What I Learned About Gardening From Bunny Mellon

Leah Bourne

Bunny Mellon’s Osterville, Massachusetts garden. Photo Via Architectural Digest.

The late Bunny Mellon was a lot of things—an art collector, a philanthropist, but without a doubt she’ll be most remembered for her gardening prowess. Inspired by French gardeners André Le Nôtre and Jean-Baptiste de La Quintinie, Mellon assembled the White House Rose Garden for Jackie Kennedy, the landscape design for the home of Hubert de Givenchy, and even assisted with a restoration of the potager du Roi in Versailles.
Her crowning achievement though is undoubtedly the gardens at her estate in Virginia, Oak Spring, which she meticulously crafted for decades. Take a look at photos of Mellon’s gardening work and you will become weak in the knees. Apparently Jackie Kennedy felt the same way. “I loved your house, but I don’t like mine,” Kennedy told Mellon, as Mellon recalls in the preface she wrote for Jacqueline Kennedy: The White House Years.
Perhaps most of us will never be a banking heiress like Mellon, have an estate comprised of thousands of acres, and a staff of around 100, but that is really besides the point. Perusing photos of Mellon’s gardens will brighten anyone’s day, even from afar.


Oak Spring Farms in Virginia. Photo Via Vanity Fair.

Key Takeaways From Bunny Mellon’s Gardens
1. All about control.
Mellon was a huge advocate of pruning and pleaching when it came to growing fruit trees and shrubs. Still, she liked a certain element of wildness in her gardens. Certain weeds were allowed to sprout up between paving stones on the walkways in her gardens, for instance.
2. The Bunny Mellon checklist. 
Herb topiaries, perfectly pruned trees, grand entrances (an arbor of Mary Potter crab-apple trees leads to Mellon’s Virginia garden), special moments (including carefully placed sculptures, birdhouses, and pots of citrus) are all Mellon signatures. Mellon famously said “Nothing should be noticed,” referring to her gardens. It is true, to a degree—with every element working towards the whole picture.
3. All in the details.
Mellon told Vanity Fair: “This garden is made of love. And details.” Incredible detailing is everywhere in Mellon’s enchanted gardens. Mellon even reportedly pruned her trees by looking at them from a distance so she could take into account how they looked from all angles.
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