Beatrix Farrand was the only woman of the eleven founders of the American Society of Landscape Architects. Born in 1872 to the prominent Jones family of New York, Farrand spent much of her time in Bar Harbor, Maine at her family's summer home, Reef Point. Farrand was an avid gardener in her youth, and became interested in design and planning after experimenting with different sites on the Reef Point property. Throughout her life she referred to herself as a "landscape gardener," rather than a landscape architect.
At age twenty Farrand was introduced to Charles Sprague Sargent, professor of horticulture at the Bussey Institute of Harvard, and also the founding director of the Arnold Arboretum. Farrand moved to Brookline, Massachusetts where she lived in Sargent's home and studied landscape gardening, botany, and land planning. She also learned drafting to scale, elevation rendering, and surveying and engineering at Columbia School of Mines under the direction of Professor William Ware.
Farrand drew influence in her design from her travels throughout Europe where she visited more than twenty notable gardens. She was also inspired by Italian, Chinese and other landscape traditions, and often distilled these traditions in her designs. She was influenced in using native plant species from her meeting with Gertrude Jekyll. Jekyll's series of thematic gardening books emphasized the importance and value of natural plantings.
She began practicing landscape architecture at the age of 25, working from the upper floor of her mother's brownstone house on East Eleventh Street in New York. Her first designs were residential gardens for neighboring Bar Harbor residents. With the help her mother and aunt's social connections she was introduced to, and later designed for, J.P. Morgan, John D. Rockefeller, and Theodore Roosevelt.
Her most notable works was at the Dumbarton Oaks estate in Washington D.C. for Mildred and Robert Woods Bliss. Her design was inspired by her European venture and Arts and Craft idiom and consisted of terraced gardens, steep slopes, and a connection between the built and natural environments. Dumbarton Oaks is often viewed as one of the best American neoclassicist garden.
Farrand also designed the Eyrie Garden for Abby Aldrich Rockefeller at Seal Harbor, Maine, which drew inspiration from Chinese design. John D. Rockefeller sought out Farrand to design planting plans for carriage roads at Acadia National Park on Mount Desert Island, Maine, which he funded. This was at the dawn of the automobile, and in her design Farrand applied principles learned from Frederick Law Olmsted's drives at Biltmore and the Arnold Arboretum.
Farrand was Princeton University's first consulting landscape architect, from 1912 to 1943. She later went on to improve a dozen other campuses; among those were Yale (including the Marsh Botanical Garden) and the University of Chicago. Her campus design was based on three concepts: plants that bloomed throughout the academic year, emphasizing architecture as well as hiding flaws, and using upright and climbing plants so that the small spaces between buildings would not seem reduced in scale. During her career she also assisted in plantings at the White House and designed the Morgan Library grounds in New York and The Huntington Library in San Marino, California. The Santa Barbara Botanic Garden in California was a Farrand project as well.
Farrand believed in using native plant materials to connect the natural and the designed landscape. Her impressionistic palette of plant color and texture contrasted with formal built structures in her style. As new buildings are constructed at Princeton, architects are often referred to Farrand's papers, which are archived at the University of California, Berkeley and Harvard.
During the last part of her life Farrand devoted herself to creating a landscape study center at Reef Point. Here she developed an extensive garden on the estate and published the Reef Point Gardens Bulletin from 1946 to 1955.
When she was unable to raise funding for the continued operation of the study center she had the house and garden dismantled, rather than risking its falling into disrepair after her passing.
Beatrix Farrand spent the last three years of her life at Garland Farm, the home of friends, on Mt. Desert Island. It was here that she created her final garden, an intimate space in keeping with the size of the property. The Garland Farm was purchased by the Beatrix Farrand Society on January 9, 2004. The society plans to create a center there for the study of Farrand's work and to continue to preserve the garden.