The Polenov estate is one united body with the Oka-river landscape. In the minds of the inhabitants of the estate, it turned into a special – “living organism” and even more – into the whole world or the center of the universe. It was a clue.
By the artist’s efforts a young forest was planted with the local flora: pines, aspens, birches, oaks, maples, thuja, American maple, cedar, and fir-trees appeared. Later they made glades and laid paths. The forest turned into a park with Birch and Exit alleys, a pond, Uburova Mountain – named for the its abundance of flowers and forbs that grow from spring to late autumn.
All the cherished places in the park had their own names, which were mostly invented by the artist’s son Dmitry, a man with a rich imagination and natural history education.
Fyodor Dmitrievich Polenov, the artist’s grandson, wrote about it in the 1930s.: “From the terraces of the museum you can clearly see the park, which today can already be called even old. The park is a brainchild of Vassily Dmitrievich, most of the pines were planted here by his hands, by the hands of friends and students, and our family members. The artist’s family has always had a special attitude towards the park – as to a living being, a natural (neither subtract or add!) continuation of the museum, or rather, its integral part. The care for trees and their growth was for Polenov as natural as the care for his students”.
Polenov had an amazing skill to transform unfavorable natural places into original corners of the park: low-lying or hilly areas of the estate were interpreted by him as the basis for a free picturesque layout of the park. When Polenov designed flower beds around the house, he took into account not only the architecture of the building, but also the unique Oka-river flora.
During his first visit to the Oka-river, Vassily Dmitrievich payed attention to its similarity to alpine fields: fragrant violets, lilies of the valley, anemones, forget-me-nots, lilac and yellow wild irises, pale pink wild mallow. In the selection of flower crops for manor beds, the emphasis was placed on “similarity” with the local fauna: poppies, tulips, primroses, marigolds, cornflowers, verbena, irises, phlox, gillyflowers, mallow, dahlias and asters. The exquisite flowers did not overshadow the charm of simple field flowers.
This peculiarity in the creation of the flower beds has been preserved to our days. The main manor buildings – the Big House and the Abbey – are surrounded by the special flowers. Mallow and colorful zinnias bloomed near the Abbey. The latter flower, along with irises, was especially distinguished by Vassily Dmitrievich. According to him, the zinnias reminded him of the Imochentsy.
In architectural terms, the three sides of the Big House were perceived as three facades, corresponding to flower beds of different designs.
At the entrance, near the porch, one can see large gillyflowers – from pale pink to dark purple. A circle was arranged in front of the Big House – a large round flower bed. But even here, Polenov tried to make the flower bed look more like a meadow with flowers – “Moorish lawn”.
On the Western side of the house, the artist arranges an esplanade, artificially leveling the soil for the flower beds. During the artist’s lifetime, the flower garden on the esplanade was arranged according to the principles of English parks: with irregular flower beds. Since the 1960s the esplanade has been shaped like a sector of a circle, divided by rays-paths into three triangles, due to the museum life of the estate. The dominant color of these lawns has always been green. Along the edges of the green field flowers were planted in rows: daffodils, irises of different colors (Vassily Polenov loved this flowers very much: it reminded him of a knightly, Gothic style), white phlox, surprisingly combined with the white walls of the Big House. The esplanade ended in a curved strip on which grew sword lilies, lilies, and small roses. The perimeter of the esplanade was planted with the artist’s favorite underwoods – lilac, jasmine – and this curtain creates a sense of seclusion, protection of space, but nevertheless, directly connected with the Oka landscape through the Oka perspective.
On the steps of the Western terrace “nasturtiums were burning with fires”, a kind of hommage to the famous dacha’s terrace in Zhukovka . The design of the Southern façade is more intimate.
During the life of Vassily Polenov, Natalya Vassilievna, the artist’s wife, took care of the flower beds. After the death of her parents, Olga Vassilievna Polenova, the artist’s daughter was happy to take over, implementing the principles laid down by her father.
Until now, the estate has remained almost in its original form. Today, as in the artist’s lifetime, all the original flower beds are sown with grass in the center, and flowers are planted at the border. Some rare tree species are still growing in the estate.
But nowadays it is already a mysterious century-old park, almost a forest: alleys and paths diverge like rays. A high slender forest, huge pines of the entrance alley, tall, autumn golden elms near the house, acacia, lilacs, maple with dark red leaves near the artist’s studio, a garden, flower beds… Polenov managed to create a wonderful work of art in harmony with nature.