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Journal American Rhododendron Society

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Dr. Glen Jamieson ars.editor@gmail.com


Volume 19, Number 1
January 1965

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Planting Fields Arboretum
Gordon E. Jones, Director, Oyster Bay, L. I., N. Y.

Planting Fields
    Fig. 2.  The Rhododendron Park and in the distance the Arboretum Information Center.
                Gottscho photo

        Planting Fields Arboretum, originally the private estate of the late William Robertson Coe, was presented as a gift to the people of the State of New York in 1949, Upon Mr. Coe's death on March 14, 1955, the Arboretum came under the administrative control of the State University Agricultural and Technical College at Farmingdale. The horticultural showplace Mr. Coe had spent a lifetime developing was thus preserved so that a public arboretum and horticultural training center could be developed. Mr. Coe was encouraged also to provide funds for improvement and further development of the arboretum which he generously left in the hands of the Planting Fields Foundation Board of Trustees to administer. Under the chairmanship of his eldest son, Mr. William R. Coe, Jr., the Foundation is developing the many horticultural potentials Planting Fields offers.
        Within an hour's drive from New York City, Planting Fields is located near the village of Oyster Bay on Long Island's North Shore. Although not situated on the water, the Arboretum benefits considerably from the moderating temperatures of both the Bay and Long Island Sound.
        The Arboretum's beautiful large trees, lush rolling lawns and wide variety of flowering plants to be seen throughout the gardens and greenhouses are features most visitors recall. In May and early June those who come are rewarded with the beauty of thousands of rhododendrons and azaleas found in wide variety in every part of the Arboretum's one hundred and thirty acres.
        Originally, the Matinecock Indians chose this fertile land to clear for growing their corn, grains and vegetables. (Indian arrowheads and relics are often found today as areas are prepared for new plantings.) The English settlers who followed in the early 1700's cleared more land for farming. A productive farm and orchard when purchased by Mr. Coe in 1913, the English derivation of the Indian name was retained for his estate, "Planting Fields."
        Of the 409 acres that comprise the estate, 160 are to be permanently preserved and developed by the University as an Arboretum. There are also some 200 acres of fine woodlands through which are walking trails, a delight for birdwatchers. The balance of the acreage is tillable farmland.
        Olmstead Brothers, well-known and highly regarded Landscape Architects of Brookline, Mass. were commissioned to develop the original plan for road circulation, gardens and greenhouses.
        For 45 years Mr. Coe collected and planted outstanding trees, shrubs and particularly rhododendrons and azaleas which he admired. His earliest purchase of rhododendrons was a large shipment of Catawbiense Hybrids imported from the Anthony Waterer Nursery in England in 1916. Many of these fine old hardy plants are now, of course, extremely large and magnificent when in flower. Until his death at the age of 85 Mr. Coe continued to seek new rhododendron hybrids and fortunately some of the species as well.
        Acquisitions at first of "fancy" hybrids such as 'Mrs. Furnival', 'Cynthia', 'Loderi King George', 'Marinus Koster', 'Britannia, 'Pink Pearl', et al., were thought not hardy enough for Long Island's climate and therefore Mr. Coe grew them for a number of years in large tubs which permitted them to be over wintered in a plant storage cellar. After the War these fine varieties were planted in the Rhododendron Park where many are growing well today. Most of these varieties ('Pink Pearl' has been an exception) have proved to be consistent bloomers following all but the severest winters, as that of 1962 when the temperature dropped to 8 below zero.
        A native of Worcestershire, England, Mr. Coe chose to plant at Oyster Bay trees and shrubs he had admired as a boy. He was particularly fond of lindens and beeches. Literally dozens of large specimen Fagus sylvatica and its several varieties, which were planted as sizable trees in the early 1920's, now lend a feeling of maturity to the Arboretum. Two beautiful trees are Tilia tomentosa and Tilia petiolaris, the silver lindens, located on the lawn just north of the manor house, now Coe Hall.
        An interesting example of the extent to which Mr. Coe went to bring plants he particularly wanted at Planting Fields is illustrated in the story of a copper beech, now a handsome tree just north of Coe Hall. We are told by his son, Mr. William R. Coe, Jr. how one winter about 1920, his father devised a way to transport the tree from the estate of his father-in-law, the late H. A. Rogers in Fair Haven, Massachusetts.
        The tree was 30 feet high, the trunk 2 feet in diameter, and it had a platformed ball of soil 12 feet in width. The tree was brought across Long Island Sound to Oyster Bay on a barge. To move it from the barge to Planting Fields, some two miles by road, took three weeks, 72 horses and a steam roller to do the job.
        The manor house, now Coe Hall, a spacious, stately building of seventy five rooms is considered by many to be one of the finest examples of Elizabethan architecture in the United States. Designed by the New York architectural firm of Walker and Gillette, it was completed in 1921. Especially interesting are its details in stone, brick, lead, stained glass and hand carving in wood. The Arboretum offices and conference meeting rooms are located in Coe Hall.
        Of particular note are the famous Carshalton Gates, marking the formal entrance to Planting Fields off Chicken Valley Road. Completed about 1712 by the English craftsman, Thomas Robinson, the gates stood at the entrance to Carshalton Park near London, England, until purchased in 1919 by Mr. Coe from Lord Wittenham.
        Atop the stone columns flanking the wrought iron fence and gate are beautifully sculptured, ten-foot lead statues, reputed to have been done by Van Nost. Depicted are the Goddess Diana and the huntsman, Actaeon. The stone sculpture on the columns was clone by Catallini.
        The beautiful formal gate entrance is opened only on special occasions because of the narrowness of the old carriage gate, the winding and narrow road.
        However, the road, about one mile in length from Coe Hall or from the new Arboretum Information Shelter, is a delightful walk along wooded slopes massed with hundreds of Kaempferi and Kurume hybrid azaleas, native Carolina and other rhododendrons highlighted with pink and white dogwoods. This quiet wooded area is also a birdwatcher's paradise. The Arboretum and parking fields are entered from Planting Fields Road along a drive lined with handsome old European beech trees.
        At a meeting of the Arboretum's Advisory Board shortly after Planting Fields came under administration of the State University, the idea of creating a Synoptic Garden was proposed. The members of the board, including Dr. Clement G. Bowers, Mr. Frederic P. Lee, Dr. Henry T. Skinner, Mr. Richard Webel and Dr. Richard White pointed out the need for an arboretum area specifically devoted to representation of the selected best of ornamental shrubs for horticultural study. Students and homeowners in the metropolitan area visit the synoptic garden to see those shrubs and trees they would like to plant in their own gardens.
        The advisory board recommended that the garden, as synoptic implies, should not attempt to be botanically complete in representing the genera of woody plants but that only superior species and varieties or cultivars especially desirable as ornamentals be selected.

Section of the Synoptic Shrub Garden
Fig. 3.  A view of Section A-B of the Synoptic Shrub Garden.
Gottscho photo

        Larger genera, i.e. Rhododendrons, et al., having other good species and varieties not included in the Synoptic Garden will ultimately be found in more complete collections to be established elsewhere in the Arboretum.
        Designing the garden was a challenge. No others of the type envisioned were known to exist in this country. It was hoped that the Synoptic Garden could be developed to present the extensive selection of shrubs in an aesthetic arrangement that would create student as well as public interest in desirable plants.
        Roughly two-thirds of the garden area is devoted to a planting of three to five, or more, plants of each species or cultivar of the selected shrubs. The balance of the area is developed with other plant materials, small flowering trees, ground covers, turf and garden ornaments in pleasing landscape groups and combinations.
        In general the shrubs in the Synoptic Garden are planted in an alphabetical sequence to facilitate locating a given genus for study.
        In the A-B section, for example, one finds Abelia, Aesculus, Aronia, Berberis, Buddleia, Buxus, etc. In Section R one finds Rhododendrons, Rhus, Roses, etc.
        In the completed garden there will be over 400 different species and varieties of plants represented. Each plant is clearly labeled with an engraved plastic label giving its Latin and common names, family and area of origin. Developing the garden in an alphabetical arrangement of shrubs has been challenging, to say the least, but its effectiveness and acceptance have proven rewarding.
        The final selection of shrubs to be included in the Synoptic Garden resulted from the advice and recommendations of many keen plantsmen. It has been gratifying to see the sharp interest of both students and the public in this novel shrub collection.
        Rehabilitation and improvement of other areas is a continuing program. Recently, within the Rhododendron Park, an area was cleared so that many of the lepidote species and hybrids could be included.
        An extensive new area is being cleared and readied to be devoted to developing as completely as possible a collection of the best forms that can be obtained of the desirable rhododendron species that may be hardy on Long Island. It is intended that as far as possible the species selected within a series will be arranged together within a section to facilitate their study and enjoyment.
        A valuable new and continuing addition throughout the Arboretum is an irrigation system. In the neighborhood of four miles of pipe have been laid in the last few years with a quick-coupling snap valve installed at 50 foot intervals from which a rotating sprinkler can be attached. In dry summers such as the past one this has been a real blessing.
        Planting Fields becomes a floral wonderland in the spring. At this season, visitors come in their largest numbers. There is something of interest to see in the Arboretum, however, at all seasons of the year.
        Summer visitors enjoy the spacious lawns and tree shaded paths along which are found benches for resting. During this period stately old elms, oaks and beech trees are particularly admired. In September and October the Arboretum's many trees and shrubs provide a brilliant festival of autumn color.

The Arboretum Information Center
         Fig. 4.  The Arboretum Information Center.  The visitors are walking through the
                     Synoptic Shrub Garden.
                     Gottscho photo

        The winter period attracts numerous visitors to the Arboretum to enjoy the fine collection of camellias, orchids, hibiscus, anthuriums, and other sub-tropical and tropical plants in the one and one-half acres of greenhouse ranges. There are approximately 150 Camellia japonica and Camellia reticulata cultivars, the largest plants having been purchased by Mr. Coe in 1916 from the John Waterer, Sons and Crisp Nurseries, Bagshot, England. These large old plants are handsome during the flowering period from late December through April.
        The Arboreum is open daily from 8:00 A.M. until twilight. The greenhouses are open Monday through Friday, except holidays, from 8:30 A.M. Until 4:00 P.M. There is no charge for admission.


Volume 19, Number 1
January 1965

DLA Ejournal Home | QBARS Home | Table of Contents for this issue | Search JARS and other ejournals