As a boy who grew up in Akron, F. A. Seiberling tramped the fields and woods outside of the city, hunting the area where stone had once been quarried. Even then, the dramatic views of the Cuyahoga Valley, natural vistas that spread before him like paintings, would stop young Frank in his tracks. He never forgot them. Years later, the founder of the Goodyear Tire and Rubber Company would build Stan Hywet-the Old English term for stone quarry-a sixty-five-room Tudor Revival mansion on seventy acres of meticulously landscaped gardens, orchards, and vistas. The skill and artistry of photographers Ian Adams and Barney Taxel portray the splendor of all four seasons at Stan Hywet, now maintained through the Stan Hywet Hall Foundation. These vivid images depict the restored mansion in its magnificent setting, capturing the springtime charm of mayapples and periwinkle in the Dell, the classic elegance of Gertrude Seiberling's Music Room, and the stark grandeur of snow-covered oaks mirrored in a reflection pool. From spring mornings to Christmas celebrations, Steve Love narrates as the reader strolls through the rooms and halls of the mansion and rambles down the lanes through its magnificent gardens and into the lives of the Seiberlings. With a foreword by F. A.'s grandson, former congressman John F. Seiberling, Stan Hywet Hall & Gardens captures the Seiberling family motto, Non Nobis Solum, or, Not for Us Alone-a motto which remains engraved, to this day, above the entrance to the Manor House.
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Stan Hywet Hall & Gardens
By Barney Taxel
University of Akron PressCopyright © 2001 Barney Taxel
All right reserved.
Chapter OneSpring offers nature and those who would fool with it-try to improve upon it, put their stamp on it-another chance. At Stan Hywet Hall and Gardens, temptation comes with the season.
And the temptation is great.
Stan Hywet Hall's grounds suggest nothing to the landscape artist if not a seventy-acre canvas. These artists come in many categories-landscape architect, horticulturalist, garden-variety gardener. They share a common ache to haul out a pallet of textures and colors and to go to work on nature. Some at Stan Hywet have given in to this ache.
In the years after the Stan Hywet Hall Foundation assumed responsibility for this American Country House estate, changes occurred-in the 1960s, '70s, even the early '80s. Everyone wanted the best for Stan Hywet Hall, to guarantee its success. The vision for what Stan Hywet should be was evolving, unfixed. So new gardens were planted, bigger display beds were dug and filled with flashier flowers of brighter colors. In trying to make Stan Hywet Hall attractive to the public that would spell its success or failure, the artists began to stray from the path laid out by the Seiberlings and landscape architect Warren H. Manning.
Manning had used natural elements. He created a footprint, a design on a piece of earth,that has withstood the test of time-the pathways and vistas, gardens and trees, roadways and waterways. The twentieth century was young when Manning first tramped the Akron countryside acres that would become the Stan Hywet estate. He found his vision of the landscape in what was present, not in what he could add to the land. As the twenty-first century begins, Manning's vision is in the hands of Carl Ruprecht, his spiritual and artistic descendant.
Ruprecht's favorite color is green, and no season at Stan Hywet comes in as many shades of his favorite color as spring. From chartreuse to forest green, from the reds and bronzes of leaves on their way to green, the Stan Hywet canvas becomes verdant swoops and swirls.
"Because of the variety of trees," Ruprecht says, "it is a masterpiece."
This garden. That allee of trees. This vista. That lagoon. Individually, they do not make the Stan Hywet landscape what it was in its 1915-30 heyday and is once again. Rather than its parts, Stan Hywet's dominant feature is its whole, not the trees, but the forest-and the forest is easy to see.
Many American Country Houses have been torn down. They've changed hands, often more than once. Stan Hywet has had a different, better fate. It had one owner, the Seiberlings, and artistic owners, at that. And it had one landscape architect, Warren Manning of Boston. Not only did Manning design the original landscape, working with what he found rather than forcing his vision onto the land, but he also sent his young assistant, Harold Wagner, to Akron to supervise the digging and planting, the pruning and crafting.
Like nature itself, the landscaping remained a work in progress. Manning returned to Stan Hywet Hall in 1928, a dozen years after he had finished his work. He came to tramp the grounds again, to reclaim the vistas that were becoming clogged by limbs that once had been fingers but now were muscled arms, their foliage grown so thick and lush that it blocked the view of the Cuyahoga Valley beyond. Manning pointed out branches to be cut. He designated the height of the cuts. No detail was too small for his attention. He left nothing to chance.
As he worked, deciding what should stay and what should go, Manning's vision remained broad and inclusive, as it had been when his cooperation with architect Charles S. Schneider allowed them to fuse house and grounds so successfully. Manning, for instance, told the Seiberlings in his 1928 report that the sickly evergreens near the house's front entrance should be replaced by rhododendrons and the lilac and magnolias removed, the best of them to be replanted, allowing them not only more room for growth but also permitting a better view of the front exterior of the house. Manning saw the whole picture.
"The footprint has held up," Carl Ruprecht says. "In the landscape industry, a lot of people tell us we are fortunate that the footprint is still so intact."
In part that is because Manning returned in 1928 to reset that footprint, improve it, deepen it. It was in 1928 that Manning suggested to the Seiberlings that they invite Ellen Biddle Shipman to repair and remake the English Garden. "I consider her," Manning wrote, "one of the best, if not the very best, flower garden maker in America."
Not the least of Manning's strengths as a landscape architect was his willingness to recognize his weaknesses and the strengths of others. It's why he involved T. R. Otsuka in creating the Japanese Garden and why he turned to Ellen Shipman when he saw that the English Garden needed something that did not play to his naturalist bent. During her career, Shipman designed some 650 gardens, most of them private ones such as at Stan Hywet Hall. The English Garden is one of only two Shipman gardens that remain and the only one that has been painstakingly restored and is open to the public.
Perhaps because the Seiberlings' wealth was dissipated in the 1930s and '40s, no other landscape artist was brought in, as has been the case at similar properties. "If the Seiberlings had still had their wealth," Ruprecht says, "we could have lost Manning's major footprint. Luckily, that didn't happen. Bringing back the footprint is complicated enough."
Landscape footprints can be as distinct as that of the legendary Bigfoot-and as difficult to follow. Dig through an eight-inch layer of leaves, into the dirt beneath, and find a stone. Then another. Dig farther. It's a stone path. Manning made such discoveries. Today's landscape artists rediscover his discoveries. They find the hint of a depression in the ground. So they look a little longer, a little closer. They check it against old photos and correspondence between Manning and the Seiberlings. A large depression turns out to be a planting bed long forgotten. A narrower, deeper depression marks where an elm tree stump once clung stubbornly to the earth. It is a green puzzle that must be solved if the grounds, like the house, are to be historically accurate and reflect the vision of the Seiberlings.
The goal is simple: Make the landscape so familiar that it looks as if F. A. Seiberling just walked into his office from the Breakfast Room Garden, as if the English Garden awaits his wife, Gertrude, for another of her quiet moments there. Achieving this goal can be complicated.
When, during the 1980s, the staff and Stan Hywet Hall Foundation directors rededicated themselves to preserving and restoring the house and grounds to their 1915-30 glory, it became a delicate, sometimes controversial, task. Newer traditions, such as the chrysanthemum garden in front of the house, had to be abandoned. The mums were beautiful. They had been there for twenty years-all of those years after the Seiberling era.
When Ruprecht and his staff removed the mum beds and renewed the lawn of what is known as the Great Meadow, the trees and the house itself again became the focal point for people driving through the front gate and up the long roadway toward the house. F. A. Seiberling had insisted that Manning take into account this view from the perspective of a person sitting behind the wheel of an automobile. The Seiberlings, like Manning, left nothing to chance.
That is why Shipman's feel in the English Garden was restored, in 1992, and why seventy-two new apple trees now line Estate Drive. Manning, heeding what F. A. had said about the driver's perspective, had taken advantage of a natural element, an existing apple orchard, through which to wend the drive. Over the years, so many of the apple trees had died or fallen into decline that, by 1996, only six or seven remained. Ruprecht's staff began the orchard anew but with trees that conformed to the first orchard. The new versions of old-time apple varieties were grown with the help of Davey Tree Expert Company of Kent, Ohio. They include Baldwin, golden delicious, Grimes golden, Rhode Island greening, northern spy, and fameuse.
White blossoms and spreading branches alongside the green, green grass of the Great Meadow will make future springs at Stan Hywet even more like the first springs the Seiberlings experienced.
While green may be the dominant color of spring at Stan Hywet, striking accents catch the eye, and scents so lovely they seem to come in colors fill the air. From the Music Room to the south extends a finger that is variously referred to as the London Plane Tree Allee or Rhododendron Allee. For ten or eleven months a year, the plane tree, a variety of sycamore, is marked by its subtleness. The cool green of summer. The bare-limbed skeletons of winter. Then comes spring, and the rhododendrons and azaleas turn into barkers of color, luring strollers into the allee as if they were a tent on the midway at the carnival. It's irresistible.
As breathtaking as the London Plane Tree Allee can become when it is transformed into the Rhododendron Allee, it is the Breakfast Room Garden that may best convey the fresh start that is spring at Stan Hywet.
The Seiberlings loved the Breakfast Room. It was one of their more intimate gathering places, a sunny space in which to share conversations and the beginning of a new day. When, in late April and early May, the sun began to hint at not only brightness but also warmth, the Breakfast Room doors could be flung open for the inside-outside, outside-inside feel that contributes to Stan Hywet's uniqueness.
With the nearby trees not yet in full leaf, the spring Breakfast Room Garden is at its sunniest and most colorful. Azaleas, forget-me-nots, and other pastel flowers in yellows and blues pick up the colors of the Breakfast Room and transport them outside. The person inside, eating, feels as if he or she is outside in the garden. A fountain's sweet sound creates a tranquility that settles into the soul. This intimate little garden may be as much a tribute to Warren Manning's genius as any of the larger landscaping touches he created.
"He didn't just walk us out into the great big open lawn," says an admiring Ruprecht. "He created a 'room' to make a transition."
Inviting transition is both the essence of spring and what the Stan Hywet horticultural staff is attempting to create with its examination of old photos, its scrutiny of an old plant list found on cutting garden panels, its digging into old correspondence or anything else that might lead to the discovery of heirloom plants, those in vogue between 1915 and 1930. Sometimes the old plants remain in today's cutting gardens and can be restored to their previous prominence. On other occasions, when the heirloom plant no longer can be located, the landscape artists search for the next best thing, the plant that will allow them to retain the design sensitivity established by Manning and the Seiberlings.
Excerpted from Stan Hywet Hall & Gardens by Barney Taxel Copyright © 2001 by Barney Taxel. Excerpted by permission.
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