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Hicks yews and a new, though temporary, fountain are part of the Italianate Garden restoration.
Elm Bank's Italianate Garden is a rare treat for garden aficionados. Designed by the Olmsted Brothers between 1914 and 1928, it is one of just two Italianate gardens open to the public in Massachusetts. It faithfully follows the grand principals of such gardens - a flat ground plane, paths on geometric axes, a simple water feature, and a walled enclosure, in this case a magnificent hedge of copper beech, creating a green "room".
Most classic Italianate gardens also follow another custom: they're principally green spaces. Flowers, if any, are found in splashes via urns and other containers. That doesn't square with 21st Century sensibilities in which 'garden' equates with color.
The Massachusetts Horticultural Society's Elm Bank Committee, comprised of Board members and friends, has spent a lot of time over the past year thinking about how to keep the Italianate Garden true to its principals (Elm Bank is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and the Italianate Garden is one of the contributing elements to that designation) while also making it a 'wow' stopping point for Elm Bank visitors and an in-demand venue for weddings and parties.
The Committee has been undertaking an intensive review of all of the Gardens with an eye towards excellence in stewardship. Phased work started in the Italianate Garden thanks to a foundation grant to temporarily remove and to restore the marble font that serves as the centerpiece of the pool (see photos and video below). That work is being carried out by Daedalus Inc. of Watertown, MA. In its place is a temporary fountain, no less dramatic, that is on loan from Trustee Paul Miskovsky. In late May, twelve Hicks yews, plants specified in the original Olmsted Brothers design, were placed in the Garden; a memorial gift in honor of a friend of Elm Bank.
The balance of the transformation this season is subtle. In keeping with the Italianate tradition of 'planar' gardens (everything is on level ground), and with design advice from Pressley Associates, landscape architects, beds that had become mounded over time have been flattened. The visual change is surprising .To improve the 'green' ratio, a 22-inch sod border has been added to the four wide beds that flank the Garden's principal walkway.
The work done earlier this season by Bartlett Tree Experts to shape and improve the copper beech border that creates the large garden room now shows the garden to its fullest effect. And planning work is progressing on a project for the fall; the relocation of several conifers that are now randomly located in the Garden to the end by the Goddesses Garden. This will complete the enclosure of the Garden adding to its serenity and sense of "place". And additional funding is being sought to do a renovation of the pool edge and the water piping system.
And as to flowers?
Staff and volunteers have labored to install a full complement of bedding plants in the garden this year. It will be beautiful. The Committee feels certain that Percival Gallagher, the designer at the Olmsted Brothers firm, would approve and so will our many visitors and brides.
Up, up, and away!
Marble fountain leaves the Italianate Garden to be restored at Daedalus Inc., thanks to the generosity of a local foundation.
Founded in 1829, the Massachusetts Horticultural Society is dedicated to encouraging the science and practice of horticulture and developing the public's enjoyment, appreciation, and understanding of plants and the environment.