Henry Winthrop Sargent

Artful Illusion

Today the American horticulturist and landscape gardener Henry Winthrop Sargent married Caroline Olmsted.
A little over a year after marrying Caroline, Henry Winthrop (who was fabulously wealthy) bought a twenty-acre estate that overlooked the Hudson River. He christened it Wodenethe - a marriage of two old Saxon terms Woden (pronounced Woe-den) and ethe, which stands for woody promontory ( promontory is a point of high land that juts out into the sea or a large lake; a headland.)
Henry Winthrop’s most considerable influence was his friend Andrew Jackson Downing. One historian wrote,

"Had there been no Downing, there would have been no Wodeneth."

Downing was a renowned landscape designer, horticulturist, and writer, and his botanic garden was just across the river from Wodenethe.
In addition to Downing’s guidance, Henry Winthrop had vision and courage - two characteristics that are often found in master Landscape Designers. One of his first actions at Wodenethe was to remove trees and foliage that obstructed scenic vistas - that’s a scary proposition for many gardeners. Yet, Henry Winthrop was exacting when it came to vistas. This skill in framing a scene was Henry Winthrop's superpower, and he even created windows for his home that were shaped to maximize the view to the outside.
One story about Henry Winthrop's exceptional ability to create a view involves his son, Winthrop. One time a woman visited the Sargents, and when she looked out the window, she noticed little Winthrop out on the lawn. Henry Winthrop had created the view to look like the lawn extended out to the Hudson, creating a sense that there was a sharp dropoff - almost like the lawn ran out to the edge of a cliff.
Concerned for Winthrop, the lady visitor commented something to the effect of how SHE wouldn't let her own children play so close to that dropoff. Well, after that visit, Henry Winthrop would often have little Winthrop go out to the lawn with a fishing pole and pretend to fish off the edge. In reality, he was sitting a good mile away from the water's edge - quite safe on the flat earth. But, Henry Winthrop's masterful vista created an artful and beautiful illusion.

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Henry Winthrop Sargent
Henry Winthrop Sargent

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