Islander wins second place at Newport Flower Show
That’s what Jamestown’s Hali Beckman and her collaborator, Mike DaPonte, faced after accepting this year’s 16th annual Newport Flower Show’s challenge – to make an original garden by evoking the original Blue Garden, which once graced Beacon Hill House. The show was sponsored by the Preservation Society of Newport County.
Beckman and DaPonte outlasted the weather and came away with a second-place ribbon for the “Le Jardin Bleu de Caisse de Panier” garden, one of nine entries. She produced the design, and he managed the installation.
Beckman, who moved back to Jamestown this spring after an absence, studied landscape architecture at both the University of Rhode Island and the Rhode Island School of Design. That education gave her the best of both worlds, she said, crediting URI for instilling the science knowledge and RISD the artistry. But she rather fell into the career after briefly flirting with fashion design.
“I went to London to study,” she said, but realized she didn’t have the financing or the connections to survive in the fashion world. But the experience convinced her that she loved design. Family influence did the rest, she said. Her father, Carl Beckman, is a plant pathologist, and her interest in plants probably came from him, she joked.
“I had an aquarium, but it was all plants, no fish,” she said.
Beckman found out she was entering the flower show on a Friday night. She spent the following Saturday sketching.
“The design part is hard to explain,” she said. “It just comes to you.”
Beckman, owner of the landscape architectural firm Hali Beckman Ltd. in Wickford, focused on elements like repetition because flower show rules eliminated many of the typical decisions, she said.
“The theme was given: entertaining Newport style,” she said. “The site, Rosecliff, was given. And the color blue was a given.” Rosecliff is one of the Gilded Age mansions in Newport that was built in the early 1900s.
She started with a blue garden floor made of ageratum. Then she built the garden up with white sprigs of veronica, foxglove (digitalis) and delphinium.
“The colors are not all the same white [shade],” she said, and the mixture of varieties lent depth. The different shapes also created depth and texture.
She used boxwood to create the basket weave effect.
And then she added an inspired touch that started everyone at the show talking.
“I put in bird-of-paradise, for playfulness,” she said. She meant the flower to work “sort of like fireworks, to give it that extra over-thetop” feeling, typical of a Newport society event.
Some comments made her laugh, she said.
“It was fun watching people and their expressions,” she said. One person looked at the bird-of-paradise and quipped, “Newport’s pink flamingoes,” she said.
But the judges credited Beckman and DaPonte with a “beautifully classic interpretation” of the Frederick Law Olmsted Blue Garden.
The classical spirit was the effect she wanted, Beckman said.
Although Beckman did see a photograph of the original garden, which Commodore and Mrs. Arthur Curtiss James unveiled at a 1913 society gala, she didn’t rely on the image, but instead emphasized classical design elements that marked the era.
“Back then, they used a lot of European plantings and design,” she said. “The basket weave is very French.”
DaPonte, co-owner of DaPonte Landscaping Services in Bristol, said he and the crew located all the flowers and shrubs as Beckman’s design required.
“It was a challenge, but it was fun,” he said. Besides finding everything, the main difficulty is making the garden look real, even though it’s sitting on a flat surface and held together with temporary materials.
“You can’t dig up the front lawn of Rosecliff,” he said.
DaPonte participated at last year’s show when he helped install a booth for Bartlett Tree Experts, the flower show sponsor. This year, he was invited to do his own design and installation. So he called on Beckman, he said. This was her first effort at the Newport Flower Show.
“It’s quite an honor,” said Beckman. “I was thrilled to be part of it. The installation was hard, but your adrenalin’s going.”
Beckman accepted the challenge to help a good cause: preservation.
“We didn’t even know they were going to be judged,” she said. She arrived the morning of the show and saw the ribbons.
Beckman most enjoyed seeing her work beside designers and architects whom she admires, she said.
“We had some of the state’s best designers and contractors, so Mike DaPonte and I are thrilled to be recognized with this award,” she said.
Being in that elite company did make up for the awful weather, she said. But Beckman and DaPonte had only those two days before the show to install the garden.
“Wednesday and Thursday were torrential rains,” she said. “Every installer and designer was tearing their hair out.”
Of course, it rained before the show, but the weather calmed for the actual event on June 24 to June 26.