A “parterre” is a formal ornamental flower garden whose beds and paths are designed to form a pattern. The Gavit family commissioned this parterre in the late 1920s, creating traditional planting beds and brick walkways, changing levels, and two central water features. Madame Walska later added her own touch, including whimsical pebble mosaics. The parterre is quite distinct from many of our winding paths and asymmetrical gardens: It is an Italian style garden with Spanish and Moorish elements, arranged with multiple axes. Gardens designs on axis refers to the practice using open lines of sight to draw the eye to distant viewing points. As you walk this garden, see if you can identify its long primary axis, two lesser main axes, and two cross axes.
Like all domestic roses, the floribunda roses that adorn our garden are products of artificial selection. For millennia, humans have been artificially selecting all kinds of organisms, which means they have been deliberately breeding individuals of the same species to produce offspring with desirable traits from both parents. This simple act has turned a single plant into broccoli, cauliflower, and cabbage, the wolf into a Chihuahua and a basset hound, and has turned wild roses into hybrid tea, polyantha, and floribunda, to name a few. Across different times and places, roses have been selected for different traits, and these floribunda roses can be said to reflect Western ideals of the twenty and twenty-first centuries; Floribunda roses bloom multiple times a season, each time providing a sweeping abundance of mammoth blooms in colors fit for the finest works of art, and yet are forgiving enough for even the beginning gardener. Our floribunda rose garden contains Julia Child (named so because it is ‘butter’ yellow), Hot Coco (red), Livin’ Easy (coral), and Cinco de Mayo (red, in pots on terrace).
Moorish Star Fountain:
The eight-ray Moorish star on this fountain is a symbol found in Islamic iconography, as well as Moorish and Spanish architecture. The small channel bringing water into the garden, also leads one towards the Zodiac Clock in the Topiary Garden. While an earlier Rose garden was originally laid out, the existing garden design, hardscape, and water features of this axis was completed in 1929.
A sculpture of Neptune, God of the seas is featured in a fountain with decorative Spanish tiles. Behind the fountain, in front of a tall hedge embedded with a large ceramic bowl, two mermen stand watch. The axis that contains the Neptune fountain can be viewed from the dining room of the house.
In 1969, Madame Ganna Walska summoned stone mason, Ozzie da Ros, to share images she had torn from a magazine and declared she wanted some mosaics below the geranium terrace. Da Ros recommended a gardener on her staff who was also an artist, Jim Minah, to create the design. Her instructions were that the design must have “lots of movement, but enclosed.” Unable to find smooth pebbles in enough colors, Da Ros collected rough stone chosen for their colors, and then tumbled them in a cement mixer before setting them in place.