The Gardens at The House of the Seven Gables capture the charm of colonial period plantings. You are surrounded by enchanting, lush, seaside beauties as you walk down the garden paths that many have traveled before us. These gardens have inspired hundreds of thousands of visitors.
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.
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 by Joseph Chandler, a landscape architect hired by Caroline Emmerton in 1909. 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.
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 artemesia, 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 includes 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.
Revised Plan – the Retire-Beckett house was brought to The House of the Seven Gables in 1924, and was used as a new tea house and antique shop. So, to accommodate the number of visitors brought about by these new attractions, The House of the Seven Gables devised an expanded landscape.
The new 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 House was moved to The House of the Seven Gables in 1958. The entire area surrounding the house was landscaped by Dan Foley. The bed in front of the home contains: thyme, lavender, tarragon, sweet woodruff, baptisia, statchys lanata (lambs ears), monarda (bee balm or bergamont), allium (onion relative), epidenium, achillea (yarrow), and hosta. The elm tree is extremely old and part of the original canopy. Gardeners work to help it fight off plant disease.
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 (when seated under the arbor). A collection of astilbe, alchemlia, 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, crained by its steeply sloping roof.”