The Colonial Revival Seaside Gardens capture the charm of four centuries of gardening in New England. The raised bed areas of the garden are considered to be the most historically significant feature of the grounds. The patterned beds were laid out in 1909 by Joseph Everett Chandler, the architect who partnered with Caroline Emmerton on the restoration of The House of the Seven Gables. The garden was designed in a Jacobean style as an “oasis of beauty” to be enjoyed by her neighbors. Miss Emmerton was adamant about the maintenance of the grounds, and set the standards practiced today.
While some plant material has changed or been replaced, the elements of enclosure, attention to detail, and old-fashioned practices remain. Under the direction of Robyn Kanter of Kanter Design Associates, hand pruning and cultivation help to retain the tradition of one of New England’s most treasured places.
Visitors are invited to relax and walk the garden paths that have been enjoyed by hundreds of thousands of visitors over the past century. Highlights include:
- Four Centuries of Floral Color – Today, the gardens represent four centuries of planting schemes. The beds are planted in a pastel and green/gray color scheme, using varieties of artemisia, santolina, and lavender. These were also used for herbal remedies.
- Alyssum, ageratum, Mrs. Lawrence geranium, rocket snapdragons, and blue salvia make up the center design. Early summer planting is highlighted with white fever few (matricaria), and fall planting include chrysanthemums, impatiens, begonia, and lobelia. Additional coloring is introduced with old-fashioned Colonial Revival plants, such as delphinium, coral bells, sweet William (dianthus), and thyme. The overall effect is a mix of pink, white, and blue, with a touch of yellow.
- The Wisteria Arbor – The garden’s wisteria is a variety introduced to the United States during the height of the China Trade in the 19th century and continues to be a favorite in Salem gardens. It is pruned to allow the old wood to form a knotted screen, through which you can get a glimpse of the garden. A collection of astilbe, alchemilla, and lilies (featuring the rubrum lily) line the arbor.
- The Rose Trellis – The Rose Trellis is a wooden replica reproduced from the Andrew Safford Garden. The climbing rose is “New Dawn,” a delicate ever-blooming pink variety; understory roses are the “Fairy” and “Sea Foam” varieties.
- Shrub Border – Honeysuckle dominates the shrub border and is very old. Viburnums, lilacs, yews, and a Hawthorne tree round out the border.
- Lilacs – The lilacs are of great importance in the setting of The House of the Seven Gables. Perhaps Caroline Emmerton put it best when she said “I remember the thrill that the gaunt old house gave me when I first caught sight of it. It was shrouded in lilac bushes. They loomed high above a very high fence, and above the lilacs rose the dark old house, craned by its steeply sloping roof.”
Changes to the landscape – the Retire-Beckett house was brought to museum campus in 1924. It was used as a new tea house and antique shop. To accommodate the number of visitors brought about by these new attractions, the organization devised an expanded landscape. The updated plan included a Wisteria Arbor, raised border beds, and a rose trellis. Colonial plants, such as Foxglove (digitalis), Canterbury Bells (campanula), and Hollyhocks were introduced again. In 1960, the beds were upgraded with treated spruce and boxwood hedges.
The Nathaniel Hawthorne Birthplace was moved to historic site in 1958. The entire area surrounding the house was designed by landscape gardener Dan Foley. The bed in front of the home contains thyme, lavender, tarragon, sweet woodruff, baptisia, statchys lanata (lambs ears), monarda (bee balm or bergamot), allium (onion relative), epidenium, achillea (yarrow), and hosta.
The elm tree in front of the Hawthorne Birthplace is extremely old and part of the original canopy. Arborists monitor the condition of this witness tree frequently.