Planting Fields is a dynamic and vibrant site that features numerous historic structures, Olmsted Brothers-designed landscapes, and world class art and horticultural collections. As a former Gold Coast estate, it is preserved today as a celebration of art, architecture, landscape, and the people that resided on its land. Located in Oyster Bay, New York, the name “Planting Fields” referenced the fertility of the land and its rich agricultural value originally for the Matinecock People and later for Dutch and English colonists. Established in 1952, Planting Fields Foundation works in partnership with New York State Office of Parks, Recreation, and Historic Preservation to steward Planting Fields.
Planting Fields is one of only a few surviving estates on Long Island with its original land intact, as well as its buildings, including Coe Hall, a 65-room Tudor Revival mansion. It began to take its current form in 1913 when the land was purchased by William Robertson Coe, an English immigrant, and Mai Rogers Coe, heiress and daughter of Standard Oil partner Henry Huttleston Rogers. Born into modest circumstances, W.R. Coe made his fortune in America by climbing the ranks to eventually become chairman of a large marine insurance company. The lavish lifestyle of the Coes included five homes throughout America and associated pastimes such as interior decoration, horse racing, hunting, plant hybridization, animal husbandry, and patronage of the arts. Eventually becoming their country estate providing balance to the urban life of New York City, the Coes were heavily involved in the design and decoration of Planting Fields.
Following a devastating fire and the unexpected death of Sargent, in 1918 Coe hired architects Walker & Gillette and Olmsted Brothers with James Frederick Dawson as the design lead to construct a new, larger English Tudor Revival estate. For the next twenty years, Dawson and Olmsted Brothers (including Warren Manning, Percival Gallagher, and Percy Jones) worked closely with the Coe family to create formal and decorative gardens (such as the Italian Garden and Heather Garden) complemented by vast naturalistic woodlands and clearings. Across the lawn’s west slope, sweeping vistas are revealed by the strategic placement of oak trees. The Camellia House, first constructed under Lowell and Sargent, was enlarged by Olmsted Brothers and elevated from a utilitarian ancillary structure to a garden destination. Under the direction of Dawson, innovations in the use of heating pipes and ventilation allowed Coe’s collection of rare camellias, imported from the island of Guernsey in 1917, to be planted year-round. Olmsted Brothers also oversaw the reorganization of the site’s circulation system after the monumental, eighteenth-century iron Carshalton Gates, originally installed at London’s Carshalton Park and imported by Coe after World War I, were chosen for the site’s west entrance.
The landscape retains its original 409 acres of greenhouses, rolling lawns, formal gardens, woodland paths, and plant collections. Made to look as if it stood for centuries, the architecture and design of Coe Hall is a showcase of artistry and craftsmanship that features a distinctly American aesthetic through whimsical interior decoration by Elsie de Wolfe, original ironwork commissions by Samuel Yellin, and murals painted by artists Robert Winthrop Chanler and Everett Shinn. Planting Fields has been included in the National Register of Historic Places since 1979.
Emily Leger serves as the Collections and Exhibitions Manager for Planting Fields Foundation.