Ellen Biddle Shipman (1869-1950)
One who always loved to garden, this famous Landscape architect described her style as ‘painting the landscape with plants and flowers.’ Much of her early inspiration came from her neighbors when her husband and family moved to an up and coming artist community in Cornish New Hampshire. Among those neighbors was the prominent landscape architect, Charles Platt, who took her under his wing and offered her a chance at landscape design. During this time, landscape architecture was one of the few professions open to women.
Ellen Biddle Shipman Garden History:
By the 1930s, Ellen Biddle Shipman was a pioneer in the field of landscape architecture. She described her style as painting the landscape with plants and flowers. Today, she is remembered for her complex planting schemes and seamless integration of the homes into the landscapes. Her designs possessed a unique sense of intimacy, romance and seclusion and were therefore favorites of families such as the Fords and Vanderbilts.
She completed over 650 projects in her lifetime but few remain open and free to the public. Metroparks is home to one of those rare restored gardens at the Manor House, formerly the estate of the Champion Spark Plug founder, R. A. Stranahan. The Georgian Colonial architecture of the 34,000-squarefoot special mansion is also reflected in the Shipman Garden. Built during the heart of the Great Depression, the home and garden reflect the success of the auto industry in Toledo.
In 1974, Metroparks acquired over 490 acres of the remaining Stranahan estate, including Stranleigh and the Shipman Garden, which together became Wildwood Metropark. In 1996, the Carson family provided an endowment for the garden’s gradual restoration. Eleven years later, an incident involving a runaway dump truck caused structural damage to the garden walls. This became a catalyst for the complete restoration effort that continues to this day. Wildwood Preserve is one of the few remaining Shipman Gardens that is free and open to the public to enjoy 365 days a year. With more than 30,000 total square feet, the Manor House is a one-of-a-kind property, used in part today as the headquarters for Metroparks Toledo.
Below are some plants that you may see blooming during each season. Ellen Biddle Shipman’s choice of plants was selected so that there would be a succession of blooms throughout the year.
Spring: Flowering Cherry Trees, Crab Apple Trees, Rhododendrons, Azaleas, Viburnums, Lilacs, Poppies, Peonies, Bleeding Hearts and Brunnera
Summer: Lillies, Yellow and Pink Roses, Astilbe, Hosta, Thermopsis and Thalictrum.
Fall: Roses are still in bloom and a variety of Asters and Japanese Anemone
Winter: During the colder months, visitors may meander through the garden and enjoy the evergreens while appreciating the structural elements of Ellen Biddle Shipman’s unique designs; like the wrought iron pergolas, and reflective ponds and fountains.
Restored in 2008, with a generous donation from the Carson family, the formal gardens were designed by famed landscape architect Ellen Biddle Shipman. During the first half of the 20th century, Shipman designed gardens for the likes of the Rockefellers, Vanderbilts, Fords, and other wealthy entrepreneurs. At one point, over 600 of her gardens dotted the American landscape, today only a hand-full remain in their original condition. This is one of the only Shipman gardens open to the public, free of charge. Historically this garden was lit at night with multi-colored landscaping lights. Look for the lights that once shone down on the garden from above.
Updated: June 24, 2021