Hirschl & Adler Modern in 2011.

Suzy Bales, lecturer, television personality, and author of 14 garden books, will be attending the garden party and graciously inscribing copies of her recent book, Garden Bouquets and Beyond, available for purchase at the benefit.


Esther “Faity” Leeming Tuttle,  Photo by Diane Smook

The garden’s longest running devotee, Honorary Chair Esther “Faity” Leeming Tuttle, who celebrated her 99th birthday on July 4, started the Garden & Grounds Committee in 1974 by enlisting a highly credentialed team of professionals to design and maintain it. Faity is a member of the Colonial Dames of America, which to this day still owns and operates the museum.

First Bloom of Autumn Benefit and Silent Auction
Monday, October 4, from 6-9 pm
Ticket prices, beginning at $100, can be purchased by contacting:
Amanda Wheeler (212) 838-6878 ext. 25, or fallfundraiser@mvhm.org.
Tickets will be held at door.

Mount Vernon Hotel Museum and Garden
421 East 61 Street, New York, New York 10065
(212) 838-6878

  • http://www.rooftoplinnaeus.blogspot.com Dimitri Gatanas

    I had the pleasure of displaying a “garden scene” at the hotel for a designer’s showcase event (this First Bloom event probably replaced the designer’s showcase) there around 2003. What a wonderful piece of NYC (and US) history. The garden is beautiful nestled between large high rises.

    I need to sell more mums before the October 4th event!

  • Allison White

    What an amazing depiction of the beautiful sprawling grounds of the Mt Vernon Hotel Museum on the Upper East Side. You’ve painstakenly presented every crucial detail of the beauty and history behind this precous New York Landmark. With summer on the way out, your blog inspires us to envision the possibilities of beautiful gardens along the magical grounds. The First Bloom of Autumn Benefit and Silent Auction will be one event to remember.

  • Ann A. Simmons

    Only wish that I could be there for “First Bloom!” The garden plan was a joy to see, as well as the other pictures of the grounds, and Mrs. Tuttle. We shall enjoy seeing the progress from afar, and wish you good planting weather when you get started.

  • http://hotmail Christine Rother

    As a member of the museum’s Garden and Grounds Committee I am thrilled that the garden restoration project is underway. My late cousin Elsie Barbar Trask was President-General of the Colonial Dames from 1970 to 1974. I believe the first garden restoration project was initiated during her presidency. If she were with us today she would be thrilled with Gina’s designs and this collective effort of a very dedicated group of garden lovers. It was always her hope that the museum’s gardens would one day be restored to reflect a typical 18th century American garden and would become an extension of the museum house, both a source of education and inspiration to future garden lovers.

  • http://www.mvhm.org Mary Anne Caton

    Here at the Mt. Vernon Hotel Museum & Garden, we’re excited about the new plans for our garden renovations. We celebrate Faity Tuttle’s devoted work on our gardens and we look forward to building on her work. Thanks very much for your wonderful story. I hope you’ll come see the project in-progress.

  • http://localecologist.blogspot.com Georgia

    Amazing that this house still exists within the thick of the city!

    Am also happy to learn about a new children nature book — The Tree Book for Kids and Their Grown Ups.

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