Friday, August 17, 2012

A "Monastery" on Long Island


A HOUSE built on lines simple as those of an ancient monastery, surrounded by a garden planned with superb freedom from trivialities and backed by an old grove in which are tall tulip trees and cedars, carved marble seats and pedestals—such is the "house of youth," the home of Mrs. Farquhar Ferguson, Huntington, Long Island. Allen W. Jackson designed this house and Mrs. Ferguson the garden. Nothing in this garden has been done in a hurry, which accounts largely for the rare beauty of the whole place. Some friend suggests a treatment for a gateway, perhaps, or finds a wonderful lantern to hang at the door. The mistress of "The Monastery," as this home is called, says, "Let us wait a year and think about it." This is strict discipline for impatient Americans, yet how superb, how harmonious, how perfect the result! Great things are not made in a day and this house and garden have every right to be called great. The mind that is content to wait, to consider each and every detail in relation to the whole, that does not rush feverishly ahead "to get something done," even though it were not done well, cannot help but surround itself with lasting beauty.

Because there are bay trees in tubs, box borders, tall cedars, iron balconies, pools and narrow stairways, this home has a distinct Italian atmosphere about it. There is no display of flowers running riot over hedges and walls, but much decorative shrubbery and blooming plants in pots and boxes. This again contributes to the romantic Italian feeling so suitable to the monastic dignity of the house. Everything about the place is simple instead of ornate. The vines are large-leaved and grow in flat masses. Creepers embroider the walls in bold patterns. There are not many kinds of things growing, but the few honored with a place in the garden were chosen because of their large leaves, tall lines, or decorative blooms, such as gourd vines, cat-tails, and hydrangeas.

Though the house was built primarily for solid comfort and for the pleasure of a large family of happy children, yet somehow there is a primitive, ecclesiastical air about it, created mainly by the absence of petty unnecessary detail. Every line is direct, every silhouette simple and all wall spaces flat, depending upon sunshine and shadow for ornament. Not a discord mars the harmony, yet the many details that go to make up the whole have been assembled from widely diverse places.

Some of the balconies were brought over from Italy, some were designed by the architect and built in with the house, some were picked up in antique shops; yet all look properly placed and in perfect accord with the spirit of the home. The well-head, colored by age to a rich burnt sienna and orange, is of course from Italy. The lions and griffins also once graced Tuscany gardens, but the slaveheads upon the window-boxes were modeled by an American woman, Caroline Geiger, who has helped in other ways to make this garden beautiful and who made the photographs we are showing with this article. Large windows and narrow balconies overlook the blue waters of the Sound. A cloister walk runs about the inner court. There are rows of arches and columns, flag-stone paths and tiled roofs just as in Italy.
NARROW STAIRWAY LEADING FROM "THE MONASTERY" THROUGH GREAT WROUGHT IRON GATES INTO A TUNNEL AND OUT TO THE HIGHWAY BORDERED WITH CEDAR TREES: NO RIOTOUS PLANTING COULD EQUAL  IN  BEAUTY  THE  BROAD  SIMPLICITY OF THIS WALL.
THE first picture shows a narrow stairway leading from the house, underneath the driveway, through a tunnel with wrought iron gates, out on a highroad bordered with cedar trees, to the water. The house is of concrete, uncolored, and the roof is of red tile with here and there a green one to add quality and interest. There are not many of these green tiles, perhaps only one in a hundred, but enough for an occasional flicker of green among the red, which gives a weathered appearance. Medallions have been set in this wall and a few broad-leaved vines trail over the top.
THE TALL CEDAR WAS TRANSPLANTED TO ITS PRESENT POSITION BY THE IVY-COVERED ARCHWAY: IN THE NICHE OF THE GATE-POST IS A SAINT. HOLDING A LANTERN TO LIGHT THE STRANGER ON HIS WAY.
The second photograph shows what decorative effect has been gained by reserved planting. The tall cedar was transplanted at its full height, just where its dark green line was most needed. Ivy planted in a box swings down to break the upper line of the archway leading to the inner garden. At the gatepost is a niche with a saint within, holding a lantern. Thus by careful forethought garden pictures beautiful in composition, in light and shade and color have been created.
GOURD VINES ARE EXTENSIVELY USED IN "THE MONASTERY" GARDEN BECAUSE THEIR BROAD LEAVES CARRY OUT THE IDEA OF SIMPLICITY STRIVEN FOR: THE TREATMENT OF THIS BALCONY IS  EXCEPTIONALLY FINE.
In the third picture the happy choice of the large-leaved gourd can be fully appreciated. It carries the garden color from the ground up to the balcony, uniting it gracefully. The treatment of the balcony jutting out from the pergola is another noteworthy triumph in composition. The line of the green vines echos again in those trailing down from the upper window. 


INNER COURT OF "THE MONASTERY"  THE HOME OF MRS FARQUHAR FERGUSON, HUNTINGTON, LONG ISLAND: GOLDFISH PLAY BENEATH THE LILY PADS OF THE CIRCULAR POOL.
Another view of the inner court shows the cloister walk and the circular pool with its frame of ivy.
A WATER GARDEN that might be centuries old in Italy, designed by Caroline Geiger, for Mrs. F. Ferguson at Huntington, L.I.
Another pool in Mrs. Ferguson's garden, photographed by  artist Caroline Geiger. This other pool is oblong and at one end is a group of cat-tails. The Egyptian lotus also found a home in this larger pool. The margin of both pools is treated in the same way, that is the concrete was made with an inner and outer rim and the center filled with earth and planted with ivy. In both, the fountain is but a slender jet of water instead of a dashing and splashing one. The thin jet drifting with the wind is always the center of a garden picture and attracts the birds, for they love to fly through its cool mists. In this photograph of the inner court the wonderful decorative charm of flowers in pots placed along the top of the balcony may be observed.

IF TWO distinct arts are represented in these four photographs, that of gardenmaking and that of picturemaking. Good photographs cannot be made in a minute or without thought, any more than a garden can be created in a season and by trusting to chance. There must be purpose in every bit of work done in gardenmaking and there must be quick appreciation of beauty and a patient waiting for the right opportunity to take it. Miss Geiger's photographs are not the result of chance or happy accident. She has spent many hours in this garden and knows well whether the strong noonday sun with its emphasis of deep shadows and high lights, or whether the soft harmonies of evening, produce the more perfect composition. The seasons also influence her choice of subjects. In the lacy fretwork of winter trees perchance she finds a more perfect picture than when the trees are in full summer garments. Miss Geiger like Mrs. Ferguson knows how to wait for just the right moment, how to catch the inspiration and develop it, in secret, until a perfect result is obtained.

Some gardens, though beautiful to look at, lose much of their beauty when under the searching lens of a camera; others, even small ones, compose naturally into wonderful lines. This "Monastery" garden seems to be built for picture making, so perfectly do its broad spaces, its masses of light and dark, lend themselves to an artist's desire. In these pictures also we note the beauty of photographic simplicity. If every leaf had been so focused upon that every vein was brought into prominence, the picture quality would be entirely lacking. These photographs catch the spirit as well as the facts of the garden, give us the ideal quality as well as the matterof-fact reality. They show us the home and garden as it would linger in memory, some details vague, others stamped indelibly upon the mind. Fact and fancy are balanced to perfection, a union reached only by an artist who creates as well as preserves beauty.

Click HERE to see the gatehouse from "The Monastery" at wikimapia(house demolished). You must visit Fergugson's Castle Reborn! Incomparable in scope, colorized versions of above photos and more, 3D models of castle, links to read chapters from Fergugson's Castle: A Dream Remembered by Robert King.

2 comments:

  1. Glad to see a well written ode to this one of a kind masterpiece.

    IrvR

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  2. I visited this incredible place right before the demolition took place. My family didn't go on many weekend outings when I was growing up, so the impromptu visit to the mansion remains a special memory for me. I was 17 years old. The dining hall, immensely high ceilings, all remain in my memory. I remember the path that led down to Oyster Bay where I stood there for a long while, wondering about the past and future of this place. That was 46 years ago..

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