The Olmsted Brothers at Planting Fields
The Planting Fields landscape design was initiated by Boston architect Guy Lowell and his partner Andrew Sargent, son of Charles Sprague Sargent, director of Harvard University’s Arnold Arboretum in Boston. Andrew Sargent coordinated the planting of the beech trees along the drive leading from the Planting Fields Road entrance to Coe Hall. Such a drive with views of lawns from between the trees was the conventional pattern for estate planning throughout the Gold Coast era. When Andrew Sargent died in 1918 at 42, the Coes hired the Olmsted Brothers to cast their influence on the landscape over a ten-year period. It included an English landscape garden with Coe Hall as the centerpiece.
John Charles Olmsted and Frederick Law Olmsted Jr. inherited their firm from their father, Frederick Law Olmsted, the famous landscape architect who designed Central Park with Calvert Vaux in the late 1850s. The Olmsted brothers designed public and private parks all across the U.S. for more than 100 years and at their height in the 1930s they employed a staff of more than 60.
The Olmsted Brothers worked closely with Coe Hall architects Walker and Gillette to create the landscape setting for the house. Two 40-foot copper beeches were brought to the site from Mrs. Coe’s childhood home in Fairhaven, Massachusetts; one of them lived until 2006. Other trees were purchased from Hicks Nursery in nearby Westbury, which specialized in tree-moving for estates. Two ship mast locusts on the mansion’s west side frame the building. From the west front of Coe Hall, the park slopes downhill where the Olmsted Brothers created a series of charming vistas through fine trees, most of them oaks, which are artfully scattered across the lawns. Huge old trees already grew on the property, as they grow so abundantly in the region, and these were incorporated into the landscape design.
The Coe Family spent many seasons at their Long Island estate and ultimately in the early 1950s, William R. Coe deeded Planting Fields to the State of New York. The contributions the Olmsted Brothers made to the site include key landscape features such as the Italian Garden, the Surprise Pool, the greenhouses, the original entrance drive at the Carshalton Gates, the plantings all around Coe Hall, the vistas seen from within the estate and many other areas.
2022 marks the 200th anniversary of the birth of Frederick Law Olmsted. Planting Fields joins with the National Association for Olmsted Parks and partner sites across the country to explore the living legacy of the Olmsted firm. We have many programs and events planned throughout the year to celebrate Olmsted 200, culminating in a major symposium that will examine the residential projects of the Olmsted firm. Please click here for more information about these events.