In the early 1900's, Helena Rutherfurd Ely (right) wrote three best-selling books encouraging a generation of gardeners to abandon the Victorian practice of planting garish colored annuals in patterns and geometric beds. Instead, she urged her followers toward a more informal and sensual style. What started as a matter of personal taste became a revolutionary movement, and made Mrs. Ely and her garden early stars of American horticulture. The first book, A Woman’s Hardy Garden (1903), was reprinted 16 times and sold over 40,000 copies.
One hundred years later, Mrs. Ely was all but forgotten – even by the Garden Club of America of which she was a founding member.
In 2004, I discovered that some of Mrs. Ely’s gardens at the property named “Meadowburn” still existed and were in the nearby northwest corner of New Jersey. The owners, then, had kept on the head gardener’s elderly son, Albert Furman, Jr., and his nephew Walter DeVries to maintain the gardens as best they could. I was able to interview these men, research the history of the place and write a popular article for The New York Times.
Now, the family that owns Meadowburn is trying to rehabilitate the place and make a successful commercial venture with tourism, events, sales of heirloom plants like the famous Ely Dahlias (right) and the dairy across the road.
My guest, today, is Quill Teal-Sullivan (below, photo Eric Hsu) who has served as the Garden Manager for the past three years. Quill received her B.A. in Biology focused in plant sciences from the Colorado College in 2007, and her M.S. in Public Horticulture from the Longwood Graduate Program at the University of Delaware in 2013. Her M.S. thesis, A Preservation Proposal for the Gardens of Helena Rutherfurd Ely at Meadowburn Farm (2013), presents two years of research on the history and significance of the gardens at Meadowburn, and possible options for their preservation.
Quill takes us on a tour of the parts of the garden site that still exist and what she has discovered and is trying to bring back or maintain.