Connected \\ June 19, 2018

Weed it and reap

Approaching the unmarked entrance to one of Salem’s not-so hidden treasures always comes with a dose of anticipation, especially when that treasure changes from year-to-year and season-to-season.

The path beside PEM's gloriously refurbished Ropes Mansion leads to an archway and into a breathtaking historic garden. Each time I enter this magical place, a lyric from one of my favorite bands comes to mind: "There's too much green to feel blue."

© 2018 Peabody Essex Museum. Photography by Bob Packert

Right in the middle of the McIntire Historic District, the Colonial Revival-styled Ropes Mansion garden was laid out by Salem botanist and horticulturist John Robinson in 1912. Carefully tended to year after year, it has since grown (literally and figuratively) into a stunning public space where Salemites and tourists alike can find a bit of removed relaxation as well as thousands of thriving plants; sunflowers, delphinium, dahlias, irises, roses, and a rare wisteria that blooms white instead of the typical purple… just to name a few.

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© 2018 Peabody Essex Museum. Photography by Bob Packert


© 2018 Peabody Essex Museum. Photography by Bob Packert

Walking farther into the garden, along a gravel path and towards the back wall of the garden, you will find a gate and then a greenhouse. Actually, as of recently, an award-winning greenhouse.

Each year, members of the Salem community nominate recently completed projects that further historic preservation efforts in Salem. The Ropes greenhouse and adjacent potting shed are the recipient of a Historic Salem, Inc. Preservation Award, where the judges congratulated the preservation team for “proving that details matter” and for taking a “simple yet stunning” approach.

The concrete threshold of the potting shed adjacent to the greenhouse reads 1916; a part of history still cemented despite the surrounding changes that came over time. The shed was converted from an automobile garage sometime close to when the greenhouse was added around 1930. Both were then used to cultivate an array of flowers for decades. However, the greenhouse sustained storm damage a few years back, motivating its restoration and preservation.

© 2018 Peabody Essex Museum. Photography by Bob Packert

“We put much effort into sourcing as near to original materials as possible,” says Bob Monk, Chief of Security, Facilities Operations and Planning at PEM. In addition to reusing original cypress wood that survived the storm, Monk’s team was successful in locating similar old growth Tidewater ‘Sinker’ Cypress to replace the damaged greenhouse glass roof framing.


© 2018 Peabody Essex Museum. Photography by Bob Packert

And while the interior of the greenhouse is currently entwined with dried weeds, continues Bob, “We soon are looking forward to the maintenance team fitting out the interior this season to allow for winter plant protection, propagation and new growth, as well as creative public programming!”  After all, wrote Ralph Waldo Emerson, “What is a weed? A plant whose virtues have never been discovered…”

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© 2018 Peabody Essex Museum. Photography by Bob Packert

The century-old garden has been a labor of love for head gardener Robin Pydynkowski, who will be turning over her shovel to Kim Lefebvre, to lead the planting, pruning, watering and designing once her mentor takes her leave.

Enamored by Fritillaria bulbs, the finickiness of flowers and everything verdurous, Kim was picking up healthy handfuls of dirt, excited by the worms squirming through, indicating healthy soil conditions when senior photographer, Bob Packert, and I visited. Recently, Kim’s team, which includes the Cape Ann Tree crew, were planting a Japanese maple tree near the greenhouse.

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Kim getting to the root of things.. © 2018 Peabody Essex Museum. Photography by Bob Packert

Though the garden is different every year, Kim compares its annual cultivation to creating a living painting; she is an artist in her element, getting creative and messy while sharpening her craft.

Working in this environment is like a flowing canvas,” she explains. “It's really about how I help set the paint in motion and guide it, but I have no true control once the plants start. They grow into their own creation.


© 2018 Peabody Essex Museum. Photography by Bob Packert

Kim also pointed out that some bulbs are being stored in the Ropes basement to keep them dormant until the time comes to plant them. The greenhouse will hopefully give her and the team more tools to continue their masterpiece, no matter the season.

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© 2018 Peabody Essex Museum. Photography by Bob Packert

So now that winter has faded, the mud has dried and summer is spilling into frame, it’s time you visit the garden! Many have dropped by over the last couple of years for creative outdoor programming, including yoga, tours, art-making or simply taking time to browse the Little Free Library. For those of you itching to get outside and smell the roses, you can look forward to an amazing lineup of free programming this summer.

Plug Into Your Senses: Gardening in Every Season | Wednesday, July 11 at 6 pm & Thursday, July 12 at 10 am


Tovah Martin returns to share the joys of gardening by encouraging you to explore the wealth of stimuli that landscapes have to offer. Approach the garden with eyes wide open, ears to the ground and hands outstretched. Martin is a gardening expert, author and contributor to PBS television series Cultivating Life. Book signings for her new book Boot Camp for your Senses: The Garden in Every Sense and Season follow the programs. Space is limited, so reserve your spot for the Wednesday session here or Thursday here! Made possible by the Ropes Mansion Botanical Lecture Fund.


Smartphone Photography Workshop | Saturday, July 28, | 2-4 pm


Want to capture better pictures using your mobile device? Get helpful tips and practice with master nature and landscape photographer Paul Nguyen as you explore the colorful gardens at the museum's Ropes Mansion in Salem! Reservations required by Tuesday, July 24 at Recommended for teens and adults. Made possible by the Ropes Mansion Botanical Lecture Fund.

Music, Wine and Pastels | Wednesday, August 8 | 6–8 pm

Drop by for live music and the chance to sketch the environment with pastels. Artist Jim Chisholm is on hand to offer drawing tips, and wine and small bites will be available for purchase. Offered in conjunction with Salem Heritage Days. The rain date for this event is Thursday, August 9.


Ropes Mansion garden, 1915-1916. Peabody Essex Museum.

Built in 1727 and listed on the National Register of Historic Places, the Ropes Mansion is recognized as one of New England’s most significant and thoroughly documented historic houses. Just a 10 minute walk from PEM at 318 Essex Street, the mansion is open seasonally, on Saturdays and Sundays, from Noon-4:00pm and free to the public. Guests are invited to wander throughout the 15 rooms, exploring at their own pace. PEM Guides are on hand to answer your questions. The Ropes Mansion garden is open every day, year-round, from dawn to dusk.

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