February 23, 2017
Beautiful Gardens From The Gilded Age Revived
By Katherine Roth
The period Mark Twain dubbed ``the Gilded Age'' was one of extreme wealth and ostentation, of robber barons amassing great fortunes, of glaring chasms between rich and poor. It was also a time when some of the nation's grandest gardens were constructed.
``These were incredibly competitive, extravagantly wealthy people with tremendous pride in America.
Untermeyer Gardens in Yonkers, NY
They wanted the country to be viewed as cultured and grand, and their hope was to create gardens that equaled, and ideally surpassed, the great gardens of Europe,'' says Todd A. Forrest, vice president of horticulture and living collections at the New York Botanical Garden, founded in 1891.
The Gilded Age lasted from the 1860s and `70s to just after the turn of the century. Some of the gardens were meant to be exquisite private gems, while others, such as the New York Botanical Garden, were intended to edify, inspire and uplift the public.
A handful of new and recent books pay tribute to their enduring importance.
Because of the high cost of maintaining ambitious Gilded Age gardens, many have long since vanished. Others, however, such as the New York Botanical Garden in the Bronx, have been diligently preserved, evolving over time, as recounted in ``The New York Botanical Garden,'' edited by Forrest and Gregory Long (Abrams, 2016),
Dozens more Gilded Age gardens languished but have been restored and opened to the public in recent decades.
Biltmore Gardens in Asheville, NC
``Rescuing Eden,'' by Caroline Seebohm and Curtice Taylor (The Monacelli Press, 2015), and ``The Shelburne Farms,'' by Glenn Suokko (Rizzoli, March 2017), tell of heroic efforts by communities and conservancies to resurrect great gardens that had fallen into ruin in the mid-20th century, usually for lack of funding and attention.
``For ages, Americans didn't think much about the glorious gardens of this era, and people are suddenly seeing that there are these stunningly beautiful places across the country, and that many had gone neglected,'' Seebohm said. Her book features Gilded Age gardens across the country, including in Georgia, New Hampshire, California, Kentucky, Maine, New Jersey, Texas and South Carolina.
``The brilliant thing is that every single one of these gardens has been resurrected and is now open to the public,'' she says.
``The Rockefeller Family Gardens,'' (The Monacelli Press, April 2017) by the New York Botanical Garden's Forrest and Larry Lederman, is a multi-generational story that to some extent traces the changing ideals of American gardens.
And Sam Watters' ``Gardens for a Beautiful America'' (Acanthus Press, 2012) features meticulously identified photos of some of the most opulent gardens of the time.
One inspiring story of a garden's rise, fall and rebirth is that of the little-known Untermyer Gardens in Yonkers, New York, featured in ``Rescuing Eden.''
``It had really fallen into total ruin and was pretty bleak for decades, but the garden, which was one of the truly great gardens of the Gilded Age, is now in the full flowering of its second life, largely thanks to a fellow named Stephen Byrnes,'' Seebohm explains.
Peggy Rockefeller’s Rose Garden in Bronx, NY
Byrnes, who stumbled upon ruins in what remained of the garden in the 1980s, became founder and president of the Untermyer Gardens Conservancy.
In its heyday, the garden, where Isadora Duncan once danced and parties and poetry readings were held, sprawled over 150 acres with a view of the Hudson River Valley. It was part of a lavish estate belonging to Samuel Untermyer, a New York lawyer who opened it to the public weekly for 25 years and intended it to remain open for posterity.
``The piece de resistance of the garden was a walled garden with crisscrossing canals,'' Seebohm says.
``But sometimes people don't think their endowments through very carefully, and when Untermyer died, he left it to the town of Yonkers, which didn't have the means to maintain it,'' says adds.
Thanks largely to Byrnes and the conservancy, the garden is now a Yonkers city park. It once again features its stunning Walled Garden, inspired by those of Indo-Persian antiquity, with reflecting pools teeming with exotic water lilies. The mosaic floors of the loggia are once again intact. And a long outdoor staircase punctuated by Roman-style columns offers dramatic, unobstructed views of the Hudson, just as it did in the Gilded Age.
Dad Creates The Kindness Challenge After Son’s Death
Holmdel, NJ (AP) - A New Jersey father mourning the suicide of his son figured a few dozen family friends might join the page he launched on Facebook, his attempt to share stories of kindness and to urge people to do good deeds without expecting anything in return.
Less than a month later, Dennis Vassallo's ``The Kindness Challenge'' page has more than 44,000 followers. Dozens of posts each day share stories of kindness, including heartwarming photos, words of thanks to doctors from cancer patients, and motivational messages.
The page has become an oasis amid all the division, rancor and anger online, a big virtual hug.
``Never in a million years would I have expected such a response, but it seems to have people thinking about what we were all taught as kids: to be good to people and help them,'' said Vassallo, of Holmdel.
Vassallo created the page to honor what he called his late son Dylan's selflessness and volunteering for charitable causes. Group members have taken his efforts to heart, saying it has inspired them to give more of their time to helping others. Among them:
• A woman who has started, with her children, to paint happy designs or kind sayings on rocks they find. They then leave the rocks around their town for others to find, hoping it will make them smile and spread the love.
• A woman who was inspired by messages about compassion to comfort a crying teenage driver who had been involved in a fender-bender.
• An older man who had tried to pay some teens for doing some yard work he could no longer handle. They refused, saying they just wanted to help him. After seeing a few postings about people making charitable donations, he realized he could do the same with the money he was going to give the teens.
Dylan was an altar boy at St. Benedict's Catholic Church of Holmdel and volunteered at organizations including Students Helping Honduras, where participants help build schools, homes and other projects. He served at a local food pantry, a school for special needs students and many groups related to his school. He also was a military buff who was applying to the Naval Academy.
He was 17 when he killed himself in August 2015.
Vassallo notes on the page that its sole purpose is ``to share kindness only. Free of charge.'' Members cannot use it as a political soapbox or try to sell anything, offer services or promote charities. The page is monitored for ``trolling,'' and members are encouraged to report any problematic posts.
``The Kindness Challenge offers a haven of positive space for remembering the best of human nature,'' said Krystine Batcho, a psychology professor at Le Moyne College in Syracuse, New York. ``We hope that engaging in these acts of kindness can be one small step in energizing a revival of the type of world we want to live in.''
Group members say the page provides a refuge from the seemingly never-ending wave of negative political commentary online and other vitriol while reminding them to focus on life's truly important matters.
``It is such a paradigm shift from all of the dreary political rhetoric and scary news stories,'' said Amanda Blake, of Kasilof, Alaska. ``I feel inspired and alive with hope.''
Campgrounds, Food Trucks, Bubbles & Weddings
By Beth J. Harpaz
If your idea of a wedding involves throwing rice and eating a slice of white, three-tiered cake, you've got some catching up to do.
These days, guests blow bubbles or light sparklers instead of throwing rice. Trendy couples are getting married in barns and campgrounds, and they're hiring food trucks for dinner and serving doughnuts for dessert.
And how did anyone get married before the internet? From Pinterest inspiration to emailed invites and hashtagged photos, everything but the ``I do'' can be digital.
We got input from more than 100 sources, including wedding planners, hotels and caterers, newlyweds and guests, websites, magazines and Mindy Weiss' ``The Wedding Book,'' to compile the following look at what's new in weddings.
Instead of a printed program, look for chalkboard signs telling you where to go, what to do and when.
Online certification and relaxed legal requirements for officiants in many states means it's much easier for couples to have friends or relatives perform their ceremony instead of a minister or justice of the peace.
Why make a mess throwing rice? These days, newlyweds are feted by bubbles or sparklers distributed to guests beforehand.
Dogs are on planes, in stores and everywhere else, so why shouldn't they walk down the aisle with their owners?
Couples are also inviting those nearest and dearest to join them at the altar regardless of gender. A bride can have a male friend by her side and a groom can have a female friend. Some even call them bridesmen and groomsmaids.
For Jewish weddings, the signing of the traditional marriage contract, called a ketubah, is now often as elaborate as the wedding ceremony. What used to be a private signing with a couple of witnesses might now involve speakers, photos and a contract that's a commissioned work of art rather than a simple document.
Beaches and gardens have been popular alternatives to hotel ballrooms for a while. But venue options are getting even more rustic. Barns are a big trend, as are campgrounds where guests bunk for the weekend and line up for grub in the dining hall.
These relaxed, semi-outdoor settings also lend themselves to weddings that feel more like summer camp or bar mitzvahs than formal occasions. Think scavenger hunts, trivia games, color war, campfires, singalongs, volleyball, bocce, croquet and glow necklaces for dancing in the dark.
Anything goes as fun alternatives to staid seated dinners: wedding brunches, food trucks, vegan and gluten-free spreads, barbecues, cheese trays, oyster bars and sliders. Multicultural menus include make-your-own taco bars and sushi stations. And with guests wandering around nibbling this and that, assigned seats can be replaced by a mix of informal tables, chairs, stools, counters, sofas and picnic tables.
Booze trends include craft beer and signature cocktails.
Some couples still want that three-tiered cake, but lots of wedding desserts are going rogue. Cupcakes were the darling alternative a decade ago, but today's trendy sweets include milkshakes, gourmet doughnuts, s'mores, pies, churros, candy buffets and make-your-own ice cream sundae bars.
There's also a ``naked cake'' craze, filling between the layers but no frosting!
Pity the baby boomers who had to plan their weddings back in the Stone Age.
Today's couples need Pinterest, Instagram and Etsy for inspiration, the WeddingWire database for vendors and WeddingHappy for planning help. They may reject paper invitations in favor of emails. Directions, schedules and other FAQs can be found on personal wedding websites.
Digital registries are no longer limited to individual retailers. Amazon has a wedding registry, MyRegistry.com allows you to aggregate products from any number of retailers, and Zola offers a curated selection of products from various brands. Couples with enough towels and silverware might prefer donations toward a honeymoon via sites like GoFundMe or HoneyFund.com.
What's that you're mumbling about writing a check? Stop living in the 20th century!
For photos, the happy couple will provide a custom hashtag to make it easy to find all the Facebook, Instagram and Twitter posts, and they may also ask you to upload your images to a website like WedPics.
Are you ready for the wedding video shot by drone? Or are you still trying to wrap your head around weddings that are livestreamed or Skyped for those who can't be there in person?
And what's that in the side of the wedding gown? A POCKET? Of course! The bride needs to keep her cellphone handy. Because if there were ever a day for selfies and Snapchat, this would be it.
Of course there are anti-cellphone couples too. They might ask guests to please put cellphones away to reduce distractions during the ceremony. This policy also prevents you from posting pics that aren't as flattering as the ones shot and edited by a professional photographer.
Floral arrangements are trending green and wild, eucalyptus, pine boughs and holly berries, wildflowers in jam jars, plants instead of cut flowers and environmentally friendly succulents.
Some brides may still toss the bouquet to all the single ladies, but many have tossed that tradition into the garbage.