Around the Island

Portraits of a garden in bloom; Sylvester Manor invites virtual visits

Sylvester Manor continues to offer inviting glimpses via virtual touring of the home and estate maintained by generations descended from Nathaniel Sylvester and his bride, Grissell, since they settled here in 1652.

The previous tours focused on the Manor’s parlors, each reflecting the times and tastes of various generations. This week, the tour explores the grounds, offering a view of gardens brought to life by a succession of women in the family.

Cornelia Horsford, a member of the Gardiner family who had inherited the manor in 1900, took special interest in planning and cultivating the estate’s gardens, adding a water garden and laying out designs for the garden to flourish in all seasons.

Cornelia’s Garden

I assume that an “Historical Garden” is a garden which is old enough to cover several periods in the fashion of horticultural display, and to have received guests, persons of sufficient renown to hold permanent places in the history of the county to which the garden belongs. The garden at Sylvester Manor was begun in 1652 and was first mentioned in the journal of George Fox, the founder of the Society of Quakers who tells about preaching to the Indians in Madame Sylvester’s dooryard in 1672. By that time, the box edgings planted twenty years before must have formed well grown edgings to the parks and flower beds.”

This quote, from the opening lines of a 1920s address to the Garden Club of East Hampton by Cornelia Horsford, is an example of the affection and respect she felt for the Garden at Sylvester Manor.

Together with her sister Kate, Cornelia designed, maintained and celebrated the Garden and landscape at the Manor for half a century. As a talented artist, through her photographs and many watercolor paintings and drawings, she illustrated the beauty and captured the landscape — from general scenes of the Garden to studies of individual flowers.

Ms. Horsford chronicled the Garden she loved, and to this day the Manor has maintained her extraordinary collection of artwork.

Alice Fiske in her Sylvester Manor rose garden. (Credit: Sylvester Manor)

Alice Fiske’s Garden

Cornelia Horsford’s nephew, Andrew Fiske, married Alice Hench in 1952 and they moved into the Manor house.

Since Ms. Horsford’s death eight years earlier, the house had been rented out and the garden neglected. Ms. Fiske lavished the garden with attention, dividing the lawns into a progression of floral rooms, the white, the rose garden and the tea lawn. She, too, oversaw the garden for half a century, preserving its history, including trees believed to have been brought to America as cuttings in the 17th century, even as she added new touches with her own sure hand.

Alice Fiske, who died in 2006, was a well-known figure on the Island, easily recognized in her hat and gloves at celebrations and events.

Although the current Garden is not what it was during Cornelia Horsford’s time, nor in the following era as Alice Fiske’s Garden, it is still a beautiful place to visit as it awaits its next reimagining.

Visitors are welcome to come and walk the Garden paths at Sylvester Manor this spring; the Garden and grounds surrounding the Manor House are open to the public seven days a week, sunrise to sunset.

All paintings are watercolors by Cornelia Horsford from the Sylvester Manor collection.

Dogwoods in spring.
Impressions of the Manor garden.