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Russell Page Archive: Bass Residence, Texas

One of Russell Page’s final projects was also among his favourites: a classic garden scheme designed to complement a very modern house

  • Fort Worth, Revised Garden Plan No.2

    RP/1/14/8/1

    May 1981

    69 x 92 cm

    ©Estate of Russell Page

    A pencil design on tracing paper, dated 8 May 1981, with ink annotations: ‘Mr & Mrs Sid Bass, scale 1/8" = 1 foot, revised September 1981’. There are also notes about the borders of the swimming pool, and the level of the rose garden in relation to the pool.

  • Fort Worth, Preliminary Garden Sketch Plan

    RP/1/14/8/2

    May 1981

    58.5 x 92 cm

    ©Estate of Russell Page

    A pencil design on tracing paper dated 19 May 1981, marked ‘Garden at Fort Worth, Preliminary sketch plan, scale 1/8" = 1 ft’.

  • Fort Worth, Garden Sketch Plan

    RP/1/14/8/3

    May 1981

    59 x 92 cm

    ©Estate of Russell Page

    A pencil design on tracing paper dated 25 May 1981 (scale 1/8" = 1ft').

  • Fort Worth, Green House Garden Sketch Plan

    RP/1/14/8/4

    June 1982

    71 x 93 cm

    ©Estate of Russell Page

    A pencil design on tracing paper dated June 1982, marked ‘Sketch plan for the green house garden, Fort Worth, scale 1/4" = 1 foot’.

  • Fort Worth, Base for Planting Indications

    RP/1/14/8/5

    June 1982

    58 x 93 cm

    ©Estate of Russell Page

    A pencil design on tracing paper dated June 1982, marked ‘Mr Sid Bass, Fort Worth, scale 1/ 4" = 1 foot, Base for planting indications’.

  • Fort Worth, Greenhouse Flower Beds

    RP/1/14/8/6

    September 1982

    48 x 93 cm

    ©Estate of Russell Page

    A pencil design on tracing paper dated September 1982, marked, ‘Sketch plan of beds below greenhouse, scale 1/4" = 1 foot’. There are also details about the construction of various flower beds.

  • Fort Worth, Sketch Plan of Flower Beds

    RP/1/14/8/7

    October 1982

    38 x 65 cm

    ©Estate of Russell Page

    A pencil design on tracing paper dated 10 October 1982, marked, ‘Fort Worth, scale 1/4" = 1ft’. The drawing would appear to be unfinished.

  • Fort Worth, Outline of Flower Beds

    RP/1/14/8/8

    October 1982

    38 x 52 cm

    ©Estate of Russell Page

    A pencil design on tracing paper dated 12 October 1982, marked, ‘Bass, A, scale 1/4" = 1 ft’.

  • Fort Worth, Garden Sketch Plan

    RP/1/14/8/9

    [1981 or 1982]

    38 x 64 cm

    ©Estate of Russell Page

    An undated pencil design on tracing paper, marked, 'Garden at Fort Worth, scale 1/4" = 1ft’.

Bass Residence, 1801 Deepdale Drive, Westover Hills, Fort Worth, Texas, USA

1981 to 1982

Archive of Garden Design Ref: RP/1/14/8

The Texas home of philanthropist Anne Bass was one of the last projects on which Russell Page worked. Busy with designing the substantial grounds of PepsiCo’s headquarters, in the 1980s Page was less interested in smaller domestic residences which he increasingly found unrewarding: ‘People want me to hide a car park or provide a setting for a bathing pool, or conceal some other man-made construction’ (Whitsey).

The Bass garden was different. Anne Bass and her then husband Sid Bass were leading figures in Fort Worth’s cultural scene, and had been amassing a significant collection of modern art since the 1960s. In 1970, they had commissioned architect Paul Rudolph to design their new house in Fort Worth. The largest of the private properties which Rudolph created, it was also his most ambitious. A modernist masterpiece made of steel, glass and aluminium, it was unlike most of the homes where Page worked (and not a style of architecture he usually favoured).

Yet it was Rudolph who suggested Page to the Basses. He had seen the garden which Page designed for the Frick in New York and knew Page would be the right person for the Bass garden.  In a letter to Page dated 27 March 1981, confirming the travel arrangements, the architect signed off: ‘I am looking forward to this time very much and am sure that something very constructive will come of it’ (RP/6).  According to Gabrielle van Zuylen, the two men did not always see eye-to-eye but, overall, the working relationship was a productive and successful one (231).

Page also had to collaborate with landscape architect Robert Zion, who had already started to design most of the eight-acre estate. He was delighted, however, that Page had been asked to conceive the garden area close to the house. In January 1982 he wrote to the Basses congratulating them on their choice. ‘I heard the news with considerable relief,’ he explained ‘as I have told you on several occasions, flowers are not my thing. My only disappointment is that I did not think of it first.’ There was one caveat, however: ‘please don’t “pretty up” the rest of the property. It is my feeling that the structure needs the tranquillity of an all green base’ (RP/6).

Page’s design was a harmonious response to the existing elements. Grassed steps down to a large lawn continued Zion’s green landscaping. The allée of pleached oaks, clipped into neat rectangles, echoed the clean lines of the house. The simplicity of the square box-edged flowerbeds, while a common feature in Page gardens, perfectly complemented the property’s modernist aesthetic.

Other elements ensured that the overall feel was not too stark. Page’s first task was to create a dedicated rose garden, home to Anne Bass’ favoured old-fashioned roses. Lambert’s in Dallas provided a list of roses suitable for the area (the information came courtesy of the Dallas Rose Society). Handwritten notes suggest that the final selection came from the Wayside Gardens catalogue: ‘banksia rose white’, ‘banksia rose yellow’, ‘rose apricot nectar’, ‘rose perfume delight’ and ‘rose Betty Prior’ are just a few of those Page listed.

Next to a greenhouse designed by Paul Rudolph, Page placed a wisteria-covered, but strikingly modern, pergola. The adjacent angular reflecting pool (overlooked by Aristide Maillol’s large sculpture of a reclining nude, The River) was filled with a variety of tropical waterlilies, including Nymphaea ‘Bagdad’, Nymphaea ‘Pink Pearl’ and Nelumbo ‘Alba Grandiflora’ (ordered from William Tricker, a water-lily specialist in New Jersey).

The palette throughout of pinks, lavenders, whites and silvers allowed for interest and variety but was subtle enough not to detract from the architecture.  As Robert Zion had hoped, shades of green anchored the design.

The plans suggest that Page worked on the garden from 1981 to 1982. Much of the construction of the elements which Page designed, including for the pergola, was overseen by Paul Rudolph working to Page’s instructions (some aspects had yet to be completed when Page died in January 1985). Most of the drawings for the project in the Russell Page archive, although informative, have a somewhat unfinished appearance. A reflection, possibly, of Page’s style of working at this stage in his career; details were conceived in his head and conveyed verbally.

Anne Bass was an avid gardener. She was very involved in the original design and she ensured that the garden was meticulously maintained up until her death in 2020. Even so, she had one complaint: that Page had planted everything too close together. ‘Well, you have to understand that I don’t have many years left, and I want to see an effect right away,’ was his explanation. When she suggested it might negatively impact the look of the garden, his response was simple: ‘You can just replant it’ (Mortimer).

Literature

Mortimer, Senga. “The Garden Page.” Unidentified publication (Archive of Garden Design: RP/5/1/11).

van Zuylen, Gabrielle and Marina Schinz. The Gardens of Russell Page. Frances Lincoln Ltd, 2008.

Whitsey, Fred. “Inspiration Cost a Shilling. Russell Page: Designer, Gardener, Artist.” Country Life, 8 July 1985 [page number not known: newspaper cutting in the Archive of Garden Design, London. Ref: RP/5/1/9].

Related material in the Archive of Garden Design

RP/6: Photocopies of letters, project notes and plant lists, photographs and sketches by Russell Page, collected by Anne Bass.

Related material elsewhere

There are black-and-white photographs of the Bass garden in the RHS Lindley Library reference collection (PAG/Z1/1).