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The Forever Garden

The Forever Garden | Stevens-Coolidge Place

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Volunteers of the Year 2013 | Stevens-Coolidge Place

Through dedication and hard work, (standing from left) Nancy Woolford, Stan Schantz, Barbara Siegel, Laura Bibler, Sorena Pansovoy, Jane Demers, (sitting from left) Barbara Schantz, Martha Owen, and Judi Lafferty lovingly brought the perennial garden back to life, an achievement we celebrate with our Volunteers of the Year Award.

Plan a visit to the Stevens-Coolidge Place in North Andover.

Jaci Conry is a Cape Cod-based writer and editor, who specializes in architecture, landscape, and design. She can be reached at jaci@jaciconry.com.

This article originally appeared in the Fall 2013 issue of Special Places, The Trustees' member magazine. To subscribe, join The Trustees today.


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Bringing the Perennial Garden at the Stevens-Coolidge Place Back to Life

By Jaci Conry

When Helen Stevens Coolidge inherited Ashdale Farm in 1914, her family had farmed the land for six generations. Over the years, the nearly 100-acre North
Andover property had evolved into a rural summer sanctuary for Helen and her diplomat husband, John Gardner Coolidge, and the couple became devoted to preserving and improving their beloved retreat.

At the turn of the 20th century, wealthy Bostonians were embracing the concept of gracious country living, and estates were about integrating indoor and outdoor spaces. The Coolidges were no exception, and they hired preservationist architect Joseph Chandler to modernize the farm’s antiquated family homestead and enhance the design of the landscape, which came to include a beautiful perennial garden, a kitchen and cut-flower garden, a rose garden, greenhouse complex, and a French vegetable garden.

Mrs. Coolidge bequeathed the estate to The Trustees of Reservations in 1962. Since then, the house and its vibrant, sprawling landscape have been open to the public, drawing visitors every spring and summer to admire the gardens’ spectacular blooms. But after 50 years, the perennial garden especially was showing its age. While its original nature had remained intact and it had been managed to reflect the flavor of past plantings – particularly iris, phlox, peonies, and foxglove – the garden had changed over time. The original bed outlines had expanded, some evergreens and the privet hedge had grown out of bounds, and certain perennials had been planted to fill spaces that weren’t historically accurate.

“Gardens are living things,” says Chris Ward, who served as superintendent for the property until 2013, when he moved to The Trustees’ Crane Estate. “They don’t stay in one time and place for their lifetime, but reach a maturity and need to be refreshed and updated. We wanted to get the perennial garden back to its original footprint, bring beds back to original size, divide plants, and move some things around.”

The project started not in the garden, but in the library, as a core group of volunteers led by Laura Bibler, an Andover-based landscape architect who is also the committee chair for the Stevens-Coolidge Place, delved into its origins to learn more about the way the garden was designed. “We didn’t realize the depth of the research we’d be undertaking,” says Bibler. “But it’s been a really fascinating process.”

“The volunteers who did the research made some amazing discoveries,” says Ward, including the surprising finding that Joseph Chandler had not played as large a role in the perennial garden’s design as originally thought. The group’s research dated back to 1907 when Mrs. Coolidge’s sister Gertrude Kunhardt first conceptualized the garden. For help in its design, Mrs. Kunhardt looked to landscape architect Louisa Bancroft Stevens (no relation to the sisters), one of the first women to be admitted to the landscape architecture program at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. “She was a real groundbreaker,” says Bibler, who notes that while they were able to uncover details about Stevens, who was also an artist and member of the Copley Society, they were unable to find information on any other garden she designed.

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Volunteers of the Year 2013 | Stevens-Coolidge Place

Through dedication and hard work, (standing from left) Nancy Woolford, Stan Schantz, Barbara Siegel, Laura Bibler, Sorena Pansovoy, Jane Demers, (sitting from left) Barbara Schantz, Martha Owen, and Judi Lafferty lovingly brought the perennial garden back to life, an achievement we celebrate with our Volunteers of the Year Award.

Plan a visit to the Stevens-Coolidge Place in North Andover.

Jaci Conry is a Cape Cod-based writer and editor, who specializes in architecture, landscape, and design. She can be reached at jaci@jaciconry.com.

This article originally appeared in the Fall 2013 issue of Special Places, The Trustees' member magazine. To subscribe, join The Trustees today.


Join Us
Donate
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