The Trustees of Reservations strives to preserve historic gardens in Massachusetts.
Castle Hill Allee, The Trustees of Reservations

The Grand Allée at Castle Hill on the Crane Estate in Ipswich, Massachusetts was designed for by the United States most prominent landscape architects, including Fredrick Law Olmsted and Arthur Shurcliff. 

In the same way that important buildings need to be preserved, so do landscapes—and The Trustees of Reservations has been doing both for nearly 130 years. Founded in 1891 by Boston-based landscape architect, Charles Eliot to “hold in trust” and care for special places of scenic, cultural, and natural significance throughout Massachusetts, The Trustees of Reservations is the world’s first land preservation non-profit and the Commonwealth’s largest conservation and preservation organization. To date, they own and manage 117 “reservations” ranging from notable homes and structures to mountains and island coasts.

Beyond simply saving “special places” from development, The Trustees’ mission includes protecting and caring for each property’s historic, cultural, scenic, and natural treasures, like landscapes and gardens.

“We have designed landscapes, cultural landscapes, and public gardens,” says Lucinda Brockway, program director for Cultural Resources at The Trustees. “Cultural landscapes are those shaped by the utilitarian needs or ethnic traditions of the owner or settler of the property. Designed landscapes are those that either had a very good amateur gardener or professional landscape architect, who designed the space. Gardens and public gardens can be developed by an amateur or professional but have a rich horticultural focus. They tend to make us feel very intimate and small when we’re in them because the plant materials play a major role, as opposed to landscapes, where you can feel these open, wide spaces.”

In spring 2015, The Trustees kicked off a $26.6 million campaign to reinvest, restore, and celebrate its cultural sites, collections, and archives. This included identifying 11 gardens they deemed worthy of refurbishment because the garden’s designer or owner was an important figure, and/or the garden was unique, and/or it had national or regional significance, and/or upon investment the garden could more fully engage the public and increase their enjoyment.

“We inherited some gardens that were in incredible shape and others that were wildering a bit,” says Brockway. Over the years, “we tried to maintain them as best as our budget and labor staff allowed, along with the volunteers that came to help us, but every garden, once it reaches 75 or 100 years old needs an infusion of investment to enable the flywheel to start again and create those, ‘Oh, wow’ experiences.”

Italian Garden at Castle Hill

The Italian Garden at Castle Hill on the Crane Estate, Ipswich.

Castle Hill on the Crane Estate in Ipswich, Massachusetts

One of the eleven gardens that topped the list is Castle Hill on the Crane Estate in Ipswich, Massachusetts, a designated National Historic Landmark. Chicago plumbing magnate Richard T. Crane, Jr. began purchasing the property in 1910 and hired some of America’s most prominent architects and landscape designers, including Ernest Bowditch, Frederick Law Olmsted, horticulturist Robert Cameron, and Arthur Shurcliff, to design the structure of and create plantings around his opulent, Gilded-Age, summer get-away, one of the last surviving, intact American estates from the Country Place Era. To complement the Italian Renaissance Revival villa (designed by Boston’s Shepley, Rutan and Coolidge and later replaced with architect David Adler’s 59-room, Stuart-style mansion, which remains today), Crane hired The Olmsted Brothers to build an Italian Garden with formal perennial beds, a water fountain, and teahouses all enclosed by tall columnar trees.

“Like all Olmsted designs, the garden plans were at the Frederick-Law Olmsted National Historic Site in Brookline and the correspondence [between the Cranes and the Olmsted Brothers] was in the Library of Congress,” says Bob Murray, project director for Structures and Landscapes at The Trustees. “There also were hundreds of photos that captured the garden as it peaked and turned into a mature landscape and this wealth of information helped inform our preservation plans.” Beyond restoring concrete walls and grass ramps, The Trustees replaced the pergola at the end of the garden, fixed the fountain and added back two perennial borders composed of thousands of pink, white, and blue flowers inspired by those that Florence Crane had originally chosen.

Also renovated was the Grand Allée, an undulating ribbon of lawn that spills into the Atlantic Ocean, designed by Arthur Shurcliff, famous for reinterpreting colonial American landscapes. The Trustees removed over 700 overgrown and deteriorating Norway spruce, cedar, and white pine trees lining both sides of the lawn (most of the wood was repurposed) and planted new ones. They also repaired the underground cistern that Crane had installed to collect rainwater and sustainably irrigate the lawn (remember, he was in the plumbing business). The white classical figure statues dotting the length of the lawn were cleaned and repaired, and the Casino Complex, composed of two pavilions (one housing a bachelor quarters and the other a ballroom and billiard room) bookending a saltwater pool and located halfway down the allée, was restored. The pool, which Florence Crane had filled in with grass, received new sod, a new drainage system, and marble coping.

Naumkeag

A view of Naumkeag.

Naumkeag in Stockbridge, Massachusetts 

Another garden landscape The Trustees has restored is Naumkeag in Stockbridge, Massachusetts, a National Historic Landmark. The 44-room “cottage” was designed by renown architects McKim, Mead & White in 1885 for New York attorney Joseph Choate as a Berkshire summer retreat.

“Naumkeag is about eight acres of designed landscape,” says Mark Wilson, Curator of Collections, West Region at The Trustees, who was involved in the restorations. “Nathan Franklin Barrett was the original landscape architect for the property from 1886 to 1891 and he took this interesting hillside setting, terraced it and laid out a couple of allées. There was a formal garden, but basically, it was a fairly open landscape with a lot of contouring and a few fountains. With the next generation of the family, Mabel Choate, the daughter hired Fletcher Steele out of Boston [in 1926], who was becoming one of the first true American modern landscape architects.” Over the next 30 years, Choate and Steele created a series of 12 outdoor garden “rooms,” five of which The Trustees brought back to their original glory, referencing their large archive of Steele’s plans, drawings, photographs, invoices for plants and garden materials, letters and notes.

Naumkeag in Stockbridge, Venetian mooring poles

Naumkeag in Stockbridge has a garden adorned with Venetian mooring poles.

For Steele’s famous “Blue Steps,” comprised of series of four ramps and cinder block steps featuring several pools, restorations included planting 60 new birch trees, pachysandra and yew hedges that flanked both side of the steps, repainting the faded baby blue pools the original cobalt blue, and restoring the flow of water through the pools.

Chinese Temple Garden

Also refurbished was the Chinese Temple Garden, a stone wall and brick moon gate enclosing a blue-topped interior temple, devil’s screen, water runnels, terraces of tree peonies, carved stone lanterns, and rock gardens. In addition to repointing the outer stone wall, all the plantings were replaced and many of the garden’s decorative elements, such as scrolls and Chinese porcelain drum stools, were either taken out of storage, repurchased, or recrafted to match the originals. Naumkeag also received seventy new Linden trees along its tree-lined Linden Allée and the Afternoon Garden was enhanced by repairing the retaining wall and fountain and replacing the broken, rotting Venetian gondola poles, which marked the garden’s edges.

“We worked with Skylight Studios in Woburn to replace the gondola poles, says Wilson. “When I explained to [President and Sculptor] Bob Shure, that Arcangelo Cascieri was the original carver (and an internationally acclaimed designer and sculptor from Boston), Bob said, ‘He’s the guy who trained me!’” Thus, referencing Steele’s original drawings, along with actual pieces of the original poles, Shure carved new poles with the same floral motifs and painted and gold leafed them to match the originals. Other restorations included sprucing up several lawns around Naumkeag and replanting all the original flowers in the Cutting Garden, which had been sodded over in the 1970’s. Lastly, the property’s original wooden greenhouse that had collapsed in a snowstorm in 1972, was replaced. Following modern building codes, the structure was fabricated as close to the original style as possible, from metal with insulated glass panels and made handicapped accessible.

The Rose Garden at  The Stevens Coolidge Place, The Trustees of Reservations

The Rose Garden at The Stevens Coolidge Place in North Andover, Massachusetts.

The Stevens-Coolidge Place in North Andover, Massachusetts

A third restored garden landscape The Trustees restored is The Stevens-Coolidge Place in North Andover, Massachusetts, listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The Stevens family first acquired the property, named Ashdale Farm, in 1729. Generations later Helen Stevens inherited the farm, which became her summer home when she married John Gardner Coolidge, a descendent of Thomas Jefferson and the nephew of Isabella Stewart Gardner. The couple hired preservation architect, Joseph Chandler, to modernize their home and design the landscape, which came to include a rose garden, kitchen and cutting-flower garden, perennial garden and French-inspired vegetable garden.

“When The Trustees acquired the property in 1962, they grassed over the beds of French Garden because it was too high maintenance and we didn’t have the staff at the time,” says Kevin Block, The Trustees’ Superintendent, Andover/North Andover Management Unit at The Stevens-Coolidge Place. “But one of our long-time volunteers and property committee chair, Laura Bibler, was doing a master’s thesis for landscape architecture and decided restoring the French garden would be her focus.” Thus, with Bibler’s help and using the garden’s original 1931 blueprint, The Trustees replanted the garden’s four quadrants (each composed of 15 beds) with all the original vegetables, herbs, and flowers—from sweet peppers and Brussels sprouts, to lavender and lemon balm, to heliotrope and zinnias. The garden’s serpentine wall, which was erected to pay homage to Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello and the University of Virginia, was restored, as was the small perennial garden border in front of it.

Other work included replanting the Rose Garden with the heirloom roses that would have been in trade at the time in the Coolidge’s favorite colors of pink, yellow, and white, since neither one of them liked red roses. Bibler also helped spearhead restoration of the large Perennial Garden, consulting the original 1907 garden blueprint and nursery slips dating back to 1911.

“We literally dug up the entire garden and started over following the plans,” says Block. “We put in steel edging to the original footprint and searched for the original plants still in trade. The Trustees also reinstalled the Cutting Garden, which they had abandoned upon acquisition, and restored the greenhouse.

For the eleven gardens The Trustees plans to invest in, restorations include creating more ways to engage visitors. To wit, most of the properties’ flower gardens will display early and late-blooming perennials, so visitors will always see something in bloom, versus just the summer blossoms homeowners, like the Cranes and Coolidges, planted to enjoy during their June through August sojourns. Garden entrances will be installed where need, better parking areas will be built, and onsite cafes and gift shops will enable visitors to extend their stays through lunch. Finally, each property will offer more ways for the public to interact with these gardens, whether it’s attending an outdoor concert at Castle Hill overlooking the Grand Allée, taking a yoga class in Naumkeag’s Afternoon Garden, arranging flowers from the Cutting Garden at The Stevens-Coolidge Place—or simply taking a memorable family photo in these enchanting, flower-filled oases.

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