Mansions of Newport, RI

We spent Memorial Day in Newport, RI, for a family wedding. Airline scheduling and fare structures being what they were, we ended up having a four-day weekend there, so we did a bit of touring around. Newport is known for its mansions, having been one of the summer playgrounds of the very rich in the 19th century. So we went on a few mansion tours (and the wedding was held in another mansion).

This is a place called "Green Animals." It was easily our favourite home, in no small part because of the casualness. It's considerably smaller and more like a real home than most of the mansions, and many of the details inside reminded us of the Casa. (No photos were allowed in the house, alas.)

Green Animals

Also, because of the awesome topiary animals in the garden:


Topiary is a pain in the butt to maintain, because there's a lot of pruning and then it spends about eighty percent of its life looking ragged, anyway, and then a branch dies and your bear has only one arm. I don't count fake topiary made by growing vines over a wire cage as actual topiary.

More topiary

I told my mother about Green Animals and she gave me a look until I promised her I had no intention of adding topiary to our garden. Though come to think of it, a great big topiary bear would work very nicely behind the rose hedge out front.

Some other notes from the garden: I was enjoying the time-travel of going to a climate that is a few months behind us. These poppies are just in bud now, and of course I got a second lilac season, and the roses are just in bud whereas mine are almost past their big flush of bloom.

Poppy buds

I did like this pond at Green Animals: it's a bit larger than the pond I want to build in the back, and considerably shallower, but seeing it helped me understand my own pond design a bit better. The way the stone edging meets the water is something I've been thinking about, and this way is definitely not how I want to do it -- too rustic.


Here's the inside of the pond. The rubbly bottom was giving the fish a lot of interesting stuff to do.

Pond up close

One thing I was paying a lot of attention to this time was pathways. Our paths are currently battered sand, but that's not how I want them to be forever, so I've been observing pathways elsewhere for ideas.

Here's a path made of wood chips with a pair of trimmed boxwood hedges as edging. Seems like a lot of work to maintain for a very casual looking path.

Wood chips between boxwood

This gravel walk with boxwood was more formal and worked better as a composition. Not that I want a pathway anywhere near that formal in our garden, but it's interesting to see how just changing a material makes a big difference.

Gravel and boxwood

Most of the gravel paths are edged with steel, which makes for a nice neat edge, especially against lawn.

Gravel with steel edging

You can see how the edging makes the gravel path very clean and graphical against the lawn. I've looked for steel (or other metal) edging, but it's one of those things you have to special order around here.

Formal pathway

And on the other end of the spectrum, this is Rosecliff, which we chose to visit on the recommendation of the hairdresser who gave me a trim the day after we got into town. Rosecliff was designed by McKim, Mead, and White, the architects who are also known for having designed the old Penn Station in New York.


If I had that much space, you can be certain I would not just have a plain lawn on it.

Lawn at Rosecliff

I did like this weird little touch in the lawn, though: a birdbath with squirrels on it. I think the dogs would enjoy such a birdbath.

Squirrel birdbath

As you can tell by the fact that this post comes days after we got back, we're a bit busy right now with non-house things. But the nail gun arrived the day before we left, and we're ready to get down to business on several projects.

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posted by ayse on 05/29/08


Awesome photos! Got a kick out of the bird bath!

Great pics! Thanks! MaryO

That's a fun birdbath! Did you see the Alameda topiary I posted a while back? (Here.) It's on San Antonio Avenue, just west of Park Street on the south side of the street.

I used to not like gravel as a gardening and landscaping material, but now I think it can really look great if used right. Check out my friend Karen's place in Vallejo:

They've completely transformed their yard with it.

I've seen the topiary but not your post about it (September was kind of busy, I guess). It's a fake, though. Just vines grown over an armature. Real topiary is a shrub groomed into shape and is much more complicated to maintain.

As for gravel in the landscape, I'm not a big fan of gravel yards or planting beds mulched with gravel (they look stupid and I spend enough time picking rocks out of my soil as it is), but on a pathway, with good edging, it can look very clean. Lots of upkeep with dogs, though, because they tend to splash the gravel around into nearby grass or plantings.

That's a cute birdbath. I have never had a concrete birdbath with movable top since the top of one fell off in my yard when a kitten reached up to drink out of it. I always warn people about these now when I see one. Sad details omitted.

Yikes, Karen. How horrible. Although I think the birdbath in question is bolted in place or otherwise secured; there were children leaning on it minutes before I took the photo, and it stayed put.

Note: We're getting pummeled with spam comments, so I've turned off the ability to use any HTML or include any links for the time being. Email with any issues.

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