The Preservation Society of Newport County strives to maintain the landscapes and gardens of its properties, which comprise an integral part of Newport’s scenic beauty and cultural heritage. From the Colonial-inspired seaside garden of Hunter House, to the elaborate Gilded Age gardens of the Bellevue Avenue and Cliff Walk Historic Districts, to a country estate featuring life-size animal topiary, these preserved landscapes are fundamental elements of local history and the American landscape design.
In 1789, Jedediah Morse, an American clergyman and geographer, referred to Newport and its environs as “The Eden of America” in his book, American Geography. The area’s mild coastal climate encouraged generations of gardeners and landscape architects to cultivate gardens on the island’s diverse landscapes, from protected valleys to windswept meadows and seaside cliffs. After more than three centuries of cultivation and horticultural experimentation, Newport has a rich landscape heritage.
During the course of the 19th century, Newport was the stage for horticultural experimentation and garden design. Technological advances in cast iron and glass greenhouses and expeditions to far corners of the earth allowed for cultivation and dissemination of exotic trees and plants. Newport’s estate gardeners had to import almost all of their trees since the indigenous tree population had disappeared with the clearing of land for sheep farming in the 18th century. As a result, the city is famous for its 19th and early 20th century specimen trees, such as European beeches and Japanese maples, and for elaborate gardens, notably the restored (2001) Classical Revival style sunken garden (c. 1914) at The Elms.
Although confronted with natural and man-made challenges, Newport’s historic landscapes remain remarkably intact due to the preservation efforts of the Preservation Society, other Newport organizations, and private citizens.