The ParterreMasses of Color
The gardens at Roseland Cottage are an integral part of the house, in keeping with Andrew Jackson Downing’s ideas of the relationship of landscape and architecture. Landscape and architecture also shared moral force. Wells’ partner William Ranlett believed that just the sight of properly landscaped gardens could elevate public taste and morals. The boxwood parterre was planted in 1850, four years after the completion of the house. It was important to Downing that a garden be seen from inside the house and be located close to it. The porches provide a transition from house to garden, as does the main entrance, which spills out into the garden. We don’t know who designed the garden at Roseland, but there is plenty of speculation. Some think the architect, Joseph C. Wells designed it, some think it was the nurseryman Henry Dyer, who supplied the plants and trees. And some think Henry Bowen himself laid out the parterre. We do know that Bowen took a keen interest in his garden—it was said he knew each leaf and flower as well as he knew his neighbors. But until a plan or other document turns up, the designer remains a mystery.
One of Downing’s primary aims was to make plantings seem like a natural landscape. How does a parterre garden, with its patterned flower beds separated by paths, fit in with Downing’s ideas? In fact, Downing was not partial to parterres, but if a parterre was your wish, he believed it should have irregular curving beds, edges should be marked distinctly—preferably with boxwood, and beds should be planted in masses of color, which shows well against the edges—the very description of Roseland’s garden.
What Grows Where
In the interest of healthy soil, we shift flowers from bed to bed each year, while still maintaining the historical nature of the garden. For instance, almost every year geraniums are planted in the center bed, but even that had to be changed for a few years, as the geraniums became susceptible to disease. This map and the sampling of flowers represents typical plantings in some of the twenty-one beds, each framed by dwarf English boxwood.
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The Garden House
Around the 1920, the family added a small garden house in form of a Greek Temple. It’s planted with a five leaf akebia vine that blooms with fragrant blossoms in the early spring.
After the house was complete, landscaping began in earnest. The most important feature of a country place, according to Andrew Jackson Downing, were trees, and hundreds were delivered. Roseland Cottage has records showing as many as 500 trees in a single order, including maples, hemlocks, linden, larch, chestnut, poplar, fir, sycamore, pine and elm. It was not uncommon for people to grow fruits and vegetables at their summer houses, and Bowens’ list of those trees is impressive, too. Roseland’s output provided fresh produce for six and at times nine months of the year. The J. J. Sawyer painting which overlooks the cottage from the rear, shows a tidy orchard laid out behind the house.