A Great Gatsby Garden: The Lavish Long Island Estate That Inspired the Movie's Sets
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There was a girl who grew up in the Phipps mansion on Long Island's Gold Coast and she was named Margaret but she went by Peggie, and she married young and divorced. Her second marriage lasted longer and after her parents died, in the 1950s, she moved with her husband—a French diplomat, of course—into a smaller house on the estate, a comparatively modest white clapboard house called Orchard Hill. Much of the rest of the grounds, including 70 acres of gardens, she decided to open to the public. P eggie Phipps Boegner created a non-profit conservancy to oversee Old Westbury Gardens and then lived the rest of her life on the grounds, dying at home at age 99. Hers was a life F. Scott Fitzgerald would have recognized. In fact, he may have known her, as he and Zelda lived in nearby Great Neck in the 1920s when Peggie—whose grandfathers had founded, respectively, the United States Steel Corporation and Grace Shipping Line—was growing up. But back to the gardens. I visited once, many years ago, when Peggie was living in the white clapboard house and had invited local journalists over for a tour. I remember miles and miles of roses, a vast green lawn, 18th-century antiques—and that Peggie served tea white sitting beneath an enormous portrait of her mother. By the time filmmaker Baz Lurhmann decided to appropriate the grounds and exterior of Westbury House to inspire the exterior sets for Daisy Buchanan's house in his 3-D remake of The Great Gatsby, which opened a few days ago in theaters, Peggie Phipps Boegner had been dead a few years. But the estate's elaborate Italianate walled garden, its trees espaliered into the shapes of candelabras, and its grand allées of linden trees are beautifully preserved. Polo, anyone? Let's take a stroll around the place: Photographs via Old Westbury Gardens except where noted. Photograph by Laura via Flickr. Designed by George A. Crawley, the redbrick mansion has 23 rooms; the Phippses moved in with their children in 1906, the year Peggie was born. Above: The West Gate and Center Fountain at Old Westbury Gardens. Above: Photograph by Cmyk Gir l via Flickr. The Thatched Cottage at the Phipps Estate was a gift to Peggie for her sixth birthday in 1912. Above: The exterior of the Thatched Cottage, which looks more like a place where Nick Carroway might live. Above: Photograph by S.M. Nikfarjam via Flickr. Foxgloves in bloom at Old Westbury Gardens. Above: One of several statuary niches along the South Terrace of Westbury House. Above: Weeping cherry trees at daybreak. Above: Photograph by Cmyk Girl via Flickr. The Temple of Love, a stone folly at the edge of a langorous pond. Above: Photograph via Old Long Island . Orchard Hill, the 19th-century farmhouse on the estate where Peggie Phipps Boegner lived in later years. After her death, the county purchased the house in 2007 and gave it to Old Westbury Gardens. Above: Photograph by S.M. Nikfarjam via Flickr. Yellow climbing roses. Above: The view from the mansion's terrace, shrouded in mist. For another Gatsby-esque Long Island garden, see Grandeur in the Hamptons: A Sprawling Estate in Watermill .