The Architectural Garden: Challenges of Preserving Formal Structures in the Landscape

Panel Discussion
Part of the 115th anniversary celebration of Blithewood Garden at Bard College, Annandale-on-Hudson, NY, on September 22, 2018

For some, the word “garden” brings to mind flowers and ornamental trees and shrubs.  However, many of the world’s most famous gardens are defined more by their structures and other built elements than by their plantings. Gardens where the design emphasizes structural elements face special challenges as they age. The test of time, variations in climate, and new standards for public safety all affect how the “architectural garden” is preserved and maintained for future generations.  

This panel discussion presented different perspectives on the challenges of preserving three different structural gardens.

Watch the discussion on video:

Part 1: Opening remarks by Leon Botstein, president of Bard College, and James Brayton Hall, president and CEO of the Garden Conservancy
 (17:17 minutes)

Part 2: Presentation by Judith Tankard, author and garden historian (19:20 minutes)

Part 3: Presentation by Stephen Byrns, president of Untermyer Gardens Conservancy, Yonkers, NY (22:35 minutes)

Part 4:  Presentation by Sarah Vance, director of the Blue Garden, Newport, RI (13:13 minutes)

Part 5: Panel discussion and Q&A session (18:56 minutes)

The program was presented by the Friends of Blithewood Garden, the Garden Conservancy, and Bard College, with support from the Hudson River Valley Greenway.


Judith B. Tankard is an art historian specializing in landscape history. She received an MA in Art History from the Institute of Fine Arts, New York University, and taught history at the Landscape Institute of Harvard University for more than 20 years. She is the award-winning author or coauthor of ten illustrated books on landscape history, including her newest title, Ellen Shipman and the American Garden (2018). She was formerly a vice-president of the Beatrix Farrand Society and serves as an advisor for several preservation organizations. 

Sarah Vance is the Director of the Blue Garden in Newport, Rhode Island, prior to which she was a Senior Associate at Reed Hilderbrand Landscape Architecture. At Reed Hilderbrand, she worked on the rehabilitation plan for the Olmsted-designed Blue Garden, analyzing the original drawings and developing planting plans. Sarah received a Master in Landscape Architecture degree with Distinction from the Harvard University Graduate School of Design. She edited the book The Blue Garden, Recapturing an Iconic Newport Landscape by Arleyn Levee. 

Stephen F. Byrns is the founder and president of the Untermyer Gardens Conservancy. A graduate of Princeton and Columbia universities, Byrns is a founding partner of BKSK Architects. He served as a commissioner of the NYC Landmarks Preservation Commission from 2004-10 and on the board of Wave Hill from 2000-10. Since its founding in 2011, the Untermyer Gardens Conservancy has initiated numerous critical restoration projects and currently supports a staff of seven horticulturists. Today, the gardens are once again a showplace and are attracting people from near and far.


James Brayton Hall is the president and CEO of the Garden Conservancy, a national organization headquartered in Garrison, NY. Previously, he was deputy director of the Norton Museum of Art in West Palm Beach, Florida. From 2010 to 2013, he was executive director of the Providence Preservation Society in Rhode Island and served as assistant director of the Museum of Art, Rhode Island School of Design (RISD) from 2006 to 2010. James has a bachelor’s degree in architecture from the University of Virginia and a master’s in landscape architecture from RISD.

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