The Garden Conservancy is offering another peek at Anne Bass’ famous Fort Worth garden. To mark its 25th anniversary, the Conservancy has published Outstanding American Gardens: A Celebration: 25 Years of the Garden Conservancy, and photos of Bass’ garden are included.
The Conservancy was founded in 1989 and, in 1995, it began hosting Open Days, in which many private gardens in multiple cities open their gates to the public. Bass participated the first year Fort Worth had an Open Days, in 2005. Since then, her Westover Hills fortress has remained exactly that, an impenetrable haven.
So, for anyone who missed the 2005 event, here are photos of her architecturally significant house designed by Paul Rudolph and her absolutely splendid garden designed by Russell Page.
Rudolph was a champion of brutalist architecture, a style popularized in the mid-1900s, that was massively heavy, futuristic and decidedly masculine. Bass’ house is the only brutalist structure by Rudolph that is gracefully sublime.
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The term “brutalism” is rather flabby, as the parameters of what is and what is not brutalist aren’t distinct. But the buildings that fall in the undisputed middle ground are usually geometric behemoths of concrete and glass. Detractors say they are cold and hideous. Supporters find their machinelike solidity an important facet of the modernist canon.
While Bass’ house is an anomaly in architecture circles, her garden is a parklike gem with a reflecting pool at the end of a perfect lawn bordered by pleached oak trees. Sculpting oaks into a colonnade of nutcrackerlike proportions seems a cruel thing to do to a tree that would naturally spread its branches like a Victorian hoop skirt, far and wide, but it is a construction that mimics the forced geometry of the house.
The lawn and reflecting pool with the large sculpture The River by Aristide Maillol, a recumbent nude who seems to be roiling in an invisible watercourse, is a sharp contrast to the rose garden on the other side of the oak allée.
The rose garden is on a lower level, as the lot is steeply sloped. Here, nature seems barely tamed, as this mature garden looks ready to burst from its boxwood borders. A wisteria-covered pergola that is attached to the greenhouse, also designed by Rudolph, is doing its best to soften the hard-edged geometry of the structure.
A few of the private gardens that have been on the Open Days tour will become wards of the Conservancy.
It was after visiting a spectacular garden in California that Frank Cabot got the idea for the Conservancy, to preserve some of America’s most spectacular gardens. Often they are only in existence for the duration of the gardener. Many of them can’t become public gardens, either because of location or because of the needs of the heirs. When a property is in a position to accommodate the public, which requires a great deal of access and retrofitting to be a public space, the Conservancy will try and facilitate the transformation.
The money raised by the Open Days program helps fund the gardens that the Conservancy maintains, and membership to the Conservancy furthers that mission. Since the Open Days program began, more than 1 million visitors have been welcomed into the private gardens of almost 3,500 homes.
The dates and cities that will be hosting Open Days for 2016 have not been chosen. Dates are always in flux, depending on the climate of the area and the length of the winter weather. The Conservancy will be announcing the locations in the coming months on its website, www.opendaysprogram.org.
Outstanding American Gardens:
A Celebration: 25 Years of the Garden Conservancy
Edited by Page Dickey; photographs
by Marion Brenner
Stewart, Tabori & Chang, $50