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Restoring Breakers landscape would enhance visitors' experience

On April 7, the Elks Club Lodge in Newport opened its doors to a community forum hosted by the Friends of Newport Preservation. The two speakers were individuals both connected to architectural disciplines, one in building and the other in landscape.

Patricia O'Donnell gave a talk on landscape design that was enlightening and inspiring. Her talk was on the qualities that a thoughtful, well-conceived plan ought to aspire.

To be specific, the subject discussed was the serpentine garden path at The Breakers that this group is working to preserve and restore. This was a plan that had the direct input from the three main players of this significant (arguably one of the most well-known in America) property: the Bowditch design firm, the architect (Richard Morris Hunt) and the owner (Cornelius Vanderbilt).

Landscape design works on a multisensory plane, yielding a true multimedia experience. This is a crucial element, and one that is so often and sadly neglected.

A serpentine path offers no immediate and obvious terminus, yielding an ongoing flow of visual surprises. The crushed stone path offers what the late local landscaper “Wiggie” Brown called the “estate crunch,” an audio and tactile sensation. The visual of the multiple layers of shrub borders and bedding plants makes up for the exciting visual element. These are sensory anchors that will always be experienced while on the travel of this path.

To these three are added a whole array of wonderful action. This extra layer is not a constant, but is in constant change; I am talking about the change of light, the change of temperature (which affects smells), the variable force of air movement causing an audible rustle of leaves, the humidity, the rain, the sound of rain on the leaves. The texture of different leaves and the color variation is another sensation. This list of variable functions just keeps getting longer as the consciousness observes all that is available.

This is what it is to enjoy all that a landscape has to offer; it is not just another pretty flower. Each visit is a whole new and fresh experience - such wonders to behold.

The generosity of Ron Fleming's $200,000 challenge grant solidifies this into a win-win for all parties involved. Such silliness to consider a 3,000-plussquare- foot party house to buy a Coke and a cookie and to pee.

Robert Currier, Newport

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