Groundbreakers: A Journey Through American Garden and Landscape History

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The Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Garden

The Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Garden in Maine

This Saturday is the opening of our summer exhibit, Groundbreakers: Great American Gardens and the Women Who Designed Them, examining the remarkable generation of early-20th century women committed to the beautification of the country. The exhibit will explore the Groundbreakers’ legacy through installations and programs throughout NYBG!

Landscape designers such as Beatrix Farrand, Ellen Shipman, and Marian Coffin joined a growing movement between 1900 and 1930 by breaking into the profession of landscape architecture. The public and private commissions these professional women completed—overcoming many educational and professional barriers in the process—helped shape American garden style. Their work survives thanks in large part to photographers such as Jessie Tarbox Beals, Mattie Edwards Hewitt, and Frances Benjamin Johnston, who were commissioned to document these new gardens and thus propagate the development of emerging designs.

This exhibition provides a sweeping introduction to the grand estates designed and immortalized by these women, as well as a look back into the NYBG’s own history. Beatrix Farrand designed the beloved Peggy Rockefeller Rose Garden, Marian Coffin is responsible for the beautiful Benenson Ornamental Conifers, and the Ladies’ Border was originally the work of Ellen Shipman. In addition to our permanent historical garden installations, the Enid A. Haupt Conservatory has been converted to Mrs. Rockefeller’s Garden, an exquisite evocation of the Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Garden in Maine.

Garden photographer Jessica Tarbox Beals

Garden photographer Jessica Tarbox Beals

Opening weekend will be a blowout worthy of the Jazz Age, and you do not want to miss it! This summer-long exhibit kicks off with vintage-style entertainment such as a film screening of Yours for a Song: The Women of Tin Pan Alley and live music during From Ragtime to Jazz: The Roots of Pop. It all culminates in the Opening Weekend Lecture: Picturing a Beautiful America. Curator Sam Watters will guide the audience through the historical context of Groundbreakers using spectacular colored slides not seen since 1930. The stunning visuals may inspire you to get behind the lens yourself in one of the free Garden Photography Encounters that will continue throughout the exhibit, guiding you through the creation of your own stunning landscape photographs. Kids can also get in on the fun of music and photography with our Family Programs.

The exhibit also includes the Groundbreakers Poetry Walk, so you can enjoy the peak flowering season with the beautiful words of Pulitzer Prize-winner Edna St. Vincent Millay. Further, you will be able to hear these works recited live on May 24th at the Groundbreakers Poetry Reading.

The exhibit includes a tribute to Groundbreaking Women in Science, and in the spirit of honoring women in the arts and sciences, with a botanical twist, May 29th is Weird, Wild Wonderful: An Evening of Women, Art Botany, an entertaining and wide-ranging conversation between best-selling authors Elizabeth Gilbert (Eat, Pray, Love and The Signature of All Things) and Amy Stewart (Wicked Plants and The Drunken Botanist) featuring a booksigning, specialty cocktails, and a private viewing of the Weird, Wild Wonderful botanical art exhibit. Next week also begins our lecture series, Breaking Ground: American Women Landscape Pioneers, which will bring in a series of erudite scholars, writers, and historians to give the full story on the women highlighted in our exhibit, including broader questions related to landscapes past and present.

The Moon Gate in Mrs. Rockefeller's Garden

The Moon Gate in Mrs. Rockefeller’s Garden

The return of balmy summer nights means the return of evenings at the Garden, this time with a glamorous twist at our Jazz Age Garden Parties. Plan to swing the night away to the sounds of Michael Arenella His Dreamland Orchestra! The first evening kicks off June 26, but don’t wait to buy your ticket, as these evenings sell out quickly. MasterCard holders can start the night off with a champagne pre-party at Shop in the Garden each night from 5 to 6 p.m. To learn more, visit

With our initial rundown out of the way, expect plenty of fascinating stories, photos, and more to come out of this long-running exhibition. It’s going to be an amazing summer!

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