Get Growing, tips from Master Gardener Cheryl B. Wilson: Hildene

Last modified: Tuesday, September 23, 2014
Abraham Lincoln’s grand- daughter Jessie created a beautiful garden in 1907 at Hildene, her family’s summer home in Vermont. Designed to be seen from her mother’s second floor sitting room, the parterre garden was like stained glass in a cathedral. Low privet hedges enclosed beds filled with colorful perennials and annuals in separate hues. One bed would have blue flowers, another yellow, yet another white.

By the time the last member of the family died in 1975, the lovely garden had become overgrown, the privet hedges six feet tall. In the early 1980s there was a major restoration which has continued over the years. A century after the first garden was planted, Friends of Hildene built a pergola at the far end of the garden. Brick walls edged with turf lead from the gray stucco house to a marble bench under the pergola. The beds are now planted with modern hybrids of the flowers chosen by Jessie Lincoln so many years ago.

Last week, the garden was in beautiful bloom. Visitors admired the enormous cobalt blue monkshood (Aconitum), the tall but delicate lavender meadow rue (Thalictrum) and the steel blue globe thistle (Echinops ritro) in one of the beds. Another section held yellow daisies of many varieties. The white area featured lovely white lilies (perhaps ‘Casa Blanca’) beside ‘Becky’ Shasta daisies, white peach-leafed bellflowers and white balloon flowers. The low privet hedges, just 10 inches tall, lent coherence to the design and from the windows above it does resemble stained glass.

In June the original peonies bloom in the garden with more than 1,000 flowers and that would be a grand time to visit, but throughout the summer months the gardens are splendid and the estate is well worth the trip.

Inside the house there were charming flower arrangements provided twice a week by members of local garden clubs. In the welcoming hallway was a huge urn of white hydrangeas, gray-leafed artemisia, white lisianthus and snapdragons with the pink buds of sedum and Joe-pye weed. In Robert Lincoln’s study the arrangements were cheerful yellow yarrow and marigolds along with white and yellow snapdragons.

Hildene is in Manchester, a two-hour drive from Amherst or Northampton. Admission is $18 for a self-guided tour of the mansion and grounds. A 
tour by a docent costs an additional $5.

There is a restored Pullman railway car on the property; Robert Lincoln made his fortune as president of the Pullman Company. There is also a working farm, cutting and vegetable gardens, an observatory and other outbuildings. You can sit on the shady porch overlooking the garden and pretend that you’re a guest of the Lincolns.

ARBORICULTURE HONOR: The International Society of Arboriculture earlier this month gave a major award to Brian Kane, professor and researcher at the University of Massachusetts. Kane received the Alex L. Shigo Award for Excellence in Arboricultural Education. The award is named for Shigo, a New Hampshire researcher whose work on tree diseases considerably changed the practice of arborists. The president of ISA, Mark Roberts, said, “Brian is one of the most formidable researchers in practical arboriculture today, but he’s equally considered for his substantial reputation as a professor.” According to a statement from ISA, Kane is known for including students in his research activities, supporting them in tree-climbing competitions and guiding students in their careers. ISA has more than 20,000 members worldwide.

FITZGERALD LAKE DIVERSITY WALK: Ted Watt, well-known naturalist at the Amherst-based Hitchcock Center for the Environment, will lead a walk called “Exploring Plant Diversity,” tomorrow, from 9 a.m. to noon, at Fitzgerald Lake Conservation Area in Florence. Learn how plants adapt to wetland and upland habitats and attract pollinators. Wear waterproof footgear, bring a hand lens if possible and any wildflower field guide. Meet at the North Farms Road entrance. The event is free and sponsored by the Broad Brook Coalition.

PLANT SWAP: The Belchertown Plant Swap is Tuesday, 6 p.m., at 253 Warren Wright Road in Belchertown. Fee is $1. For information call Elaine Williamson at 253-5041 or email her at elainerwilliamson@yahoo.com.

MONET’S GARDEN: Colta Ives, curator emerita of the Metropolitan Museum of Art and a landscape designer, will give a lecture titled “Monet: Painter, Plantsman,” Wednesday, 4 p.m., at the Berkshire Botanical Garden in Stockbridge. Ives is a knowledgeable gardener who participated in the Master Gardener trip to English gardens in May. She will explore Monet’s genius as a gardener which lent inspiration to his paintings. Fee is $20.

WHAT MAKES A SEED TICK? Elizabeth Farnsworth of the New England Wild Flower Society will hold a workshop called “What Makes a Seed Tick? Biology and Adaptations of Seeds,” Thursday, 6:30-8:30 p.m., at Nasami Farm in Whately. Fee is $32. Call 256-6006 to register. Space is limited.