What happened to the landscape gardening firm of Hoyt and Rice? Why didn’t the two mentees of Beatrix (Jones) Farrand, Charles Sprague Sargent and the staff at the Arnold Arboretum ever start their planned business together? While a footnote in the story of the landscape of the British Embassy, Washington, one wonders if the partnership had endured, how different both the history of women landscape architects in America and the gardens of the Ambassador’s Residence would be. The two boon companions–one of whom would go on to create the gardens at the British Embassy–with different skills and personalities and an impressive list of social contacts, would have made a formidable team, unusual for the time, in the early 20th century.
Granted a rare privilege in 1909, Elizabeth Hoyt and Gladys Rice studied together for a season at the Arnold Arboretum, outside of Boston in Jamaica Plain. With letters of introduction from its founding director, Sargent, the pair then went off to study at the Kew Botanical Gardens and to tour European gardens, chaperoned by Hoyt’s aunt Elizabeth Cameron. While Hoyt returned to the Arboretum for another stint, Rice became engaged after a one-month courtship and married 10 December 1910, against the warnings of Henry Adams, whom she had become close to in the Parisian home of Cameron. As wife of a Saltonstall, she entered into not only the highest of Brahman Society (Boston’s traditional upper class) but the haute bohemian world of Isabella Stewart Gardner, the center of cultural life in that city, who took the outsider under her wing. As alluded to in her bittersweet memoir, Boston and return, Rice ended up divorced fifteen years later, without custody of her adored children and living alone in a small New York apartment, trying to regain her footing in life.
It seems like a heartbreaking story for the creative, intelligent woman but Gladys Rice had a remarkable, full life with quite the roster of lovers, husbands and adventures. Through changing surnames, she pops up over the years in a number of accounts and records, appearing in Henry Adams’s correspondence, New York Times and Washington Post profiles, the writings of legendary New Yorker editor and gardener Katharine S. White, and, both hilariously and touchingly, in the autobiography of Washington Post Executive Editor, Benjamin Bradlee. She penned three memoirs during her long life. As with Elizabeth Sherman Hoyt, later Lady Lindsay, who had largely faded from accounts or had been mistakenly conflated with both her cousin Martha Lindsay or aunt Elizabeth Cameron in biographies of Henry Adams and his circle, and her professional gardening past almost completely forgotten, another portrait of Rice is due.
Katharine S. White, who grew up in Brookline, Massachusetts, had encountered Sargent (1841-1927) at both his nearby great estate Holm Lea and the Arboretum during her childhood (her father was Charles S. Sergeant and there was sometimes a mix-up of mail). In an essay entitled “The Million-Dollar Book” (10 December 1966) for The New Yorker she observed of Sargent:
Little has been written about him. I have been able to turn up only a brief memorial article by one of his colleagues, Charles Rehder, in the Journal of the Arnold Arboretum (Volume VIII, 1927), and a chapter titled “Garden Adventure” in Gladys Brooks’s poignant and well-written book of memoirs, Boston and Return, which is the only personal account of him I have come across. Mrs. Brooks, at the age of nineteen, when she was Gladys Rice, went to the Arboretum with a friend of the same age to study in preparation for what they hoped would become a career in landscape architecture, and they were lucky enough, in the later years of the Professor’s life to be taken on as unorthodox students and apprentices. Gladys Rice thus came to know the austere Professor in a very special way. After putting them through a grueling test and a course of education with one of the Arboretum’s gardeners, he accepted the two young ladies as friends and protégées, always referring to them as “the little girls.” The sketch is charming, witty, and revealing—the only real portrait, for all its brevity, of this great man.
After visiting gardens all over New England and New York with Sargent and his son, landscape architect Andrew Robeson Sargent, including the Vanderbilt Mansion at Hyde Park and a stay at the Hoyt family estate on Centre Island (on Long Island), the two “girls” were sent on to Kew and their grand tour of gardens. Hoyt’s aunt Cameron, essentially living in exile from her unhappy Washington marriage, had homes in both England and France. Rice, the daughter of a New York City throat doctor, while not unsophisticated, was overwhelmed by this new world opened to her. By her own account, Rice was so taken in she almost immediately married a man, John L. Saltonstall, of similar wealth, position and ease in society, upon her return.
This trip may have influenced me more than I knew, for it threw me momentarily into a world of social importance, of affluence and power taken for granted, a world that flashed its brilliance in compelling fashion even while it repelled and alarmed me by the austerity of its rules and customs.
But Rice was soon to find that the world of the Brahmin Boston was of even more austere rules and rigid customs. Despite abandoning what had been invested in her, the new Mrs. Saltonstall maintained relationships with Elizabeth Hoyt (she was one of only thirty guests at the Rice-Saltonstall wedding) and Sargent. The famed botanist and Arboretum director moved in and cultivated the same social circles of Boston and the North Shore, being a Brahmin himself and, indeed, even had Saltonstalls in his family tree. Sargent encouraged Gladys and John Saltonstall to purchase a neglected parcel away from the rocky coast north of Boston for their country home. Acquired in 1919, the Saltonstall’s grand retreat, Topsfield (later named “Huntwicke”) in Ipswich, Massachusetts, came to be crowded with plants from the Arboretum. Saltonstall was to write of him and that time in her life:
When the rearing of children, the hours of violin practice, the duties of wife and the cares of the house made active gardening a thing of the past, I nonetheless held to an undeviating interest in plants as well as to a continued friendship with Professor Sargent. During these later years under the professor’s guidance I stocked the shelves of our library with books such as Downing’s Landscape Gardening, with its fine wood and steel engravings, Sargent’s Manual of the Trees of North America and, notably, the ten huge bound volumes that comprise the long defunct magazine Garden and Forest which Sargent edited during the nine years of its existence.
While Sargent advised the landscaping of the rural agrarian estate (which Gladys Saltonstall oversaw), the design was left to the landscape architect with the wonderful name of Harold Hill Blossom (1879-1935). Blossom had worked for the firm of the Olmsted Brothers for twelve years. Frederick Law Olmsted collaborated with Sargent on the laying out of the Arnold Arboretum as well as many other projects. At Topsfield, as at Dumbarton Oaks in Washington, there is a Georgian Revival mansion (designed by Philip Richardson, son of Henry Adams’s friend Henry Hobson Richardson), a formal approach to and terrace arrangement immediately around the main house, with a cluster of smaller buildings, ancient cottages, and surroundings that blended into the pastoral setting sloping down (here, to the river; at Dumbarton Oaks, a ravine to Rock Creek). The property soon appeared in architectural and gardening periodicals, including the Architectural Record and House Beautiful.
The former Gladys Rice also maintained a friendship with Henry Adams. In a letter to Elizabeth Cameron (Beverly Farms, 3 August 1917) he reported that:
To complete my bouleversement, the other day Gladys Saltonstall telephoned that she was rushing down the coast with a live duke and should bring him in to see us—and sure enough a very-good-looking young Frenchman in khaki was whirled into our drawing room by Gladys, playing pretend that he was a duc de Guiche committed to our care by Bobby Bliss [Robert Woods Bliss, the diplomat and, later, of Dumbarton Oaks].
As her friend Gladys lived in her former life in an aristocratic world of social engagements, concerts, and huge, elaborate households, while Elizabeth Hoyt finished her tutorials and worked professionally for four years with the New York City firm of Beatrix Jones (later Farrand) before setting out on her own. But she gave up her landscape gardening business with the advent of the Great War and assumed an executive position with the Red Cross headquarters in Washington. Hoyt lived nearby with Henry Adams, whom she had known since she was five years old. Adams said of the arrangement: “I’m proud to have a war worker in the house.” It wasn’t until 1930 that Hoyt, as Lady Lindsay, finding herself once again in Washington, had the opportunity to create a grand garden.
Also ending up in the nation’s capital during the war were John and Gladys Saltonstall. He, according to his future son-in-law, had “no job, ever.“ While his life was mostly devoted to tending to his money, Saltonstall did have a Navy appointment to the staff of Admiral Sims and served two terms in the Massachusetts state legislature. Despite world events, Gladys Saltonstall was thrilled with her life in Washington and, its excitement and glamor, entertaining many flirtations in the diplomatic corps (her husband was often in England). They lived in a home at Fourteenth and R Streets that belonged to the well-known eye doctor (and rare book collector), William Holland Wilmer. At her last visit to Adams’s home, just before he died, the writer and historian warned her, “It occurs to me that you may not be able to distinguish between an English gentleman and an English bounder.” Following Adams’s funeral, Hoyt went to stay with the Saltonstalls, so her close friendship with Gladys had endured, at least for a time.
After four children, the Saltonstall marriage ended when her husband collected enough evidence of her infidelity for a divorce, having private detectives follow her and a lover to Paris. One daughter, Jean, would later marry another man from Boston society (although not of similar wealth and status), Benjamin Bradlee, in 1942. It was another brief courtship and unsuccessful marriage (they divorced in 1955) and, following her mother’s example, Jean came to step out of her privileged world and become a social worker, maintaining a busy practice into her 70s. The unsentimental and hard-bitten Bradlee, the great journalist of his time, in a few strokes paints a sympathetic and appreciative portrait of his former mother-in-law (who wasn’t allowed to attend her own daughter’s wedding reception). He credits her with introducing him to a whole new world of artists, philosophers, psychiatrists, dancers, civil libertarians:
If Jean’s father epitomized the conventional Boston aristocrat, who clipped coupons and shot ducks, her mother, Gladys Rice Saltonstall (later Mrs. Henry Billings and finally Mrs. Van Wyck Brooks), personified an unconventional New York middle class which lived in a world of culture. She was the daughter of a doctor who treated the throats of New York’s top opera and concert singers, and artists. She walked into a kind of prison when she walked into John L. Saltonstall’s life in Brookline and Topsfield, Massachusetts, both bastions of the stuffy respectability that stifled Proper Bostonians.
Bradlee’s first meeting of his future mother-in-law took place on the island of Martha’s Vineyard, “both of us naked as jaybirds,” on a traditionally nude beach. “This was a long way from 267 Beacon Street, farther than I had ever been, farther than I had thought I would ever get and survive.” This was shortly after Gladys’s marriage to painter Henry Billings; the couple were to him “joyous and important influences in my life, opening doors to new experiences.” The men ordered from a Sears, Roebuck catalog a grain silo, 18 feet in diameter, which they installed on the Vineyard. A door and windows were cut in and a pull-down ladder led to the bedroom. It was this retreat that provided the title of a profile of Gladys Brooks in the New York Times “She lived in mansions, but her favorite house was a silo.”
Her last marriage was to writer and literary historian Van Wyck Brooks who died in 1963. The Times quotes Brooks, then in her 80s, about transforming the silo into a three-story cottage. She gave it to her son, John Saltonstall Jr., when her husband developed health problems and they could not stay at the remote location. Trying to get away from the demands of the social life in New York City, the Brooks settled in Bridgewater, Connecticut. There they entertained guests such as Carl Sandburg, Alexander Calder, Norman Mailer, and William Styron.
In the large garden there, Gladys Brooks, the former student of the Arnold Arboretum, could identify both the common and Latin names of every plant.