This Modernist garden is the only one of its era in the United States. Created right after World War II, the design by Christopher Tunnard still survives today, perhaps the only existing commissioned landscape design by the man who influenced many of our most celebrated postwar architects and landscape architects. At only 65' x 42', the garden has an extreme austerity in design with a hint of luxury in its fountains, thick hedges and sculpture. The plants are cut and trimmed into an ordained shape, and the pattern is designed to be seen from the ground, where its curves interlock and turn back on themselves. Only two kinds of trees are used - lime (Tilia) and arbor vitae (Thuja); and three kinds of permanent plants - ivy (Hedera), box (Buxus) and yew (Taxus). The lime trees will eventually be pleached into an architectural block to throw the ground pattern into even greater contrast. The ivy is in slightly raised mounds, edged in places with small summer flowers. The bedding plants are purple and white petunias with carnations and lemon-yellow thunbergias." The sculpture, 'Chimerical Font,' by Jean Arp, is golden bronze centered on a plinth in a black lacquered rectangular pool. The other pools (two circular, one biomorphic) are shallow and painted white. Of note are the unusual shapes of the pruned boxwoods in the shapes of question marks and semi-colons; the colorful flowers; and the 6th linden along the left and end wall, now covered in Boston ivy, and originally painted white to complete a design that very much relied on strong figure-ground relationship.
Christopher Tunnard (1910-1979) was born in Canada, moved to England in 1929 and received a diploma from the Royal Horticultural Society the following year. Experiencing the period of the eclectic Arts and Crafts movement (which he characterized as "romantic trivialization" of garden design) prompted him to introduce his Modernist views of landscape design. This approach avoided decoration, sentimentality and classical allusion "in favor of functional minimalist designs that provided a friendly and hospitable milieu for rest and recreation." After 10 years practicing garden and landscape work, he immigrated to America at the invitation of Walter Gropius to teach at Harvard's Graduate School of Design (1938-1943). Following the War, Tunnard taught city planning at Yale, advancing to professor and chairman of this department; he did little garden design from that point forward, making the Warrens' garden of 1949 probably one of his last commissions. For the final thirty years of his life, Tunnard put his energies into urban planning and the preservation of historic buildings; his publications in this area include "Man-made America: Chaos or Control?" (1963) which won the 1964 National Book Award in Science, Philosophy and Religion. It is perhaps ironic that Christopher Tunnard ended up of very much the same sentiment as his American patron, Mrs. George W. (Katherine) Warren, founder of the Preservation Society of Newport County (1945). In "Pioneers of American Landscape Design," (2000), Lance Neckar notes that "by the time of his death, he had come full circle to be identified with conservation-and-preservation-oriented attributes toward city revitalization which were antithetical to the Modern movement" that Tunnard had originally espoused.
Tunnard's patrons, George and Katherine Warren, who purchased the property on Mill Street in 1933, chose a part of Newport that was then considered "the other side of the tracks" by their social set, most of whom resided out on Ocean Drive. In New York, where the couple lived "off season," Katherine Warren collected modern art and was on the Advisory Committee of the Museum of Modern Art. Interesting to note that the garden was commissioned in 1949 and distinguished by its functional, minimalist modern design in sharp contrast with its early Federal-style house. The Warrens also added two glass-enclosed rooms on the first and second floors of their home on the garden side, presumably to enjoy this new garden to its full extent. Mrs. Warren died in 1976, bequeathing her home to the Preservation Society of Newport County, which moved its offices to this location in 1977. While the Preservation Society of Newport County owned the property, the garden was heavily shaded by a large beech tree and had become overgrown. It was maintained as they found it without major renovation. The current owner moved into the Mill Street house in 1994 and restored the Tunnard garden in 2001 and has proven to be a conscientious caretaker of this rare, nationally significant Christopher Tunnard garden.
Persons associated with the garden include Tanner Family (former owners, 1776-1807); Samuel F. Gardner (former owner, 1807-1809); Robert Lawton (former owner, 1809-1810); Penelope Lawton (former owner, 1810-1822); Reverend Samuel Austin (former owner, 1822-1826); Francis Henderson (former owner, 1826-1857); Fanny S. Brinley (former owner, 1857-1863); Sallie C. Lawrence (former owner, 1863-1886); Allen G. Paul (former owner, 1886-1916); Florence S. Paul (former owner, 1916-1932); George and Katherine Warren (former owners, 1932-1977); Preservation Society of Newport County (former owner, 1977-1994); Christopher Tunnard (landscape designer, 1949); Eusebio Pleitez (gardener, 2001- ).
The folder includes worksheets, site plans, photocopies of articles and historic images.
Access to original images by appointment only. Researcher must submit request for appointment in writing. Certain items may be restricted and not available to researchers. Please direct reference inquiries to the Archives of American Gardens: firstname.lastname@example.org