All places have stories, but the Planting Fields in Oyster Bay has 409 acres of them. And Gina Wouters wants to help share those stories.
“I didn’t know anything about the larger story behind it,” says Wouters, Executive Director of the Planting Fields Foundation. “So many people have never heard of it.”
The Planting Fields Foundation, a nonprofit organization founded by W.R. Coe in 1952, was created to “preserve and make relevant to all audiences the heritage of Planting Fields, an early 20th century 409-acre estate, designed as an integrated composition of the built and natural world,” according to the group’s mission statement. The property, which includes the Planting Fields Arboretum, Coe Hall and many other buildings and land, is one of Long Island’s most beloved historical sites.
Wouters joined the Planting Fields Foundation in 2019 after her time at Vizcaya Museum and Gardens in Miami. A curator and art expert, she familiar with the site thanks to a famous by Robert Winthrop Chanler mural, found in countless art books but actually residing in Coe Hall, yet she wasn’t aware of the depth of its history.
Wouters realized she was not alone. “People in the industry who really should know about it have never heard about it. To me, it was just a real opportunity to figure out how we get this place nationally recognized for its important heritage. It’s most known as an arboretum—which it is, of course—but it was designed as the quintessential example of a Gold Coast estate of Long Island.”
A large part of telling the story of Planting Fields, for Wouters, involves preserving its unique architecture and landscape. The original acreage of the property, a staggering 409 acres, is still with the Foundation, “which is so rare,” says Wouters. One of Wouters’ primary goals has been to restore the landscape to the original vision of the Olmsted Brothers, the architectural firm known for designing Central Park, the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C. and more.
Born in Holland, Wouters has lived a life infused with travel and multiculturalism from the start, having moved to Miami as a child. “Being a hodgepodge of things or a mix of things has always been a part of me,” she explains, noting her parents’ Indonesian and Dutch heritage.
Since moving to Long Island, Wouters and her family have lived in Locust Valley and recently moved to a house in Cold Spring Harbor. “It’s a total fixer-upper,” she says. “We are completely immersed in all these details of making our own space. Right now we have one room that I think is beautiful, that I love. We have all our artwork and cool stuff.”
And in keeping with her natural ability to tell stories, “I like books, they are really important to me. I love reading books. I love looking at books, but I also love the way books look like a design element. When we finish our living room where we have these built-in bookshelves, they’re historic. I can’t wait to have all our books together.”
Just as Wouters and her family have been gradually exploring the island and discovering new places, she hopes more people and their families will visit the Planting Fields. Among the attractions are two large greenhouses, hundreds of acres of hikeable land and Coe Hall. There are docents who give tailored house tours to families, and fun scavenger hunts can be found in brochures, all of which are designed to immerse visitors in the rich history and present beauty.
“The stories of places like Planting Fields need to be told,” says Wouters. “They’re not just beautiful buildings, but they’re building stories where certain craftsmanship and vision was applied that you lose today,” she says. “We want to make this site, and this also has been my MO with the other sites, culturally vital and vibrant, so that is activity, so that it’s both the place that is deeply rooted in history, but also a site that people make their own stories at, make their own histories at.”
Planting Fields park hours are 9:00 AM to 5:00 PM daily (closed December 25). The $8 parking fee is currently collected 9:00 AM to 5:00 PM
COE HALL HOURS: The Visitor Center in Coe Hall is open Wednesdays through Sundays 9:00 AM to 5:00 PM
MAIN GREENHOUSE: The Main Greenhouse is now open 10:00 AM to 4:00 PM, 6 days a week. (Closed to the public on Tuesdays for routine maintenance.)
Visit the Planting Fields at 1395 Planting Fields Road, Oyster Bay, NY 11771. Learn more at plantingfields.org.