• A Gardening Tradition

    Edith Wharton and Thomas Reynolds came from very different backgrounds, but their lives intersected in the gardens, where they shared inherited traditions and values.

    European horticulture had existed for millennia. However, it wasn’t until the sixteenth century that voyages of exploration accelerated the spread of horticultural knowledge.

  • An exchange of plants across the globe expanded collaboration among plant enthusiasts. Carl Linneaus, a Swedish botanist, helped standardize scientific plant names in the 1700s. This image is from his first treatise, which described plant reproduction.

    Image credit: Wikimedia Commons

    Carl Linnaeus on Plant Reproduction – Jan 1729
  • The American gardeners calendar, cropped

    Books, magazines, and botanic gardens made gardening knowledge increasingly accessible to the general public. Irish-born Bernard McMahon published the most comprehensive garden and seed guide in the United States in 1806.

    Image credit: Archive.org

  • By the 19th century both England and America were in the midst of a gardening craze. In 1801, David Hosack created the first botanic gardens in the United States, the Elgin Botanic Gardens. The site became Rockefeller Center in the 1920s.

    Image credit: Wikimedia Commons 

    Elgin gardens 1810
  • map of England numbered (5)

    An English Upbringing

    Michael Thompson Reynolds was born February 19, 1874 in Chertsey (1), Surrey, England to Arthur and Jane Reynolds. His family had deep connections to the English gardening world: both his father and grandfather were gardeners, and Surrey was well known for its gardens. 

    As a child he attended Fox Primary School in Kensington (2), a charity school for the poor. Although gardening was becoming a respectable profession, wages varied greatly depending on position and employer.

    In his late teens, Reynolds continued his training in Headington (3), near Oxford. Throughout his life, his name is written as M.T., Michael, or Thomas.

    Alvin Jewett Johnson’s Map of England, c. 1867
    Image credit: Wikimedia Commons

  • Wedding registry of Arthur and Jane (Reynolds’ parents) at a Middlesex parish church, 1873

    Image credit: Ancestry.com

    Reynolds Registry
  • Honorable Miss Fox

    Caroline Fox founded Fox Primary School in 1842. The school still exists today.

    Image credit: Royal Albert Memorial Museum & Art Gallery, Exeter City Council 

  • Across the Sea

    In 1896, at age 23, Reynolds immigrated to New York, on his own, with two pieces of luggage, headed for Lenox, Massachusetts. 

    Reynolds sailed on the steamship Teutonic from Liverpool to New York City. Many British, Irish, and other western European immigrants came to the Berkshires in the late 1800s; those with gardening experience were in high demand. 

    Image credit: Ancestry.com

    Reynolds Teutonic record 1896 black arrow cropped
  • Wyllie painting of Teutonic, 1889, from National Maritime Museum, Greenwich
  • Once in Lenox, Reynolds’ career flourished under the tutelage of two respected master gardeners. There were over sixty mansions, called “cottages,” in the Berkshires. He first worked under Alfred Wingate at Allen Winden, the estate of Charles Lanier, and later as a foreman for Alfred Loveless at John Sloane’s Wyndhurst. 

    Image credit: Bart Arnold, for Edith Wharton’s Lenox by Cornelia Brooke Gilder

    Lenox Cottages
  • Allen Winden

    Allen Winden estate, c. 1882. It has since been torn down and condominiums have been built on the site.

    Image credit: Lenox Library Association

  • Wyndhurst, c. 1910. The name was later changed to Cranwell and is now a resort.

    Image credit: Thomas Marr, Lenox Library Association

    Wyndhurst, c. 1910_ Digital Commonwealth
  • Mount construction

    At The Mount

    As Reynolds rose in his profession, Wharton was building The Mount and, with the assistance of her niece, Beatrix Jones Farrand, planning her gardens. Farrand was one of the most accomplished professional garden designers of her day and a charter member of the American Society of Landscape Architects. 

    A rare photo of The Mount under construction from the photo album of architect Francis L.V. Hoppin.
    Image credit: The Mount Archives

  • Soon after moving into The Mount in September 1902, Wharton began creating the gardens, a task that would occupy her for the next five years. Wharton’s knowledge of the history, design, and science of gardens was vast, gained from her European travels and her extensive collection of gardening books.

    Partial collection of gardening books in The Mount’s library
    Image credit: The Mount Library

    Group shot of gardening books.
  • Botany for Young People cover

    Wharton had a lifelong love of nature and gardens. In her memoir, A Backward Glance, she wrote she experienced nature powerfully and viscerally. Even as a child she “was tremblingly and inarticulately awake to every detail of wind-warped fern and wide-eyed briar rose.”

    Harvard professor Asa Gray was the premier American botanist of the 19th century. 
    Image credit: The Mount Library

  • Wharton acquired this book in 1887, when she was 25 and living in Pencraig Cottage in Newport.

    Image credit: The Mount Library

    Botany for Young People inscription page
  • Jekyll image

    Both Wharton and Farrand admired the famous English garden designer, Gertrude Jekyll. Jekyll, like Reynolds, was from Surrey.

    Image credit: William Nicholson, Wikimedia Commons

  • Wharton owned several books by Jekyll.

    Image credit: The Mount Library

    Gertrude Jekyll books grouped
  • Lilies for English Gardens Jekyll markings

    She marked passages and some illustrations. This one shows her interest in practical gardening matters.

    Image credit: The Mount Library

  • The oldest gardening book in Wharton’s library is a beautifully illustrated, two-volume set of Alexander McDonald’s A Complete Dictionary of Practical Gardening (1807). 

    Image credit: The Mount Library

    A Complete Dictionary of Practical Gardening (1807) by Alexander McDonald cover page
  • A Complete Dictionary of Practical Gardening (1807) by Alexander McDonald illustration

    One of sixty engravings based on original drawings by Sydenham Edwards.

    Image credit: The Mount Library

  • Tracings of butterflies, probably drawn by Wharton, were tucked into the pages of this volume.

    Image credit: The Mount Library

    A Complete Dictionary of Practical Gardening (1807) by Alexander McDonald tracings
  • Italian Villas cover

    The “New Man”

    Wharton was also in the midst of writing a series of articles on Italian gardens for Richard Watson Gilder’s magazine, The Century, which would be published in book form as Italian Villas and Their Gardens (1904). Returning from Italy to The Mount in April 1903, she found her gardens in trouble. 

    Image credit: Archive.org

  • A tinted postcard of The Mount, circa 1902-1903, the earliest known image following its completion. Note the unidentified gardener in the foreground in what is now the lime walk.

    Image credit: The Mount Archives

    Postcard image of Mount with gardener
  • Reynolds Wedding close up

    “Our good gardener has failed us, we know not why, whether from drink or some other demoralization, but after spending a great deal of money on the place all winter there are no results, & we have been obliged to get a new man.”
    Edith Wharton, June 5, 1903

    That new man was Thomas Reynolds, just twenty-nine years old but already with seven years of local experience and expertise.

    Thomas Reynolds, age 40, from his wedding photo, 1914.
    Image credit: Reynolds Collection

  • Wharton and Reynolds developed a relationship based on mutual respect and a love of gardens. Wharton appreciated Reynolds’ skill, creativity, and dedication, and in Wharton, Reynolds found an employer with a deep fondness for, and knowledge of, the natural world.

    This book, Nature’s Garden (1901) by Neltje Blanchan, belonged to Reynolds.

    Image credit: Reynolds Collection

    Nature’s Garden (Reynolds book)
  • Nature’s Garden Inscription

    Note Reynolds’ neatly written signature.

    Image credit: Reynolds Collection

  • Reynolds’ own markings in the index may indicate his preferences.

    Image credit: Reynolds Collection

    Index of book with tick marks
  • Garden tools

    Reynolds’ various tools (compasses and parallel rulers) were used in the very precise process of drawing garden plans. 

    Image credit: Reynolds Collection

  • This book of pressed ferns and flowers demonstrates meticulous attention to detail and appreciation for design. Left to his children, we believe this was Reynolds’ own work. 

    Image credit: Reynolds Collection

    Pressed flowers
  • gatehouse c. 1942 lenox lib association

    Reynolds also acted as the estate superintendent and lived in the gatehouse, next to the greenhouse and kitchen garden. As superintendent he was responsible for running the property and overseeing between ten to twenty estate workers. The estate superintendent, along with the butler, was the highest ranking positions on staff. Unlike the butler, Reynolds stayed year-round, planning and nurturing plants for the upcoming season.

    The gatehouse, c. 1940. There are no known Wharton-era photos of the gatehouse.
    Image credit: Lenox Library Association

  • Lenox Life

    Reynolds led a busy life. He was an active member in the Lenox gardening community, became a member of the Massachusetts Masons, and played in local cricket matches.

    Cricket became an important part of the local sporting scene, especially during an extended visit of the British ambassador. Class barriers relaxed as European servants who grew up with cricket played with, and against, the local estate owners.

  • This article highlights the key role of immigrants in local cricket clubs.

    Image credit: From the Fall River Daily Evening News, June 7, 1906, Newspapers.com

    Cricket newspaper article
  • The_Berkshire_Evening_Eagle white arrow

    T. Reynolds is listed as a player in this match against Pittsfield.

    From the Berkshire Evening Eagle, July 5, 1900, Newspapers.com

  • Both Edith and Teddy Wharton supported local cricket matches.

    The second paragraph of this article indicated the other concerns of the community: burglaries and speeding motorcars.

    Image credit: Reynolds Collection

    Cricket article from album – Edith and prizes
  • Lenox Horticultural Society photo of men 1916

    The Lenox Horticultural Society (1894-1968), which Reynolds joined in the 1890s, was founded by superintendents of other prominent estates, including John Huss of Ventfort Hall, E.J. Norman of Westinghouse, George H. Thompson of Wheatleigh, Alex McConnachie of Tanglewood, and H.H. Wingett of Allen Winden. These were the professionals, highly respected, but all employees. In contrast, the estate owners and other amateurs joined the Lenox Garden Club, established in 1911 and still active today.

    The Lenox Horticultural Society, 1916. By this time, Reynolds was no longer in Lenox.
    Image credit: Lenox Library Association

  • Rewards

    “I would give all this fine civilization for a sight of my spring blossoms at Lenox.”
    Edith Wharton writing from Paris, April, 1905

    Under Reynolds’ supervision, flowers from The Mount won numerous awards in the highly competitive local flower shows.

    Postcard of The Mount, c. 1910
    Image credit: Lenox Library Association

    1910 Color Postcard
  • Lenox Flower Show postcard

    Wharton was on the Flower Show Committee and occasionally acted as judge. Newspaper and periodical clippings from across the country show the widespread interest in gardening.

    Postcard from the Lenox Flower Show, c. 1906
    Image credit: Lenox Historical Society

  • Read closely, and you will notice that newspapers listed Wharton as the winner of flower show prizes, while national horticultural publications gave credit to Reynolds.

    Horticulture Magazine, 1906
    Image credit: Google Books

    Horticulture ma Aug 25 1906 zoom cropped
  • The Washington Post 1908

    The Washington Post, 1908
    Image credit: Newspapers.com

  • The Mount flower garden

    Seasons of Change

    1909 was a tumultuous year for the Whartons, with their marriage troubled, Teddy’s health unstable, and Edith in the midst of an affair in Paris. For the next two years, they did not return to The Mount during the summer. Instead, they rented it to Albert and Mary Shattuck. Reynolds stayed on as head gardener.

    The Mount flower garden, Wharton-era
    Image credit: Beinecke Library, Yale University

  • Reynolds gave his notice several months before the Whartons returned to Lenox in July 1911. When they arrived, however, they learned that Reynolds had not departed. He could not bring himself to leave, despite a job offer from some “millionaire.”

    Italian Garden, Wharton-era
    Image credit: The Mount Archives

    The Mount Walled Garden - Historic
  • Clematis and Virginia creeper

    A relieved and emotional Wharton wrote of Reynolds to her lover Morton Fullerton:

    “He could not go: he loved too much the work of our hands, and in the first two minutes of our talk, without a definite word, it was understood between us that he stays as long as I do. I never saw a more mouvant [moving] example of devotion to one’s calling.”

    Image credit: Photo by David Dashiell

  • “He couldn’t miss the first long walk with me yesterday morning, the going over every detail, the instant noting, on my part, of all he had done in my absence, the visit to every individual tree, shrub, creeper, fern, ‘flower in the crannied wall,’—every tiniest little bulb and root that we had planted together!”
    Edith Wharton, July 3, 1911

    Image credit: Photo by David Dashiell

    Purple flower
  • Drumthwacket house

    After The Mount

    The Whartons finally sold The Mount in September 1911. After visiting family in England, Reynolds took a new position at Drumthwacket, the 183-acre estate of Moses Taylor Pyne, near Princeton, NJ.

    Front view of Drumthwacket, c. 1911
    Image credit: Frances Benjamin Johnston, Library of Congress

  • Pyne’s inherited wealth was invested in industry, banking, and railroads. As a key benefactor of Princeton University, he hosted many prominent guests, including European royalty.

    Moses Taylor Pyne, c. 1912
    Image credit: Wikimedia Commons

    Moses Pyne image
  • Drumthwacket garden

    The gardens at Drumthwacket were based on the Villa Gamberaia in Italy, which Wharton had highlighted in Italian Villas and Their Gardens and which had inspired her own Italian garden at The Mount.

    One of the Italian-inspired gardens at Drumthwacket, c. 1911
    Image credit: Frances Benjamin Johnston, Library of Congress

  • Reynolds returned to Lenox in 1914 to marry Eliza Weston, a Canadian–born nurse, at Elm Court, where her father worked as a groundskeeper. Reynolds acquired yet another family gardening connection: Eliza’s sister was married to Robert Grindrod, also an English immigrant, and now the greenhouse foreman at Blantyre.

    Wedding of Thomas Reynolds and Eliza Weston on June 23, 1914 in the gardens of Elm Court. Eliza is 5th from the left in the back row, Thomas is 6th from the left.
    Image credit: Reynolds Collection

    Reynolds Wedding-4000px
  • Wedding Gusts

    Wedding guests included many prominent gardening families in Lenox, including Fred Heeremans, the influential superintendent at Elm Court. The Reynolds family carefully labeled the back of the photo with the names of guests and lined the back of the frame with gardening information, which you can see through the holes.

    Since this was on the back of the framed photograph, the names are in the reverse order, e.g. the name on the far left is for the person on the far right of the photo.
    Image credit: Reynolds Collection

  • In Princeton, Thomas and Eliza raised five children: three boys, Arthur (born 1915), Frederick (born 1916), and Herbert (born 1919) and two girls, Edith (born 1920) and Ivy (born 1922). Edith was the name of Eliza’s sister, but perhaps also a nod to Wharton.

    Thomas and Eliza Reynolds with their children, early 1920s.
    Image credit: Reynolds Collection

    Reynolds family 1
  • Reynolds family 2

    Reynolds and his daughter Ivy in a greenhouse.

    Image credit: Reynolds Collection

  • Reynolds remained at Drumthwacket as garden superintendent for the rest of his career. Just as in Lenox, Reynolds became active in his horticultural community. In 1919, he joined the National Association of Gardeners, which met annually in cities across the U.S.

    Image credit: From Gardeners’ Chronicle of America, available on Google Books

    National Association of Gardeners article
  • Princeton Herald flower show article 1928

    He was also a respected member of the Princeton Garden Club; his duties included handing out prizes at the local flower shows, as well as lecturing on practical gardening topics. 

    Image credit: Princeton Herald, September 21, 1928, Princeton University Library

  • In the 1930s, during the Great Depression, Reynolds became technical advisor for the local garden committee. They provided freshly grown food for needy members of the community while also educating the public on the importance of plants. 

    Image credit: Princeton Herald, March 4, 1938, Princeton University Library

    Princeton Herald
  • Old Reynolds

    Just as with Wharton, Reynolds developed a meaningful relationship with the Pynes. After Moses Pyne’s death in 1921, Reynolds ran the property for the family. By 1940, Reynolds’ son Frederick (age 24) was also working on the estate as a gardener. At the end of his career, Reynolds was earning about $2,400 per year (around $46,000 today). At that time, the average man in the U.S. made around $956 per year, which equates to around $18,000 today. 

    Image credit: Reynolds Collection

  • In 1941, entrepreneur Abram Nathanial Spanel purchased the estate. Reynolds, however, continued working for the Pynes and by the late 1940s, now in his 70s, was caretaker to Moses Pyne Jr.’s wife, Agnes. Drumthwacket was later sold to the State of New Jersey and is now the official residence of the governor.

    1947 Princeton directory.
    Image credit: Ancestry.com

    Princeton directory – Reynolds as Agnes caretaker
  • Reynolds obit

    Michael Thompson Reynolds died in 1959, age 84. 

    Image credit: Newspapers.com

  • A Gardener’s Life

    Like so many other immigrants, Reynold’s move to America had been a brave one. His successes in his adopted country are evidence of his character and mastery of his craft, earning respect from his employers and from fellow professionals in Lenox, in Princeton, and nationally. 

    Image credit: Reynolds Collection

    Old Reynolds 2
  • reynolds-footer-lg

    We hope you enjoyed this online exhibit.

    Here are some additional resources:

    Edith Wharton’s Lenox, by Cornelia Brooke Gilder (2017)

    “A Shared Passion: Edith Wharton, Her Gardener, and The Mount,” (pdf) by Cornelia Brooke Gilder (Berkshire Magazine, May 2017).

    American Eden: David Hosack, Botany, and Medicine in the Garden of the Early Republic by Victoria Johnson (2018)

    Garden books in Wharton’s library (pdf)

    Edith Wharton’s library, digitized by Sheila Liming

    This exhibit was created by Mount curatorial staff Marge Cox, Michelle Dempsey, Nicholas Hudson, and Anne Schuyler, with advice and historical insight from Cornelia Brooke Gilder. Marge Cox did the original Reynolds research and reached out to his family. The Reynolds family objects featured in this exhibit were donated to The Mount by Reynolds’ granddaughters Dorothea and Martha, who also shared their memories of their grandparents.

    The exhibit was designed by Abby Tovell of T Square Design. Reynolds collection photos by Richard Tovell.

    We welcome your feedback. Please email us with any questions, comments, or suggestions. To learn about the creation of the exhibit, please watch our video “Thomas Reynolds: The Gardener’s Story.”

    Thank you!

  • This exhibit is made possible by a grant from Mass Humanities, which provided funding through the Massachusetts Cultural Council (MCC).

    Mass Humanities and Mass Cultural Council