My Stone Castle


The Bedchamber Terrace

The Gold Standard

The builder of the Cornwall Castle, Charlotte Martin’s, first foray into architecture was Turtle Bay Gardens, a series of 19 brownstones in New York that she bought in 1918 to turn into an enclave for New York’s artistic and literary set. Her creation still stands today along East 49th street, and her vision of societal splendor was fulfilled; E.B. White wrote his famous book “Charlotte’s Web” there, and the brownstone Katharine Hepburn owned for 60 years is available for rent (at $29,000 a month.)
Despite her urban and aristocratic credentials, her core belief was that true nobility lived out in their country chateaux.  She was a lover of the outdoors and magical spaces.  As I sit on the terrace of her bed-chamber,  pondering her past, and planning the future of the terrace, I want to honor her vision and step into her shoes.
The only problem is, Charlotte Martin had a thing for marigolds– more like a borderline obsession. Hundreds of them adorn the perimeter of her bed-chamber terrace and the main courtyard, lively and colorful against the gray stone of the castle.  It seems an odd juxtaposition, from today’s perspective, to think of an aristocrat favoring pedestrian marigolds, the easily grown, inexpensive, and self-sufficient marigold; the patron plant of gas stations, banks, and burger joints.   As much I want to pay homage to Charlotte, I can’t ignore one important detail. . . I hate marigolds!
The marigold is known as the international friendship flower. It’s grown in massive fields in Russia and China. India uses marigolds in religious services.  Versatile and rigorous, marigold petals can be sprinkled in bread, salads, and drinks. The marigold is also a hit with vegetable gardeners, who tout the plant as a pest repellent.  The Aztec Indians used marigolds medicinally, to treat everything from hiccups to the poor souls who had been struck by lightning.
Around the turn of this century, sweet peas and asters were the popular flowers in the United States. Yet both of them were becoming beleaguered by disease and declining overall performance. The time was right for a new flower to make its debut. In 1915 David Burpee took over the seed company,  founded by his father, W. Atlee Burpee. Young David felt that marigolds held promise and decided to feature them in his catalog and fund research.  So in the 1920s, as Charlotte was building her dream Chateaux, marigolds were all the rage.
So repulsion and hate aside, in honor of the woman who gave me this palate to paint,  I will plant a marigold garden.  Marigolds are hardy, and thanks to the Burpee’s, there are now many varieties to choose from.  So I will be gathering pots and planters and curating a variety of marigolds.  I’m holding myself to the (mari)gold standard!

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