This is the Fourth Edition in a series of creative perspectives about life and the design process from Interior Designer, Kim Macumber and myself. You can read Kim’s blog here!
This summer we had the wonderful opportunity to get together and explore a historic home and garden in Cambridge, Massachusetts. The former home of poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow is a National Historic Site. It was occupied by General George Washington before the Revolutionary War during the Siege of Boston, from July 1775 until April 1776, prior to Longfellow’s ownership. So, George Washington really did sleep here! The home is now managed by the National Park Service and is open year round to visitors.
Kim discovered lots of inspiration inside the Longfellow House and of course I was drawn to the inviting paths and garden structures I found outside. The home was built in 1759 along the Charles River in area that was once rich farmland. At one time there were orchards and productive gardens that surrounded the home but in the early 1900s Longfellow’s daughter Alice took over responsibility for caring for it and made changes to the gardens.
She brought in Martha Brookes Hutcheson and Ellen Biddle Shipman, two well respected landscape architects, to design a garden that would be reminiscent of the original and also harmonize with the architecture of the house. Colonial design featured geometric patterns and controlled garden beds and here you can get a feel for the formality of the traditional border gardens.
Neatly trimmed boxwoods, Buxus sempervirens, border plantings of magenta summer phlox, Phlox paniculata.
A mass of classic white shasta daises, Leucanthemum × superbum, rise to blossom along one of the curves toward the house.
A white trellised seating area with planted urns brings a taste of colonial architecture into the garden.
A blooming Lily of the Nile, Agapanthus umbellatus, is a dramatic focal point.
I can imagine Alice Longfellow sitting here in the shade, enjoying a summer breeze and remembering childhood days spent playing in her father’s garden. I am sure he would be proud to know that her dedication to restoring the home and gardens has preserved a national treasure.
Kim and I both came away with the same observation. We never really know if what we are collecting or caring for could one day become something of great importance. How does one determine the future value of something left behind from one generation for the next? We can only do our best and try to remember that hints from our yesterdays can help us understand where we have come from. Exploring a path from the past might help us discover where we might be able to go.
“In all places, then, and in all seasons,
Flowers expand their light and soul-like wings,
Teaching us, by most persuasive reasons,
How akin they are to human things.”
“Flowers” by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (1837)
remember, goodness grows,