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Restoring an Old Garden First Calls for Research

Recently I visited the Abbot-Spalding House in Nashua, New Hampshire. The house dates from the early nineteenth century. The Nashua Historical Society, housed in a museum next door which is a more modern building, takes care of the Abbot-Spalding House and its landscape.

The Historical Society now wants to improve the Abbot-Spalding House landscape in order to eliminate the weeds that fill the areas along the outside of the building which are now planted mostly in shrubs.

I travelled there in hopes that I might help them.

After my tour of the property by the administrator and a museum staff member, I thought it was necessary to research the old landscape.  I did not want to make any landscape recommendations until I had a sense of how the landscape had evolved to its present form.

Michael Weishan and Christina Roig in their book From a Victorian Garden: Creating the Romance of a Bygone Age Right in Your Own Backyard offer advice on restoring a Victorian landscape.  They said, “Perhaps the most important reason why garden research lags behind that of interiors is that curators and administrators do not always recognize the vital role the landscape can play in illuminating the life and times of the people who created them.”

Abbott House, Nashua, NH
Abbot-Spalding House, Nashua, NH

I walked the property and found many spots where we might plant something, especially in certain areas bordering the walls of the house. Several barren spots that I saw seemed to call out to me, as it were, to recommend a plant where something did grow at one time.  But I held back and did not make any plant recommendations in that initial visit.

I thought I better do some research on how the landscape first looked to get a sense of how to proceed.

That meant that I needed to look at photographs and other materials about the Abbot-Spalding House landscape.

So this past Thursday I drove to Nashua for that purpose.  There I found several early photographs and even a history of the house.

Since I like to explore the history of the  American garden, I must say I welcome this first stage of research about the Abbot-Spalding House. As much as possible, I want to arrive at a sense of how the garden began, what changes happened over time, and how did the landscape evolve to its current form.

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