The gardens of Bunny Mellon: a great passion for horticulture

Following the great success of the exhibition at Palazzo Zabarella in Padua, in Italy, a priceless selection of works on loan from the Mellon Collection of French Art at the Virginia Museum of Arts, included Edgar Degas, Eugène Delacroix, Claude Monet, Pablo Picasso, Vincent van Gogh and others, celebrated Paul and Rachel ‘Bunny’ Lambert Mellon, two of the most important and refined patrons of the arts of the twentieth century. Throughout her long and storied life, Rachel “Bunny” Mellon’s greatest passion was garden design. Although she had no formal training, she amassed a vast horticulture library and read voraciously. She and her husband Paul Mellon, one of the wealthiest men in America, maintained homes in New York, Cape Cod, Nantucket, Antigua, and Virginia, and she designed the gardens at all of them. She also designed gardens for some of her dearest friends, including President and Mrs. Kennedy.

At JFK’s request, she redesigned the Rose Garden and the East Garden (renamed the Jacqueline Kennedy Garden) at the White House, and at the request of his widow, she landscaped the JFK grave site in Arlington National Cemetery and the grounds of the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum in Boston. She enjoyed a warm friendship with couturier Hubert de Givenchy, who designed much of her wardrobe, from her gowns to her gardening hats and smocks. He shared her love of gardens, and together they designed the formal and kitchen gardens at his Château du Jonchet in the French countryside. They also oversaw the restoration of the Potager du Roi (Louis XIV’s kitchen garden) at Versailles. The first book to focus on all of the public and private gardens that Mellon designed, The Gardens of Bunny Mellon (Vendome Press) is lavishly illustrated with her own garden plans, sketches, and watercolors, as well as with archival photographs and Roger Foley’s specially commissioned photographs of the gardens, farm, and horticultural library at Oak Spring, the Mellon estate in Virginia. Author Linda Jane Holden’s text is based on extensive interviews with Mrs. Mellon before her death in 2014 at age 103, as well as with the gardeners at the Mellon properties and at the White House. It is published with the cooperation and endorsement of the Oak Spring Garden Foundation, the mission of which is to perpetuate and share Bunny Mellon’s residence, garden, and extensive library.


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