, Salem, MA


September 19, 2013

History in Bloom

Seven Gables gardener will give free talk as part of Trails & Sails weekend

At The House of the Seven Gables, even the beautiful, seaside gardens provide lessons in history.

“The gardens were founded a long time ago,” said Robyn Kanter, who has tended the Gables flowerbeds since 1980.

They aren’t as old as the house, which dates to 1688, but were first planted in 1909, a year after Salem philanthropist Caroline Emmerton bought the home.

Kanter, who runs Kanter Design Associates, will discuss the origins of the gardens and her efforts to maintain their beauty in a free talk Saturday at the Gables.

The presentation is one of dozens of Sails and Trails events that will be held across Essex County this weekend and next, exploring the region’s history, cultural heritage and natural environment.

“What I’m going to look at is how true we are to the mission and give homeowners some tips for doing that in their own garden,” she said. “I’ll give them some tools to help identify how you create a historic garden style for the architecture of your house.”

The House of the Seven Gables was originally named the Turner-Ingersoll Mansion, and Emmerton wanted to turn it into a museum to raise funds for a settlement house.

She hired architect Joseph Chandler to design raised flower beds in a pattern that, he thought, reflected how Colonial gardens appeared, Kanter said.

He believed they used a highly formal pattern from the era of King James 1, but that was an embellishment, she said.

“It was their interpretation of what they thought a Colonial garden should be,” Kanter said. “When I did research for my independent study at Radcliffe, I found the original pattern he laid out.”

Colonial gardens were in fact more sparse and practical than Chandler supposed, and they were typically used for growing food and herbs.

But the design he used became a style in its own right, known as Colonial Revival style, and it is this more contemporary history that Kanter is trying to preserve.

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