When visitors come to The House of the Seven Gables they expect to find old houses, transformed by the passing of time and ownership, with weathered exteriors and eclectic, period-furnished interiors. While this image of the typical historic house museum is most certainly part of The Gables experience, visitors are often surprised to discover the beauty of the surrounding landscape. Our
2 ½-acre campus causes many visitors to pause and enjoy the natural splendor around them. The sights, sounds, and smells are enough to excite the senses. So, on your next visit, be sure to wander the grounds and take a moment to stop and smell the lilacs.
As you step out of the Seamans’ Visitor Center and onto the grounds of The House of the Seven Gables, begin by walking slightly to the right, towards the large, red directional sign for tours. While you do, look to your left at the Linden tree against the side of the Turner-Ingersoll Mansion. As you walk to the right of the sign, you find yourself facing the Wisteria arbor, looking down a pathway enclosed by gnarled vines. In mid – late May, the clustered racemes from the Wisteria sinensis hang like grapes through the wooden screen. Walk towards the arbor and look for the sign with the names of the historic houses on the site, entangled in English ivy (Hedera helix). Continue past the Kousa dogwood (Cornus kousa), a tree imported from Asia with white flowers and small, round spiny fruit. As you pass under the arbor, you are transported to a secluded part of the site, surrounded by all of the activity of the museum. Pay attention to what is on your left, beyond the confines of the arbor. Notice the large, lilac bushes that are a highlight of The Gables landscape, and beyond, in front of the brooding Hooper-Hathaway House, a large Honeysuckle from the family Caprifoliaceae, and a Hawthorn (Crataegus). Look for the red pome fruit hanging from the thorny branches of the Hawthorn. When you reach the Sugar Maple marking the end of the beds, turn right and walk across the small lawn on the harbor-facing side of the Hooper-Hathaway House. Look past the lone Scots Pine (Pinus sylvestris L.), and across the harbor, where you can see the town of Marblehead on the other side. As you stand there, turn to face the Turner-Ingersoll Mansion, and gaze up at the large, old horse chestnut (Aesculus hippocastanum) that towers above the house. In the very first paragraph of Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The House of the Seven Gables, he says “The street is Pyncheon Street; the house is the old Pyncheon House; and an elm tree, of wide circumference, rooted before the door, is familiar to every town-born child by the title of the Pyncheon Elm.” Though the tree that stands rooted before the door of the actual Turner-Ingersoll Mansion is not an elm, the chestnut tree fills the roll of the elm described by Hawthorne, taking its place in our imagination. After taking in the sight of the chestnut, turn back to face the Counting House, the small shed-like structure by the harborside. As you travel up the path leading towards the Hawthorne Birth House, you will pass a Bayberry (Myrica) on your right and a bed with brightly colored Azalea, Hosta, False Indigo, and Aster. While approaching the red, gambrel-roof house you will see the massive American elm (Ulmus americana), with branches that reach towards the sky like crooked fingers. This ancient tree gives admirers a sense of awe, especially those who know that this tree is a survivor of the Dutch elm disease that destroyed many New England elms in the early-mid twentieth century. It might also strike you that the only elm tree on the grounds is not rooted in front of the house that inspired Hawthorne’s Pyncheon House, but rather in front of his birth place, which was moved to our site in 1958. Position yourself to face the front of the birth house. Look towards the right side of the facade. You will notice a Lantanaphyllum Viburnum, and around the corner towards the back of the house, PJM Rhododendron (R. dauricum), Anthony Waterer Spirea (Spiraea x bumalda Anthony Waterer), Cotoneaster, and Arborvitae (Thuja) among others. Back around the front of the Hawthorne birth house, and towards the Visitor Center, you will find a sun dial to your left surrounded by elegant peonies (Paeonia). Continue around the 1655 Retire-Beckett House, with Winterberry, American Cranberry and Carolina allspice along its perimeter. Be sure to stop in the Museum Store in the Beckett House which has a variety of items for sale for any garden lover. As you end this brief walking tour of The Gables grounds and make your way through the turnstiles and down the exit pathway, be sure to stop and smell the flowers that line the brick lane. You will see to your left and right, Winterberry (Ilex verticillata), Koreanspice Viburnum (Viburnum carlesii), Azalea, Quince (Cydonia oblonga), and more.
We hope that you enojoyed this virtual stroll around our grounds, and that it will inspire you to visit us and discover the natural beauty of The House of the Seven Gables. There is so much more to find here on our seaside campus. For those interested in learning more about the various plants and flowers at The House of the Seven Gables, please visit our website or, during your next visit, pick up a copy of our Historic Gardens Guide & Map from the Visitor Center or Museum Store.
This post was written by Ryan Conary