The not-so-secret gardener

Photographs by Bob Rozycki

Jenny du Pont and The Garden Conservancy in Garrison were made for each other.

“My position as president and chief executive officer of the Garden Conservancy uses all of the different skills I have developed over my lifetime and I love that the mission is pure,” du Pont says. “We focus on the transformative nature of gardens in the lives of people … and that is very rewarding to me.”

Du Pont assumed the post in April 2013 after a multifaceted career as a practicing attorney both here and in London; the executive director of Miracle House in Manhattan; and a leader of several philanthropic and nonprofit boards.

“I was always an enthusiastic gardener, and when I heard about the opportunity at The Garden Conservancy, I decided to explore it. I was becoming increasingly drawn to the nonprofit, ‘giving back’ side of the work world and The Garden Conservancy struck a special chord. I get to do many things I am very interested in, including preserving, sharing and educating.”

 

At The Conservancy

The Garden Conservancy was founded in 1989 by gardening expert Frank Cabot and since that time has become the nation’s leader in preserving America’s exceptional gardens for the education and enjoyment of the public. Five of the approximately 100 gardens under the umbrella of The Garden Conservancy are National Historic Landmarks and 17 are listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

The Garden Conservancy is probably best-known to the public for its national garden-visiting program called Open Days. The program was launched in 1995 and more than 300 private gardens in 22 states across America now open their gates annually, drawing thousands of visitors.

In April 2012, The Garden Conservancy received the prestigious Historic Preservation Medal from the Garden Club of America “in recognition of outstanding work in the field of preservation and/or restoration of historic gardens or buildings of national importance.”

Some examples of The Conservancy’s garden projects include the magnificent Ruth Bancroft Garden in Walnut Creek, Calif.; The Pearl Fryar Topiary Garden in Bishopville, S.C., created by the self-taught artist; and the rehabilitation of the historic gardens that played an important role in the lives of prisoners confined to San Francisco’s desolate Alcatraz Island.

The Garden Conservancy’s many lectures and symposia offer both its members and the public an array of contemporary ideas relevant to fine gardening, design and preservation. Its handbook, “Taking a Garden Public,” presents an overview of the issues and strategies involved in preserving and sustaining a garden for the good of all.

 

A natural progression

Down the Hudson River from Garrison, du Pont grew up in a Dobbs Ferry home with a view of the river. She now lives in neighboring Tarrytown with her husband, financial consultant Pierre S. du Pont 5th, a scion of Delaware’s well-known political and industrial family, and their children.

“After being ‘all over the place’ professionally, it was good to come back to the river towns six years ago,” she says. “We didn’t consider any other place. It’s a great commute, both up to The Garden Conservancy headquarters in Garrison and down to New York City. My husband, four children and I have moved several times for work over the years and it feels good to be back home. Wherever we lived, I kept up some form of gardening, from containers in London and Washington D.C., to large vegetable and flower gardens on five acres in Massachusetts. I love peonies, roses and daffodils.”

Du Pont says she is committed to keeping The Garden Conservancy moving forward and fulfilling its mission.

“We are now coming upon 25 years and have rejuvenated and preserved 100 gardens. We are very committed to our mission. We take a real interest in what goes on and are quite passionate about it. This is an exciting time to be leading the organization and I believe all of my skills, talents and experiences will be used to the fullest in the best possible way.”

Du Pont – who earned a joint JD/MSFS degree, magna cum laude, from Georgetown University Law Center and the Edmund A. Walsh School of Foreign Service at Georgetown University – says she believes her legal training and years of practicing law bring a distinct advantage to the multifaceted conservancy. When she served as executive director of Miracle House – a smaller nonprofit that provides temporary housing, meals and advocacy support to people coming to New York City for critical medical treatment – she also found her legal skills very useful.

Du Pont has also served as a board member, fundraiser and appointed official for organizations including Phillips Exeter Academy; Princeton University; the American Friends of the British Museum; Hancock Shaker Village; and the town of Dover, Mass. She says the work taught her a lot about best practices with regard to boards, governance, development and fiscal responsibility.

Since 1997 she has served as a board member of the Conservation Law Foundation, a Boston-based nonprofit with offices throughout New England. The organization’s charge is to protect New England’s environment for the benefit of all people, using the law, science and the market.

 

Committed to the mission

Fulfilling the mission of The Garden Conservancy, however, is her overarching goal and something she works toward each day.

“We must continue to promote the message that preserving and sharing beautiful gardens is relevant and has tremendously beneficial effects on communities. I would love to see our Open Days program expand along with our educational opportunities.”

Another area du Pont plans to focus on is embracing burgeoning and ever-evolving social media to promote the mission of The Garden Conservancy. “These changes are so immense and so widespread that the opportunities for sharing information have become almost limitless. One of my near-term goals is to figure out how to use these different avenues to our advantage.”

Du Pont says The Garden Conservancy “has done very well but is not yet through achieving.”

“What the staff has accomplished is amazing, but what we can still do is boundless. I would like to see a more intense focus on educating the public to understand that a wonderful garden ‘is not just somebody’s flowers.’ We have great traction now, and I think we are going to continue to have great success. There are so many ways gardens are relevant and important to life, and we want to help people see all that they are and can be.”

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