Documentation Program

The Suzanne and Frederic Rheinstein Garden Documentation Program at the Garden Conservancy seeks to capture and to share the essence of something that is largely experiential—the beauty and stories of a garden. This presents unique challenges and requires an innovative and layered approach to create a multi-dimensional portrait of a garden, a living work of art. Our documentation program uses words and pictures, letters and notebooks, drawings and plant lists, along with stories, sounds, and experiences that have inspired garden creators. 

To document these gardens, The Garden Conservancy researches and collects a wide variety of materials, interviews individuals who play key roles in the evolution of each garden, and engages professional archivists, filmmakers, photographers, and others to assist in crafting as complete a story as possible.

Louise Wrinkle's Southern Woodland Garden

The documentation of Louise Wrinkle’s southern woodland garden in Mountain Brook, Alabama presents a distinct opportunity to explore the nexus of preservation and conservation. This is also the Garden Conservancy's first opportunity to interview the creator of the garden we are documenting.

Wrinkle was a founding member and board member of the Garden Conservancy and a distinguished member of the Garden Club of America for over 40 years. Her approach to garden design and plant care and penchant for communicating with wide-ranging audiences has contributed to an increase in appreciation of native landscaping practices across the country. Wrinkle’s self-published book Listen to the Land: Creating a Southern Woodland Garden chronicles the evolution of her garden practices and philosophy at her family home and garden. 

To illustrate the significance of Wrinkle’s design philosophy, the Conservancy’s documentation of this garden includes interviews with Wrinkle herself as well as Steve Bender, the “Grumpy Gardener” and contributor to Southern Living Magazine; Alice Bowsher, author and architectural historian; Norman Johnson, landscape architect; Steele Marcoux, Editor-in-Chief, VERANDA Magazine; Starr Ockenga, author and photographer; Margot Shaw, Founder & Editor-in-Chief, Flower Magazine; Katherine Shepherd, President, Little Garden Club of Birmingham; Fred Spicer, Executive Vice President and Director, Chicago Botanic Garden; Tom Underwood, Executive Director, Birmingham Botanical Gardens; Marjorie White, author and Birmingham-area historian.

Anne Spencer House and Garden Museum

It is rare for a historic house and garden to survive intact together. The Anne Spencer House & Garden Museum is an exception. The documentation of Anne Spencer’s House & Garden highlights the garden’s significance to our history and chronicles its evolution from a home and gathering space to a nationally important cultural landscape.

Anne Spencer was a Harlem Renaissance poet, a teacher, a librarian, and a civil rights advocate who established the Lynchburg, VA chapter of the NAACP. Her garden was her sanctuary. It was where she wrote, and it inspired much of her poetry.

Spencer’s home and garden were a gathering place for luminaries like Langston Hughes, George Washington Carver, Thurgood Marshall, and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Her garden still has a sculpture gifted to her by W.E.B. DuBois. The home and garden are listed on the National Register of Historic Places and the Virginia Landmarks Register.

Our interviews with notable people include Shaun Spencer-Hester, Curator of the Anne Spencer House & Garden Museum and granddaughter of Anne Spencer; Krystal Appiah, Curator, Albert and Shirley Small Special Collections Library, University of Virginia; Jane Baber White, garden designer and lead designer of the 1984 restoration; Peggy Cornett, Curator of Plants at Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello; Brent Leggs, Executive Director of the African American Cultural Heritage Action Fund and Senior Vice President of the National Trust for Historic Preservation; Dr. Noelle Morrisette, author of Anne Spencer Between Worlds and Program Director of African American and African Diaspora Studies, the University of North Carolina Greensboro; Dr. Rueben Rainey, Co-Founder, University of Virginia School of Architecture’s Center for Design and Health and co-author of Half my World: The Garden of Anne Spencer, a History and Guide; Molly Schwartzburg, Philip Hofer Curator, Printing and Graphic Arts at Houghton Library, Harvard University; Dr. Treney Tweedy, former Mayor of Lynchburg, VA; and Kevin Young, the Andrew W. Mellon Director of the Smithsonian's National Museum of African American History and Culture.  

Blithewood Garden

The rehabilitation of Blithewood Garden is a collaborative effort between Bard College and the Garden Conservancy. The project aims to restore the garden's failing architectural features and tell stories about its national significance to ensure that this piece of living history continues to connect generations over time. 

An extraordinary early twentieth-century treasure, Blithewood Garden is an Italianate garden designed by Francis L.V. Hoppin in 1903. Located at Bard College in Annandale-on-Hudson, Blithewood sits in the heart of the Hudson River National Historic Landmark District, stunningly framed by the Catskill Mountains and Hudson River. Francis L.V. Hoppin (1867-1941) was commissioned to re-envision Blithewood in the highly architectural style of the Gilded Era. It was one of the first estates to incorporate the design of the landscape with the main house and is a nationally significant example of a Beaux-Arts estate, representing an important milestone in American landscape design.

Free and open to the public, Blithewood welcomes over 10,000 visitors annually, where they are treated to the same views that inspired the painters of the Hudson River School.

The Garden at Rocky Hills

Rocky Hills (above) embodies the creativity and extraordinary talent of the late innovative interior design executive Henriette Granville Suhr. Henriette and her husband, renowned art conservator William Suhr, began planting in the mid-1950s and created a layered garden, sensitive to the land’s history and terrain, filling it with flowering rhododendrons and azaleas, tree peonies, woodland plantings and meadows, and massings of spring-blooming bulbs. Located in Mount Kisco, NY, the garden shares an idealized version of the natural world. The garden is now in the care of the its new owners, Barbara and Rick Romeo, and is protected by a conservation easement that is held by the Westchester Land Trust.

Rocky Hills was masterfully created over half a century. Documentation of Rocky Hills has been made possible, in part, by support from Don and Fran Herdrick, long-time advocates of Henriette Suhr's garden. 

John P. Humes Japanese Stroll Garden

The first garden selected for our Garden Documentation Program was the John P. Humes Japanese Stroll Garden, in Mill Neck, NY. Indeed, this was the garden that inspired the launch of the program. Created for Ambassador John Humes and designed by Douglas DeFaya, the garden is a seamless integration of Japanese landscape design with the woodland terrain of Long Island’s North Shore. The finished film "garden portrait" describing the John P. Humes Japanese Stroll Garden can be viewed above.

We are supplementing the master garden portrait with shorter, thematic film clips on specific topics. The three short films below focus on the symbolism of bamboo deriving strength from its flexibility, on the role of the Humes Garden in its larger environment, and the spirituality embodied in the stones and design of the garden.



In 2018, the Garden Conservancy interviewed Belgian landscape designer Francois Goffinet about one of his earliest commissions: the restoration of the John P. Humes Japanese Stroll Garden in Mill Neck, NY, in the late 1970s and early 1980s. Listen to a short clip from the interview:

Our work to document gardens is ongoing. We continue to interpret materials, curate the collection, interview key people, design digital presentations, and develop ways to provide easy and engaging online access. Many materials are being compiled and will be added online.

The cover story of the December 2018 issue of Garden Conservancy News provides an overview of the documentation program. 

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Why document gardens?

Listen to a short film clip with Suzanne Rheinstein explaining why she founded the Garden Documentation Program.

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Rocky Hills Magnolia Collection

Click here to view a news brief excerpted from the December 2018 issue of the Garden Conservancy News.

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A Rainbow Every Day

Click here to view a news brief excerpted from the December 2018 issue of the Garden Conservancy News.

A special thanks to Garden Conservancy board member Suzanne Rheinstein   for her vision of a program to capture and celebrate the spirit of a garden online—and for her generous donation to support its launch. Read about the Suzanne and Frederic Rheinstein Fund for Garden Documentation.

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Documenting the Chase Garden

Click here to read a few highlights from the Chase Garden archives, shown above being sorted and organized by archivist Chloe Kadel