After her husband's death, Mary traveled the world collecting new landscaping ideas. The Italian Garden’s fleur-de-lis-shaped flower beds are planted each year in 15,000 annuals. The Rose Garden contains several thousand new and antique cultivars in shades of crimson, pink, white, yellow and peach. But the Blue and White Garden—featuring pale lilies, forget-me-nots, larkspur and delphinium growing next to a veranda—is more intimate. "This was Mary's favorite," says Sonnenberg horticulturist Dan Camenga.
The Thompsons and their Finger Lakes estate were products of the Gilded Age, a term coined by Mark Twain and the title of the 1873 novel he wrote with Charles Dudley Warner. The phrase evokes the conspicuous consumption of the post Civil War newly affluent. Yet the Thompsons epitomized an even smaller elite, characterized by a distinctive vision and a passion for experimentation, attributes they shared with such major Finger Lakes figures as Elizabeth Cady Stanton, William Letchworth—and Twain himself. Perhaps it has to do with something in the water.