Restoring the Formal Gardens - 2015 Update

Inspired by an anonymous donor, Shelburne Farms began plans to restore its formal gardens in 2006. Where are we nearly ten years later? Under the careful guidance of architectural conservator Douglas Porter, the restoration is now in the final phase of the four-phase restoration.  (The earlier phases were: 1. Shoreline stabilization (2007); 2. Structural restoration of the Lily Pool area (2012); 3. Upper Gardens (2013-2014). Our 4th and final phase includes structurally restoring the north end of the garden and rebuilding the north and south pergolas. We are very grateful to the generous supporters and talented crafts people helping us return the historic garden back to its glory.

Here are some highlights from this season’s incredible work.

Repairing walls at north end of garden & grand allee

Before wall repairs could begin, we removed plant material along the west wall of the Grand Allee to a temporary winter bed. (Head gardener Birgit Deeds, however, says the harsh winter wasn’t kind and some plant material was lost.) Birgit also directly worked with the Inn kitchen staff to help plant a new herb garden adjacent to the existing peony beds. 

A hearty crew of masons began work on March 15 when the temperatures were still numbingly cold (snow fell briefly in April!), and immediately began tackling the curved boundary wall of the northern pergola. They repointed the mortar between the bricks, which had decayed and weathered over time, allowing damaging moisture in. They continued working through the summer to reinforce plain concrete retaining walls, while repointing and repairing other walls in the north end of the garden. 

Conservation of Cast Stone, Marble, and Decorative Elements

Conservator Angelyn Bass, a consultant to the Formal Gardens Restoration Project, oversees the repair and cleaning of cast stone and marble decorative elements, including wall caps, statuary, furniture, and urns.  She is currently conserving and repairing one of the two lions prominently perched in the garden, as well as two of four surviving Italianate pots purchased by Lila Webb in 1909. 

These original cream-colored pots were acquired from William Galloway Company of Philadelphia, which was a “Manufacturer of Terra Cotta for Garden Decoration, comprising Vases, Statuary, Fountains, Balustrades, Railings, Tazzas, Flower-boxes, Italian Flower-pots etc.” The large pots (43”w x 27”h), were made from glazed terra cotta, a material revitalized during the Arts and Crafts movement. Even though the plants contained in the terra cotta pots were wintered over in Shelburne Farms’ heated greenhouses, the pots cracked after many years of use.  This season, we repaired two of the four that remain.

The South Pergola

By 1918, wooden columned pergolas book-ended both the north and south ends of the Shelburne House gardens. Though we know less about the smaller, southern pergola, we know that both were dismantled and removed following a hurricane in 1953.  For over 60 years, nearly all of the original pieces of the south pergola were carefully stored away in the Coach Barn attic.  In July, the various columns, lintels and rafters were removed to a workshop in the Breeding Barn to be scraped and repainted. This fall, the pergola will be reinstalled in its original location, with 99.5% original material, according to Doug Porter. 

To prepare the south pergola allee, we laid down new sod earlier this summer, and Birgit Deeds designed new beds. The beds will include French lilacs, a collection of peonies (donated anonymously), and globe thistle. The globe thistle is sympathetic to the original planting scheme (see photograph above).

It's interesting that Shelburne Farms’ current timeline to restore the formal gardens mirrors what happened 100 years ago. Lila Webb envisioned and executed her Italianate gardens between 1909 and 1915. In this spirit, we'll continue the careful and planned rehabilitation of the Inn formal gardens into 2016, so that this important historic American garden will continue to be enjoyed by many as a place of beauty, peaceful reflection, celebration, and learning.  

Stay tuned for the completion of the Phase 4 in 2017!

If you're interested in supporting the ongoing formal garden restoration, contact Sue Dixon, [email protected], 802-985-0322.

Julie Eldridge Edwards

Posted by Julie Eldridge Edwards

September 2, 2015

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