Oakwood was the first privately owned residence in New England to achieve Level 1 accreditation as an Arboretum. In the last year, Oakwood’s owners, Angus and Joanna Davis, have added several new species of trees to this 5-acre property including a:

  • pair of Stewartia trees flanking the Narragansett Avenue gate
  • Franklinia tree near the children’s playhouse
  • Ginkgo tree at the north end of the west lawn
  • Princeton Elm tree, replacing a felled beech tree on the southern half of the west lawn

A Turkey Oak located in the southwest corner lawn is considered one of the tallest surviving specimens in North America.

Notable work in progress includes the installation of a firethorn espalier (Pyracantha coccinea ‘Mohave’) along the face of the Narragansett Street wall. This is an evergreen shrub that will be trained in a criss-cross “X” pattern on the wall. Installing this espalier requires work from masons to place anchors in the wall along with the landscaping team to train the shrubs. It should look especially festive in cold winter months when it will be full of bright red berries and evergreen foliage.

This year was the first year for Oakwood’s restored cutting garden, which in addition to perennials and vegetables has dozens of varieties of Dahlias. A planned next step is to transform the space east of the lily pond that is currently an abandoned tennis court into a dedicated vegetable garden and greenhouse space, along with the installation of a pergola at the south end of the lily pond.

An important resource informing this design thinking is “Newport in Flower” by Harriet Jackson Phelps, which features early 20th century colorized photographs of Newport gardens.


ag1982_0234_0612_ri_01_fahnes_smallerThis 1932 aerial photograph made by Robert Yarnall Richie (courtesy of DeGolyer Library, Southern Methodist University) looks to the East. The photograph shows Oakwood’s extensive garden beds along the eastern border of the property line, which we have recently restored. You will also see the magnificent Villa Rosa estate, which is no more. The beech tree nearest the home’s southern wing, now in ill health, is quite adolescent and well-pruned looking in this pre WW2 photograph. If you look carefully you will see the covered arbors extending from the center of the house to the east.

Oakwood was built in 1854 by architect Detlief Lienau for Mrs. John Carey (Mary Alida, nee Astor) (1826-1881), daughter of William Backhouse Astor and granddaughter of John Jacob Astor. In 1872, the Rhode Island architectural firm of George Champlin Mason & Son was commissioned to design the main living room and music room (essentially an addition to the south). In 1875, the Boston firm of Sturgis & Brigham added the tower and kitchen wing (on the northeast corner).

Detlef Lienau (February 17, 1818 Uetersen – August 29, 1887) was a German architect born in Holstein. He is credited with having introduced the French style to American building construction, notably the mansard roof and all its decorative flourishes. Trained at L’Ecole des Beaux-Arts in Paris, he designed virtually every type of Victorian structure—cottages, mansions, townhouses, apartment houses, hotels, tenements, banks, stores, churches, schools, libraries, offices, factories, railroad stations, and a museum. Lienau was recognized by clients and colleagues alike as one of the most creative and technically proficient architects of the period, and was one of the 29 founding members of the American Institute of Architects.

John and Mary Alida Carey had 3 children: Margaret (b. 1853), Arthur (b. 1857), and Henry (b. 1865). Following their parents death, Henry purchased his brother and sister’s interest in the home. In 1893, the Newport Mercury wrote that Henry “graduated from Harvard in the class of 1889, then made an extended European tour and about eighteen months ago returned to Newport which he had always been proud to call his home and where, though possessed of unlimited wealth and a welcome entree to the best American and European society, he determined to make his permanent residence. [He] immediately assumed the interests and the responsibilities of a true, public-spirited citizen.” In the Spring of 1893, he was “nominated for second representative on the Democratic General Assembly ticket and on the first Wednesday in April was elected by the largest majority accorded any other man on the ticket.” Sadly, Henry died unexpectedly on April 29, 1893 at the young age of 27. (Source Newport Mercury Volume CXXXV–No. 46 Newport, RI May 6, 1893). His funeral was held at Emmanuel Church.

There was a brief period in the late 19th century where a separate house existed at the site of the present-day lily pond. That property, which only stood for about 10 years, was called “The Clover Patch.”
Originally the East/West axis was the primary garden axis and was covered by an arbor along its entire length, almost to the property line with Villa Rosa. Villa Rosa was town down by a developer in the 1960s and as a direct result the Newport Historic District Commission was created to prevent further destruction of historic buildings.

After the Astor/Carey family, Oakwood was later owned by Delancey Kane and then later in the early 20th century by Mr. & Mrs. Grafton Minot. The gardens of Oakwood were first opened to a public tour in August 1930, when the Newport Mercury noted, “One of the places not hitherto opened to the public… It is one of those long-established estates which brought Newport to its early reputation for the beauty and magnificence of its residential homes.”

The August 1930 newspaper article about Oakwood went on, “Possibly, the first arresting feature would be the unusual arm stretch of the great tree which stands about halfway along the driveway on the right hand side, and spreads huge branches far across the driveway in canopy effect.” Today, the great London Planetree at this location lives up to the same billing it was given over 85 years ago. The article closed, “Of the beauty of the trees and lawns, much might be said, for they are very beautiful, and all the visitors felt a keen satisfaction that this whole wonderful estate had been so courteously opened for their enjoyment.” (Source: Newport Mercury and Weekly News, Friday August 8, 1930).

Oakwood. Rendering by Casey Harrington.

Oakwood. Rendering by Casey Harrington.




Sterling Lawn & Landscape

Katie Parent Adams has worked in the landscape and floral industry for nearly two decades. Truly passionate about plants, she strives to connect people and nature through creative, beautiful spaces and events. Katie holds a Master’s Degree in Landscape Architecture from the University of Georgia, in Athens, GA. Prior to founding KP Design in 2008, Katie worked as a landscape designer for Katherine Field and Associates, Inc. in Newport, RI (2007-2008). From 2009-2015, Katie worked as head gardener for the Newport Restoration Foundation. Committed to a life of learning, Katie is a Rhode Island Certified Horticulturist, a CRMC Certified Invasive Plant Manager, and a graduate of the 2008 UMASS Green School. In 2012, she also developed and taught a class on landscape architecture and land art at Western New England University in Springfield, MA.



Oakwood is a private residence. Visitation is by appointment only. Contact trees@newportarboretum.org.


Photos courtesy of Sterling Lawn & Landscape.


Photos courtesy of Sterling Lawn & Landscape.


Photos courtesy of Sterling Lawn & Landscape.

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The Newport Arboretum, New England's first citywide arboretum, is a special project of The Newport Tree Society of Newport, Rhode Island.