Rachel Lambert Mellon was born an heir to a great fortune—her grandfather invented Listerine and her father was the president of Gillette—and married one of the wealthiest men in America, the banking heir and philanthropist Paul Mellon. Known to her friends as Bunny, Mrs. Mellon cut a distinguished presence in rarified circles in Washington, New York, London, and Paris, where the Mellons maintained homes celebrated for their refinement and taste. But Mellon’s greatest love, and her signature accomplishment, was landscape and garden design. Linda Jane Holden, author of The Gardens of Bunny Mellon, interviewed Mellon extensively before her death in 2014 and has been granted access by her family to her journals, correspondence, photographs, sketches, and memorabilia.
Although she had no formal training, Mellon read widely in horticulture and made contributions to several landmark gardens, including the restorations of the Potager du Roi at Versailles and Monet’s garden at Giverny. She also designed the gardens and landscapes of many of the Mellons’ properties, chief among them the gardens and farm of their sprawling estate, Oak Spring, in Upperville, Virginia.
Mellon’s longtime friendship with the Kennedys began in the 1950s with a visit to Oak Spring by Jacqueline Kennedy, whom Mellon later advised on fine arts and antiques during the Kennedy White House restoration. In 1961 President Kennedy asked Mrs. Mellon to redesign the White House Rose Garden. She created more open space for public ceremonies and introduced American species of plants into the intricate planting scheme. She had begun plans for the White House’s East Garden, but work was interrupted by the president’s assassination. After his funeral, for which Mrs. Mellon arranged flowers, Lady Bird Johnson asked Mellon to resume her work on the East Garden. Holden has uncovered a previously unknown mock-up of the Kennedy grave site in an old family cemetery at Oak Spring. And the Kennedys asked Mellon to design the grounds of the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum.
In France, Mellon designed the formal and vegetable gardens at Hubert de Givenchy’s Château du Jonchet. Mellon enjoyed a warm friendship with Givenchy, who designed much of her wardrobe, from her gowns to her gardening hats and smocks.
Much like one of Mrs. Mellon’s landscapes, The Gardens of Bunny Mellon has slowly matured over several years, allowing the gifted landscape photographer Roger Foley to record Oak Spring, her cherished home, in all four seasons. The book also features vintage photographs by Horst, Aarons, and others of Mellon’s gardens for her homes in Cape Cod, Nantucket, Antigua, and New York.