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Flowers Bring Historic Preservation to Life: Betsy Gibson Design for Carrère and Hastings and the Olmsted Brothers Firm

Wow!! It has been a very busy few weeks! Now that things have settled down a tiny bit, I am thrilled to report that we had a terrific turnout for Mass Hort’s Second Annual Garden Party (about which I wrote in my last post).  A crowd of close to 300 enjoyed wonderful food and music and were also fortunate to have had Kathleen Fahey, Curator of the Wellesley Historical Society, speak about the history of the Cheney-Baltzell Manor House, a Carrère and Hastings design, and about the Olmsted Brothers’ incredible Italianate Garden.

End of the Party…and still quite the crowd!

As for me, it was an honor and a tremendous privilege to have created all of the floral arrangements for the party–not only for the interior of the beautiful Carrère and Hastings designed Manor House that sits so elegantly on the property at Elm Bank, but also for each and every one of the garden tables in the Olmsted Brothers’ designed  Italianate Garden. For someone who loves historic houses, classical architecture and bespoke gardens, designing and executing over 30 arrangements for this event was exhilarating, challenging (in a good way!) and more fun than “work” should ever be. In the end, I calculated that I had created the indoor and outdoor arrangements from over 70 different kinds of flowers, plants and trees, most of which were taken from the gardens on the property–plus the wonderful daisies that we found on top of a compost pile, of course. I don’t think I’ve ever worked with so many different kinds of flowers at one time, but it was so much fun, and I’d gladly do it again. (And never fear, the compost pile was only an hour or two old and contained nothing but flowers and weeds that were getting ready to make their way over to the *real* compost pile!)

Tabletop arrangement in the Ballroom. ©Betsy Gibson Design

Almost two weeks after the fact, I am still enjoying the thrill of having created the floral arrangements that brought life and joy back to the Manor House, even if only for one night. I hope that Alice and William (and, of course, Carrère and Hastings and the Olmsted Brothers) would have approved. I like to think that they would have. After all, it is so important to preserve our past that we should all do whatever we can to take care of the glorious treasures left to us. But in addition to all of that, if we get involved with the work necessary to preserve the beauty created by others in the past, we

Centerpiece of Roses and Pittosporum. ©Betsy Gibson Design

Detail of large arrangement for side table. ©Betsy Gibson Design

may also find that we make new friends. An added bonus to helping to preserve our rich cultural heritage. I made several new friends with whom I really enjoyed working, and I’m thrilled that we share so many common interests–in flowers, gardens, architecture and historic preservation. You know who you are, ladies! I had a great time with all of you.

Small tabletop arrangement. ©Betsy Gibson Design

**I’d also like to take some time to thank two ladies in particular for their “over and above” help:                                                                                           Penni: On what was perhaps the hottest day of the summer to date, and in a workroom with no air conditioning, Penni helped me with the arrangements that had been added at the last minute and kept me company with her good humor, excellent advice and numerous attempts to teach me that what I have always viewed as “Thistle” is, in fact, not Thistle. It’s something else, but I’ve already forgotten what. Thank you, Penni!                                                               Hannah: As the Senior Horticulturalist at Elm Bank, Hannah is incredibly knowledgeable, extremely funny and immensely patient. She showed me around all of the gardens one day, answering all of my questions and backtracking several times when I decided that I should probably look at an area again…and then one more time. Can you imagine? She then graciously allowed me to sit in the golf cart the next day while she did all of the cutting of the plants and flowers I had chosen for my arrangements. But there’s more! In an admission that gave her SuperHero status in my eyes, I learned that she is not plagued with the same horrible phobia of ticks that seems to consume me once the weather starts to warm up here in New England. Her bravery in walking right into high grasses and through the depths of several plantings to get just the right cutting for me was astounding. Thank you, Hannah.  And thank you also for all of the additional buckets of gorgeous flowers that you brought to the workroom so that Penni and I could finish up with those extra table arrangements. You are a Horticultural Rock Star!

If you can’t tell, I had a ball working on this wonderful party for Mass Hort, and I think you should join us next year to see what all the fuss has been about! But you should be sure to get your tickets early, because we reached capacity fairly soon after offering the tickets for sale. In fact, maybe you should get them now directly from Mass Hort…just to be safe. We’ve already set next year’s date!!


Desktop design. ©Betsy Gibson Design