Some weeks ago, on a beautiful April afternoon, I visited the Bayou Bend Collection and Gardens with the Institute of Classical Architecture & Art, Texas Chapter. I had visited this historic Houston house before but had spent most of my time admiring the collection of American furniture and art and had devoted little time to exploring the gardens; fortunately the purpose of this visit was to sketch on the grounds of the estate and doing so I discovered a beautiful place, perfectly balanced between the formal and the bucolic.
Bayou Bend was built in the 1920's in the Greek Revival style by Houston architect John Staub for civic leader and art patron Ima Hogg. In true country estate tradition, the house presents a private façade onto the street, with small openings and a modest entrance that give glimpses of the gardens that lay beyond. In contrast, the back of the house opens onto a two story portico from which the broad lawn of the Garden of Diana can be enjoyed.
To the left of the lawn is Clio's garden, where the muse of History sits in a parterre of manicured boxwood hedges and flower beds. The modern approach to Bayou Bend is through this formal garden, which I encounter after crossing the suspension bridge that spans the Buffalo Bayou.
Clio's image is directly oriented towards a statue of Euterpe that sits at the other extreme of Diana's lawn - (in Miss Hogg's time both muses actually faced one another). Unlike Clio's enthronement among the hedges, Euterpe, muse of music, sits on the edge of the wood, the cadences of water rippling behind her.
Euterpe's garden makes way to the lower levels of the Woodland Ravines, which provide a smooth progression from the heavily designed environment of the goddesses' terraces to a more natural one. From the winding path along the ravine I catch glimpses of Bayou Bend's gables and encounter some colorful but shy residents of the woods.
Carved out of the lush vegetation surrounding the ravines is the East Garden, which was the first area Miss Hogg planted at Bayou Bend. Enclosed, private and formal, the space incorporates elements of English design and the iron fence behind the fountain depicts a lyre motif, a classical reference to Miss Hogg's love of music.
Further along the ravine and nestled among the woods, I discover the whimsical Butterfly Garden with its 350 azalea plants, which in early spring bloom in colorful stripes along the giant wings. The body and antennae of the insect are carefully delineated in brickwork, and the area is ornamented with a small cupid figure, potted urns, and winter-blooming camellias.
We stay in the gardens until closing time and somehow I manage not to complete a single drawing, I'm too preoccupied with discovery. I leave Bayou Bend with a faceless sketch of the Huntress and a dubious attempt at a fountain, next time I'll find a secret spot under the oaks and try my luck, watercolor perhaps...
To visit Bayou Bend contact the Museum of Fine Arts Houston. For more images of Bayou Bend visit Dear Polia's Facebook galleries: Bayou Bend