Doris Duke was the only child of a wealthy tobacco and power industrialist. When her father passed away in 1925, 12 year old Doris inherited his estate (about 1.3 billion in today’s dollars). Rough Point is just one of the many “summer cottages” (mansions) you can visit on a trip to Newport. In my humble opinion, if you can only see one, make it Rough Point. Doris Duke lived most of her summers there until her death in 1993, after which the property was turned into a public museum at her request. Today I visited her gardens as part of a Landscape History and Garden tour.
One of the first sights you see upon entering a grand tree-covered driveway is topiary camels. A nod to the pet camels (Princess and Baby) that once roamed the lawn in the summer months.
Upon closer inspection, our tour group noticed that these weren’t any ordinary topiaries, they were actually wire frames planted with moss, sedum, and tiny succulents.
We then entered the flower garden through a small “secret” passageway in the hedges.
This garden was used to supply cutting flowers for display inside the house. Our guide told us that the landscape architect, Frederick Law Olmstead (yes that Frederick Law Olmstead), followed seven “S’s” in his designs – Scenery, Suitability, Style, Subordination, Separation, Sanitation, and Service. He designed “passages of scenery” that slowly unveiled themselves as you got closer, and these passages were beautifully apparent in the flower garden. Our tour then progressed across the front lawn of the property . . .
This small ravine would fill with seawater during high tide and could be sectioned off to create a natural saltwater swimming pool. Doris Duke was an avid swimmer and surfer and she swam daily well into her older years.
Honestly, this tour had me at the camels. But then we went beyond another tall hedge to a hidden kitchen garden…
a forest of fennel
cabbages and kale
Who has figs growing on the coast of RI? Doris Duke, that’s who.
The tour guide did tell us that they’ve taken some creative license with the kitchen garden. When Doris was alive, the garden was neatly planted in rows of vegetables. But the heiress was a conservationist in both her life and the trust she left behind. I’m sure she’d be delighted with the way the property’s staff is utilizing sustainable techniques to so beautifully preserve and enhance Rough Point’s landscape and gardens.
Companion planting is a sustainable gardening technique used to increase plant yield and quality. Here they’ve planted tomatoes with basil and flowering nicotine (which smells really great!)