Lost among overgrown vegetation and structural ruins, the grounds surrounding White Pines were once home to magnificent gardens that titillated all of the senses in a beautiful and practical way.
Ralph Radcliffe Whitehead cultivated two gardens at White Pines: the main garden which sat in the front of the manor house and the “Far Garden” at the bottom of the hill to the left of the manor house. Unlike the more formal and manicured gardens in vogue at the time, Whitehead was inspired to naturally accentuate the organic and indigenous flora of the Catskills. The Whiteheads and their guests could enjoy the blooming Narcissuses, Crocuses, Lilacs, Tulips, Sunflowers, Gardenias, Nasturtiums, Irises, and especially Lilies as they bloomed throughout the Spring and Summer, and created a sea of vibrant colors around White Pines. Byrdcliffe craftspeople could also take in this garden from a small bench likely made at the Bottega, perched upon a low wall that circumnavigated the grounds, or on a stroll along the central path. Whitehead wanted his artisans to draw inspiration from the natural surroundings and therefore he likely planted these flowers with the idea that the artisans could incorporate the garden’s natural beauty into their work. Indeed, many of the pieces produced by the Byrdcliffe Furniture Shop contained motifs derived from his garden. This made it not only beautiful but also practical. The Lily was an especially important flower for Ralph and Jane Whitehead. It was the basis of the Byrdcliffe seal, which itself symbolized their love affair as well as Byrdcliffe as a physical manifestation of their love for each other and what they deemed “the art of life.” Ralph Radcliffe Whitehead also wanted his garden to be an olfactory delight. He planted Rosemary and Lavender to complement the natural aromas of his flowers to create a fragrant symphony.
A similar composition was achieved in the “Far Garden.” These plots were a mystery to many, including Byrdcliffe experts, until Catherine Callahan uncovered this hidden gem in her recent study of the art colony. The “Far Garden” was reached from the west terrace by a path through the woods that crossed a small stream by way of a bluestone bridge and opened to a series of garden terraces. Here Whitehead planted Irises, Snap Dragons, and Phlox to tantalize the eyes and nose. But there was also a practical gustatory element as it was also home to the kitchen garden for White Pines. There is evidence that Whiteheads had help with these beds as his boys, Peter and Ralph, Jr., helped their father with the plants in an attempt to cultivate the importance of manual labor in his progeny.