cenic Dutchess County, New York is nestled in the Hudson River Valley, 90 minutes from New York City, and is accessible by car, train, bus and air. With its abundance of historic landmarks, restaurants, festivals and great natural beauty, Dutchess County is the ideal place for day trips or longer getaways. It’s 800 square miles of fascinating sites, lively events and breathtaking vistas.
The gift of nature is never far away in Dutchess County — the Hudson River; farms and farm markets; orchards; wineries; multiple-use areas with a variety of woods, fields and ponds; and 30 miles of the Appalachian Trail. These are just a few of the earthly wonders that comprise the idyllic Dutchess County countryside.
An abundance of formal gardens and nature sanctuaries creates a distinct category of environmental attractions ready to explore in Dutchess County. They represent the range of our relationship with nature, from the strictly imposed order of a terraced, ornamental garden to the undisturbed naturalness of a forest preserve.
The Vanderbilt Mansion National Historic Site, http://www.nps.gov/vama, in Hyde Park features the magnificent Beaux-Arts mansion once owned by Frederick W. Vanderbilt, grandson of the “Commodore” Cornelius Vanderbilt, and his wife Louise. A national historic site since 1940, the estate’s grounds include fabulous Italian gardens with fountains, pools, terraces, statues and a formal blending of flowers, trees, shrubs and vines.
Beginning during World War II and extending through the mid-1970s, maintenance of the gardens was curtailed by the federal government. Then in 1974 the National Park Service began a restoration program that has received significant volunteer support. The results are stunning, including a pool garden that blooms with 4,000 perennials and a rose garden with 1,088 hybrid tea roses and numerous climbers. In addition to the gardens, visitors can stroll along bridle trails that wind through nearly 125 acres characterized by gentle hills, venerable trees and inspiring Hudson River views.
Annandale-on-Hudson is home to the 434-acre Montgomery Place, http://hudsonvalley.org/ ; an estate built in 1805 by Janet Livingston Montgomery. Flower gardens, orchards, a waterfall and walking trails surround a commanding 23-room residence, which is currently closed for renovations. Set against a backdrop of Hudson River and Catskill Mountain views, the estate’s grounds were twice remodeled by celebrated architect Alexander Jackson Davis.Innisfree Garden, http://innisfreegarden.org/, in Millbrook was once the private garden of Walter and Marion Beck. In 1960, the Innisfree Foundation, under the stewardship of landscape architect Lester Collins, opened the garden to the public. Innisfree features a 1,000 year-old Chinese-style design in which special objects are highlighted by surrounding enclosures allowing for viewing without distraction. The objects may be an enframed meadow, a lotus pool or a rock covered with lichens and sedums. At Innisfree, visitors stroll from one three-dimensional picture to another. Streams, waterfalls, a lake, terraces, retaining walls, rocks and plants define spaces and create motion or tension. Though Chinese in inspiration, Innisfree is unequivocally American with its glacially formed 40-acre lake, primarily native plants and rocks taken from a nearby forest. Flowers are constantly in bloom, from daffodils in spring to laurels, sweet peas, day lilies and lotus blossoms. The name comes from the opening lines of a William Butler Yeats poem, “I will arise and go now, and go to Innisfree.” Judy Collins also set the poem to music.
Wethersfield House, Gardens and Carriage House http://www.wethersfieldgarden.org/ in Amenia was the former gentleman’s estate of Chauncey Stillman. It includes a Georgian-style brick residence filled with the owner’s collections of arts and antiques. A conservationist and environmentalist, Mr. Stillman took an active interest in land management and gardens. A 10-acre formal garden he created around his home still exists.
The Wethersfield Garden is designed in a classic style dating to 17th-century Italy. The Poughkeepsie Journal noted that the Wethersfield Garden is, “The finest classical garden in the United States built in the second half of the 20th Century, inspired by the gardens of the Italian Renaissance.” It is a garden of landscape architecture with a blending of shades of green as well as formal and natural elements. It also offers colorful flowers, statues and views. The gardens include many unique attributes, including the East Garden’s formal entrance with Belgium blocks recovered from the streets of New York City and a pair of 13th-century recumbent lions. The Arborvitae Arch has a white cedar hedge enhanced by a pair of youthful figures playing pipes. The inner garden’s graceful reflecting pool is bordered by a redstone female figure created by American sculptor John Flannagan.
Several forest preserves and two unique ecosystems in Dutchess County await those who yearn to investigate and educate themselves. Ferncliff Forest in Rhinebeck is a 200-acre refuge with hiking trails, camping, and a 22-station nature walk. Visitors can pick up a guide with explanations of the site’s ecosystems, which include black walnut, white oak, beech, flowering dogwoods, ferns and spicebush as well as wetlands and rock outcroppings.
Beatrix Ferrand, the first woman architect, designed the Garden at Bellefield in Hyde Park. The enclosed formal garden was created in 1912 and is known for its perfectly composed borders of white, pink, blush, cream, gray, mauve, and purple colors.
The Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies, http://www.caryinstitute.org/, in Millbrook is an education center. More than 120 ecologists and staff conduct research and offer programs to promote an understanding and enjoyment of natural history and ecology. Its 1,924 acres offers visitors a range of recreational and learning experiences, including nature trails for hiking and biking; perennial gardens; horticulture, art and ecology displays; a tropical greenhouse with exotic foliage; the Meadow Garden and Fern Glen. They also house an outdoor science center and an ecology discovery pond.Locust Grove, the Samuel Morse Historic Site, http://www.morsehistoricsite.org/ , in Poughkeepsie offers another example of Romantic landscape design with lovely Hudson River vistas. The house, renovated by A.J. Davis as an Italianate villa, is situated on 150 acres with a lovely new Visitor Center. The extensive gardens are comprised of many species of shrubbery, flowers and trees. Although they accurately reflect 19th century formal gardens, research has just been completed to restore the garden to Morse’s original design. A very unusual garden is their Heritage Vegetable Garden. In the 19th century, all households grew as much of their own food as they could to sustain their families. From 1830-1920, Poughkeepsie experienced very heavy migration, and the vegetables newcomers chose to grow in their gardens kept each group of immigrants linked to their culture. Each immigrant group has a part of the garden with vegetables grown from heirloom seed. It is a living display that teaches the history of the area. Groups in the garden are Anglo-Saxon, Chinese, Mediterranean, African-American, Irish and Northern European.
Springside landscape restoration http://springsidelandmark.org/, Poughkeepsie’s first National Historic Landmark, is the site of the summer home of Matthew Vassar, who founded Vassar College in 1861. Andrew Jackson Downing, the father of landscape architecture in the mid-19 th century, designed the 44-acre estate to reflect its prominent owner. It combined the beauty of a landscape garden with the practicality of a working farm. The carriage drives and trees set against the rolling hills and rock outcroppings still evoke the genius of Downing’s style, although the only remaining building is the gatehouse.
For those who appreciate an informal communion with nature, Dutchess boasts fourteen parks, six Multiple Use Areas and seven reserves with hundreds of miles of trails. About 30 miles of the Appalachian Trail can be accessed in southern Dutchess County. It provides a great opportunity to hike a forested part of the 2,000-mile walking path, which extends from Georgia to Maine and is the longest such trail in the world. On weekends & holidays, the Metro-North Harlem Line, http://mta.info/mnr, makes a special stop on Rt. 22, ¼ mile north of Hurd Corners, between the Pawling and Wingdale stations where hikers can disembark and pick up the trail.
The Harlem Valley Rail Trail http://www.hvrt.org/ is a 12-mile paved portion of an old rail line for biking and hiking in the eastern corridor of the county from Amenia to Copake Falls. It links towns, villages and state parks. In Pine Plains, a hike to the 90-foot Stissing Mountain Fire Tower rewards with vistas from Albany to Bear Mountain and into New England.
Also, if you’re looking for some place to take children, the Millbrook Tribute Gardens, Inc. is a garden and children’s playground that is free of charge and handicap accessible.
Most of the gardens are free of admission and offer maps to guide you through the landscape. For specific information on individual garden tours, maps and admission prices, please visit the websites listed above or the garden section of the Dutchess County Tourism website. http://www.dutchesstourism.com
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