Beautiful and historically- inspired gardens surround the 1768 Jeremiah Lee Mansion, one of the finest late-colonial Georgian-style houses in America.
Designed according to 18th-century models and sources, the gardens have been conscientiously laid out and maintained by The Marblehead Garden Club since 1936 on behalf of the Marblehead Museum & Historical Society, which has owned and preserved the Mansion since 1909.
The Garden Club has endeavored to create an authentically- based setting with native species that would have appropriately suited a fine New England home just before the Revolution. The garden is planned to be historically accurate in both plant material and in inspiration. Over the years, the Club has implemented plans developed by designers who specialize in period plantings and native species.
The various garden areas have been acquired over time. They feature an herb garden to the east of the house, a sunken octagonal sundial garden where the Lee barn once stood, a large upper terrace with a colorful perennial flower border (the land purchased in 1910 & 1914), and a spacious lower garden acquired in 1969 that now features a woodland setting with a variety of trees, shrubs, vines, ground-cover, and wild flowers.
The garden is set out as a series of ‘rooms’ which become apparent as one walks through the garden:
In a perennial border, along the brick wall on the western uphill side of the garden, plantings conform in essence to historical custom, based on a 1970 design by landscape architect Ann Leighton Smith.
An herb garden with a wide range of herbs authentic to the period lies to
the east of the Mansion, between what would have been the Lee family’s two kitchens (one inside the house and a larger one in a separate brick building). These plants are the same type as those brought from England by settlers in the 1600s. Cobble-stone paths recall the cobbled surface on which Colonel Lee’s carriages would have been driven, and which ran along that side and behind the mansion. The finely styled entrance there would have been the one used most frequently by the Lee family.
The lower garden is designed to be a woodland tapestry of native trees and shrubs under-planted with wild flowers and shade plants. It features a pea-stone perimeter path, and was purchased by the Society in 1969.
The trees alone are worth a visit to the gardens. Some of the varieties throughout the garden include American beech, white birch, ash, hemlock, a magnificent tulip tree, and many more.
The front door-yard is the type of entrance area a gracious Georgian home would have had in the mid-1700s. Reflecting British architectural tradition, there would have been no planting near the building, in order to protect the structure from damage inflicted by water, moisture, or roots. Nor would there have been any visual obstruction to the facade of a house of this stature, as it was a statement by the owner about his position in the community.
The iron fence in front, in a gothic revival style, is a fine example of 19th c. cast iron work. It was added sometime between 1830 and 1850 by the Marblehead Bank, the town’s first bank, which owned the Mansion from 1804 until 1904, thereby helping to preserve it.
Thanks to the dedicated efforts of the Marblehead Garden Club, the gardens and their plantings and blooms change from season to season and from year to year.
Inside the Mansion, splendid floral arrangements provided by individual volunteer arrangers grace the central entry hall each week. These are worth a visit too!