A Venture Capitalist and His Garden: Chuck Newhall to Speak at Cylburn Arboretum
Pretend this is “Jeopardy.” Your category: People who’ve packed three lives into one. Your clues: He was a student of British horticulturist Gertrude Jekyll. An ex-paratrooper, he was awarded both the Purple Heart and the Silver Star (“kissed the lips of death” three times and survived). A philosopher, a classicist, a raconteur — and also, a founder, in 1977, of one of the world’s largest venture capital firms, the $14 billion New Enterprise Associates, in Chevy Chase — formerly in Baltimore — Maryland.
Who was Charles “Chuck” Newhall, 68, husband, father, Vietnam vet, author, highly successful businessman, former chairman of the Baltimore Museum of Art, and individualist, to say the least!
Intrigued? Enter the grand garden at Brightside, Newhall’s home in Owings Mills, and enter the mind and spirit of the man who, with his wife Amy, has created an “emblem book” garden of their lives. From January 25th through February 24th at the Vollmer Center at Cylburn Arboretum, visitors will have a rare chance to see Brightside, in an exhibit by landscape photographer Alan Gilbert, and to hear Mr. Newhall discuss his garden in two upcoming lectures . The opening night reception is tomorrow night.
An emblem book garden — a garden that, in addition to symbolic plantings, contains sculpture, art and text — is a concept that goes back centuries sometimes to inspire, sometimes to warn of life’s pitfalls and follies. Brightside is an emblem book garden in its truest sense, uniting one man’s experience of life with an appreciation for history, mythology and the Victorian language of flowers. The result is an apt illustration that “all gardens are a form of autobiography.”
Here, in 54 highly personal garden rooms at Brightside, you’ll find Newhall the Classics Scholar, evinced in the Roman and Greek sculptures placed throughout the garden. Around the corner is Newhall the Animal Lover, in a pet cemetery gracefully incorporated into the Elysium Garden. Further on, the Warrior, present most vividly in the A Shau Garden, where mythical Kaylins, a carved Japanese monk, and a plaque dedicated to friends fallen in Vietnam speak to Newhall’s credo: “Man cannot die a better death than facing fearful odds for the ashes of his fathers and the temples of his gods.” The garden here is under planted with winter aconites, the flower of death.
In the Wildwood garden, an allusion to Dante’s Inferno, there is a River Styx — where, over a small footbridge, memories of beloved friends and family who have crossed into the next life are recalled and cherished. A plaque reads, “After death, nothing matters,” a reminder to live each day to the fullest. In a more playful mood, a turn-of-the-century Italian sundial (the worm casts the shadow) in the Early Bird garden makes the point that in life (perhaps nowhere more so than in venture capitalism) the early bird gets the worm.
The overarching theme of Brightside is of life and death, a meditation on the ephemeral nature of existence, on love, on nature, and on second chances. The inspiration for Brightside was Amy, whose artistry and knowledge of plants have made the abstract real. “Amy brought our family back to life after tragedy. She is the heart of the garden,” Mr. Newhall says, “and I am its mind.”
Alan Gilbert’s photographs of Brightside, on display at Cylburn until the end of February, are lush and moody, every bit the garden’s equal in its sense of drama and detail. At the Opening Reception this Friday, January 25th from 6:30 to 8:30 PM, the photographer will be on hand to talk about his work and discuss some of the challenges of capturing a garden on camera.
Chuck Newhall will give two lectures at Cylburn. On Saturday, January 26th at 2 pm he will discuss “Brightside: a Dialogue Between the Heart and the Head.” On Wednesday, January 30th at 7pm, he will speak on the “Evolution of a Garden, 1986-2013: A Dance to the Music of Time”. This is a unique opportunity to meet Mr. Newhall, to view and be inspired by this notable garden. Admission to the Opening Reception and the lectures are free. For further information, call the Cylburn Arboretum at 410-367-2217 x100.