Coal baron's garden

One thing I've learned: Gardening can change the way you travel. Visiting favorite cousins in Rhode Island this weekend, we made a point of swinging by Blithewold mansion, gardens and arboretum in Bristol, a 33-acre estate built in 1896 as a retreat for Augustus and Bessie Van Wickle. Their fortune came from coal - in none other than Hazleton, Pa. - and the house and grounds reflect that crazy, opulent period.

The mansions in Nerwport - I mean "cottages" - are fun to visit and shouldn't be missed if you're in this part of the world, but Blithewold is more informal, the plantings more natural. There's a large vegetable garden, too.


This is the view from the porch of the house, where the cousins relaxed after two hours in the gardens. We drank locally made sodas - cream, ginger beer and strawberry - and acted like we owned the joint.  The Van Wickles had a yacht, don't you know, so this waterfront property was tres convenient, but I'm sure they spent many an hour on this lovely veranda.

I'll post more photos of this special place, where the hydrangeas - here, an oakleaf - are the bluest ever. Sort of like the water.