The Four Arts Gardens
Seven Decades of Education and Pleasure
In 1938 the Garden Club of Palm Beach planted seven small demonstration gardens on the grounds of the Society of the Four Arts. For nearly seven decades, these gardens have served as a guide for new homeowners seeking plants which thrive in the sub-tropical South Florida climate. Even those with no interest in landscaping can appreciate the gardens’ quiet serenity; visitors often come just to relax and unwind from the pressures of their day.
The founders built well. Mrs. J.S. Phipps built a Spanish façade to demonstrate plantings suitable for a Spanish-style house. Mrs. Joseph F. Gunster created a moonlight garden of white-blooming vines and shrubs. Mrs. Clifford V. Brokaw landscaped an area suitable for a colonial-style house; Mrs. Lorenzo Woodhouse designed a beautiful Chinese garden as a memorial to her daughter. Mrs. Hugh Dillman planted a rose garden; Dr. LeRoy Dow, a jungle garden, and Mrs. Alfred G. Kay used a wall fountain with a Madonna sculpture as a focal point for a garden of small tropical fruit trees.
For many decades, in a long and fruitful partnership with the Garden’s owner, the Society of the Four Arts, the Garden Club of Palm Beach has maintained the gardens.
In the 1950s, the landscape architecture firm of Innocenti & Webel was retained to improve the garden’s architectural features, to relate the garden’s separate elements more closely to one another, and to create a master plan which included many rare specimen plants.
In the summer of 2004, hurricanes Frances and Jeanne all but destroyed the Four Arts Gardens. Undaunted, the Four Arts undertook a major reconstruction project that not only restored the gardens according to Innocenti & Webel’s master plan, but also added new irrigation, re-circulating pumps for fountains, a new electrical system, more comfortable seating, and improved walkways to ensure accessibility for the handicapped and safety for all visitors.
The rebuilding of the gardens has aimed not for significant change, but for a subtle and accurate restoration. Walkways have been imperceptibly widened and their foundations strengthened, and paved areas enlarged in places to accommodate new seating.
Irrigation, electrical, and drainage systems have been significantly modernized, but remain hidden.
As homeowners and visitors continue to cultivate a love of gardens, the Garden Club of Palm Beach and The Four Arts Gardens continue to offer ideas and inspiration, practical education for gardeners, and moments of quiet respite to all who visit.
- Portions excerpted from The Four Arts Garden by Alex D. Hawkes