§4 Maplewilde Peony Gardens
Before describing the Maplewilde Peony Gardens, it is best to tell you about the person who was responsible for them. And that means telling you something of my father's life and background in this community.
Lyman Henry Hoysradt came of ancestors long associated with this part of Dutchess County. He was born in the old Hoysradt homestead on Stissing Lake, the first child of Cornelius and Catherine Lasher Hoysradt. He passed the first sixteen years on a farm that had been in the possession of the family for many years. At the time of my father's death there were some older residents of this village who could remember when Stissing Lake was called "Hoysradt Pond."
After his father's death in 1863, my father moved with his mother and brother to our former home on Main Street, now occupied by the James Cassazza family. His early education was limited to the schools of his time and probably he was not taught beyond the eighth grade of the modern grammar school, but my father's natural studious bent and enthusiasm led him to educate himself. He took up and mastered higher mathematics and the sciences, but his great, prevailing enthusiasm was for his botanical studies. In this field he became an authority and master. It is interesting how this came about. Somewhere in my father's early manhood there came a strange illness in which it would appear he was threatened with tuberculosis. The doctor whom he consulted in those days apparently was not familiar with the later therapy of complete rest, for he advised my father to get out-of-doors all he could, even take up an outdoor avocation. So began my father's interest in botany. For him it was a tremendous enthusiasm. He went on countless trips all over the woods and fields around Pine Plains, searching for the rarest flowers and plants. In later years he could tell us where certain rare orchids or lady slippers grew, the pitcher plant in the small swamp known as the "Spruce Hole," the arbutus on Little Stissing, etc. His "botanizing" took him into the Taconic Mountains and over into the Catskills. As a young girl I can remember my father telling us of one of his botanical trips near Lake Mohonk. He arrived at the hotel quite late in the evening still in his walking clothes, which were pretty rough. But, in spite of this, Mr. Smiley, one of the Smiley brothers who owned Lake Mohonk, insisted that father meet some of the guests, among them Dr. McCosh, then president of Princeton University. How delighted he was with this experience! The Pine Barrens of New Jersey were also a part of my father's botanical field. He went there with his good friend, Dr. Edwin F. Shepard, later professor of Geology at Drury College in Springfield, Missouri. Together the two friends made an intensive exploration of the rare flora of this section of New Jersey. Sometimes my father's botanizing trips brought real adventure. Once, when he returned home it was remarked how white and haggard he looked. Father then told his mother that he had had a close call escaping from the quicksand of the Drownd-ed Lands, that big swamp beyond Ancramdale, then called Ancram Lead Mines.
As a result of his wide experiences or excursions my father gradually acquired a herbarium (pressed plants) of the plant life of this region, which was almost unrivaled by any other private collection. After Father's death Mother had thought of giving the collection to Vassar College, but we never did. Then, when our old home was sold in 1943, Robert Peck asked if we would consider giving the herbarium to Hartwick College from which he had recently graduated. We were glad to do so and the collection was most carefully packed by Miss Wagner of the Science Department at Pine Plains Central School, and sent to the college where it now may be seen.
My father's position in the botanical field of that time is shown by the fact that many years ago when Professor Asa Gray was in charge of the Botanical Department at Harvard University, he asked my father to write one of the chapters of his "Structural Botany." The year before the U. S. Government was establishing the boundary line between Arizona and Mexico and my father was offered the post of botanist to the expedition. This offer, however, he was obliged to decline as he had already accepted a position with a new school opening in this village.
This was Seymour Smith Academy and my father stepped into a position for which he was well fitted; he was chosen to teach mathematics and the natural sciences (Botany fell under that heading in those days). His teaching seemed to have been a great success, for when he taught Botany, he would take his class on field trips searching for the plants in their native haunts. Old pupils would reminisce about the pleasures of these expeditions in later years. In those days Grace Hudson See was one of his pupils and it turned out that she was a very special one, for my father married her in 1883. It was a very happy marriage.
Following his marriage my father was principal of the old Kinderhook Academy for one year and then came four years in the U. S. Customs House in New York City. In 1888 he entered the teaching profession again, this time in the Old Grove Street School
After retiring from teaching my father resumed his intense interest in our garden here in Pine Plains and gradually began to specialize in peonies. One of the reasons for his interest in this particular flower or plant was the ease of its cultivation. He realized its three special advantages and attractions: (1) Thanks mostly to the French hybridizers the peony had been developed from the old fashioned flower to one of rarest coloring, often magical tints or shades of red and pink, also possessing fragrance; (2) The peony was extremely hardy, and did not have to have heavy winter covering as it withstood very severe weather; (3) The peony could also be planted and later divided without the heavy labor of moving shrubs, etc.
We had always had an excellent flower and vegetable garden: fine long rows of peas, corn, lima beans, potatoes, and all the rest, fruit trees galore, a wonderful big strawberry bed, besides many beautiful rose bushes, lilacs, shrubs, etc. But then the peonies began to supplant the vegetables; first peonies in short rows on one side of the garden path; then, in long rows on the other side - peonies everywhere; they even replaced the old strawberry bed! Finally Father started to plant them alongside the railroad tracks which adjoined our property, the land which really belonged to Central New England Railroad. But the railroad never objected. My father reasoned, and he must have been right, that the peonies in bloom right under the immediate view of the passengers would add to the railroad's travel appeal, and the value of its property. Our family also owned the lot opposite our old home on Main Street, and Father was never willing to sell this because of the view of Big and Little Stissing Mountains. Needless to say, this lot became filled with peonies too, as well as some beautiful French lilacs imported from France. Later I was working in Madison, New Jersey, where I became acquainted with Mrs. Ellen McKinney who at the time had a very noted iris garden. So, in a small way, I helped Father acquire some lovely iris from Mrs. McKinney, and these also added to the garden's attractions. But my part in the garden was very little compared to my brothers'. Father was fortunate to have three able-bodied sons and they all worked hard in the development of the garden, whether it was the fine vegetables of the early years or the wide expanse of peonies in the later period. They all helped turn my father's dream of beauty into a reality.
One day when the peonies were at their height, Mr. F. 0. Wagner of Lakeville was driving by and saw the lovely mass of color and so stopped to see the garden. He immediately ordered nearly $100 worth of plants which included the recently originated peony, "Le Cygne." This was one of the finest varieties we had, and it still holds a very high rating with the American Peony Society. I remember Mr. Wagner was so impressed with this particular plant, and my father had very few of them at that time, so that he was willing to pay one dollar for a single blossom. And you can imagine what riches that seemed to us in those days. Mr. Wagner then returned home and he must have immediately written a very nice letter to the Lakeville Journal, describing the beauty of our garden, the gracious hospitality of Mr. and Mrs. Hoysradt, and urging people to come to Pine Plains to see them. Soon we had a request from the Salisbury Garden Club to come for a day's visit. That was quite a trip then, so they all brought their lunch and ate in the back garden. These people told others; they told their friends; from then on our Peony Garden had "arrived." We were also visited by people who owned estates for several miles around: Mrs. Vincent Astor, Mr. Harry Harkness Flagler, Mrs. Oakleigh Thorne, Mrs. Roswell Miller and her friend, Mrs. Andrew Carnegie, whose daughter married Roswell Miller, Jr. These people could afford to order peonies by the dozen plants, and did.
Probably the heyday of the Maplewilde Peony Gardens was from 1916 to 1930, when we had over four hundred varieties and at least fifty thousand plants. For all this time my father had been adding to his collection, importing plants from several nurseries in France and England. My oldest brother, Harry, who was actively interested with our parents in the peony gardens, was instrumental in importing the rare peony, "Alice Harding", then selling for $100 a plant, which was originated by Kelway's Gardens in England.
In the early years my father, ably assisted by my mother, would ship some of the flowers to wholesale florists in New York. In spite of excellent returns (as these dealers realized our peonies were above the average), this work proved too laborious. Later in the day the peony visitors would be coming and they were personally escorted around the gardens. For several years we sent invitations to people at a distance, since they wished to be notified when the garden was at its height. Later this, too, was dropped; we could not take care of all the visitors who came. I can hear my father telling people, when they asked him why he did not advertise his plants in the many garden publications, "We are advertised by our loving friends." And we were. Sometimes it seemed almost too well for the amount of work there was to do. My parents did not have the strength to pursue this hobby, which had gradually turned into a small business. Finally, due to ill health, the project had to be given up. Toward the end of my father's life, Dr. Scott Lord Smith was called from Poughkeepsie for consultation. After the consultation was over, Dr. Smith said he wanted to have a quick look at the garden, which was still lovely in spite of receiving much less care. Dr. Smith returned to the house and said to Mother, "This is what has kept Mr. Hoysradt alive."
In conclusion, I am going to quote the first paragraph from "Peony Culture Directions", written by my father and enclosed in every package of peony plants sent from the gardens:
"Perhaps none of our popular garden flowers has suffered more from neglect than the peony. We often find them growing along the roadside, choked with weeds and grass, by some forgotten homeplace, half a century after the house has been torn down and its inmates scattered far and wide. And yet the peony responds to generous treatment, and does best in good soil with the weeds kept away by a little cultivation."
I know there are still many Maplewilde peonies in and around Pine Plains, growing in good cultivated soil, NOT choked by weeds and grass. They are a lovely tribute to the gardens from which they originally came.