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A Great Gatsby Garden: The Lavish Long Island Estate That Inspired a Movie’s Sets

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A Great Gatsby Garden: The Lavish Long Island Estate That Inspired a Movie’s Sets

December 29, 2013

There was a girl who grew up in the Phipps mansion on Long Island’s Gold Coast and she was named Margaret but went by Peggie, and she married young and divorced. Her second marriage lasted longer and after her parents died, in the 1950s, she moved with her husband–a French diplomat, of course–into a smaller house on the estate, a comparatively modest white clapboard house called Orchard Hill. Much of the rest of the grounds, including 70 acres of gardens, she opened to the public.

Peggie Phipps Boegner created a non-profit conservancy to oversee Old Westbury Gardens and then lived the rest of her life on the grounds, dying at home at age 99. Hers was a life F. Scott Fitzgerald would have recognized. In fact, he may have known her, as he and Zelda lived in nearby Great Neck in the 1920s when Peggie–whose grandfathers had founded, respectively, the United States Steel Corporation and Grace Shipping Line–was growing up.

But back to the gardens. I visited once, many years ago, when Peggie was living in the white clapboard house and had invited local journalists over for a tour. I remember miles and miles of roses, a vast green lawn, 18th-century antiques–and that Peggie served tea white sitting beneath an enormous portrait of her mother.

By the time filmmaker Baz Lurhmann decided to appropriate the grounds and exterior of Westbury House to inspire the exterior sets for Daisy Buchanan’s house in his 3-D remake of The Great Gatsby, which opened a few days ago in theaters, Peggie Phipps Boegner had been dead a few years. But the estate’s elaborate Italianate walled garden, its trees espaliered into the shapes of candelabras, and its grand allées of linden trees are beautifully preserved. Polo, anyone? Let’s take a stroll around the place:

Photograph by Joe Shlabotnik via Flickr.
Above: Photograph by Joe Shlabotnik via Flickr.

Designed by George A. Crawley, the redbrick mansion has 23 rooms; the Phippses moved in with their children in 1906, the year Peggie was born.

Photograph by Joe Shlabotnik via Flickr.
Above: Photograph by Joe Shlabotnik via Flickr.

For a luxurious–and little-known–public garden in London, see A Secret Garden in Regent’s Park in London.

Photograph by Steve Moscowitz via Flickr.
Above: Photograph by Steve Moscowitz via Flickr.
Photograph by Steve Moscowitz via Flickr.
Above: Photograph by Steve Moscowitz via Flickr.
Lily pads on the pond. Photograph by Steve Moscowitz via Flickr.
Above: Lily pads on the pond. Photograph by Steve Moscowitz via Flickr.

For another Gatsby-esque Long Island garden, see Grandeur in the Hamptons: A Sprawling Estate in Watermill.

N.B.: This is an update of a post originally published May 14, 2013 during our coverage of The Gold Coast.

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