Kykuit Estate and Gardens
(In the colorful Rose Gardens at Kykuit)
The beautiful Kykuit (pronounced “Ky-kit”) Gardens are located in the quaint village of Sleepy Hollow, an hour north of New York City, on the banks of the Hudson River. The town was popularized by American novelist Washington Irving whose tales were set in this region that he so loved and in which he made a home for himself called Sunnyside which is also open to the public.
Kykit was the home of four generations of the Rockefellers, one of America’s premier families. After John D. Rockefeller make his fortune in Cleveland with Standard Oil, he moved his family to Sleepy Hollow where he set about building an estate. He lived there with his wife until well into his nineties. His son, John D. Rockefeller, Jr. also lived in this home with his wife Abby Aldrich and their five sons among whom Nelson then made his home on the same grounds with his wife, “Happy”. They rasied their children on the same property–making it a home for four generations. Today, their house and the sprawling gardens that slope down to the banks of the Hudson are open to public viewing and are stunning in every season. Llew and I were fortunate to visit the estate on a glorious day in early summer in June 2007.
Our visit began with a tour of the house (left) in which photography was prohibited. Built in the Italianate style, the exterior of the home is a poem in native fieldstone and river rock with an ornate wrought-iron entrance portico and stone statuary on the porch.
Wisteria hugs the walls tightly and creeps upward towards the roofline with its classical Grecian pediment.
If you stand on the porch in-between the beautiful glass lampshades that flank it, you look out over the north side of the front gardens towards the grand Fountain of Triton and the sweeping circular driveway (right) . Below is a close up of the Triton Fountain. Water flows down between gods representing three different cultures of the world.
I thought it interesting that classical sculpture of this kind greets the visitor upon first entry into the gardens through very tall decorative wrought-iron gates that were designed in imitation of those found at Hampton Court Palace and Gardens in England.
As you walk out of the house, you pass down a gravel pathway lined with an allee of beautiful conical linden trees (right) that remind the visitor once again of the cone shaped yews at Hampton Court. At the end of the allee is a small circular fountain whose center is occupied by a tiny piece of classical sculpture.
Another vista of the Gardens shows the viewer an allee of conically shaped boxwoods that lead to a stone folly in the center of which stands a piece of contemporary sculpture depicting a female nude. This part of the garden is filled with female nude sculpture in a variety of modern styles and features some highly recognizable names such as Giacometti and Pablo Picasso.
Here (right) is another folly in the garden, this one shaped in the form of a classical Greek temple with a sculpture of Aphrodite in its center. Gravel lined pathways lead the visitor to a secret rendez-vous with these goddesses from antiquity and make for a happy surprise at the end of one’s wanderings.
Here, at left, is another example of a secret garden that lies at the end of another pathway. This perennial rock garden features commonly found plants such as Russian sage and catmint, lavender and pinks.
A sculpture by Japanese-American Isamu Noguchi is the focal point of a corner of the perennial rock garden that is filled with creeping phlox in yellow and pink, astilbes in rocket red and baby pink and a clutch of weeping willow trees.
A striking sculpture of a nude woman by Gustav Kolbe (left) makes a wonderful punctuation mark on one of the parterres leading down to the lower levels of the gardens.
On the lower level of the garden, classical statuary co-exists in harmony with abstract art. In this vista, one sees a Grecian nude female, a gazebo, wisteria clad iron gates, stone walls with large urns adorni g them and the sweeping emerald lawns that go down to meet the river.
In this glorious view of the gardens (left), the visitor gets a good idea of how huge the property really is. The expansive green lawns that bask in the golden sunshine descend steadily down in tiers to the river. Rows of vivid pink shrub roses were in full bloom when we visited, their fallen petals peppering the space beneath the sculpure of a nude woman by the British sculptor Henry Moore overlooking the Hudson and the heights of the Palisades in the distance.
On the parterre overlooking the rose garden, Llew (right) stands in front of a sculptural piece by David Smith which is set in the midst of a variety of contemporary pieces, all of which were collected by the Governor Nelson Rockefeller over several decades. Indeed, these gardens were designed to best showcase his immense collection of modern art (which is inside the house) and sculpture which finds a remarkable place in this fantastic acreage.
On our way to the games room and locker rooms, we walked on yet another terrace (left) that provided a lovely view of the back of the house and the occasional wrought-iron gates that lead visitors in and out of the various “rooms” that compose this tapestry of gardens.
We finally arrived at the spectacular rose gardens (right) whose focal point is a large curvy fountain in three tiers. Since it was mid-June, the roses were in full bloom and their many-hued petals lay scattered all over the grounds.
A lovely stone pergola created by the use of classical pillars and urns filled with flowers lead the eye to a modern sculpture at the end of a gravel paved pathway.
I hope you have enjoyed this walking tour of the Kykuit Estate and Gardens in my company. If you wish to learn more about them, or would like to visit the grounds personally, please click on the link below for more information.