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The Secret Gardens of Marblehead: Part One

October 3, 2011

Text and Photos by Chet Stentiford


If you create a garden, and  then the wind blows, the rain pours down upon it, leaving behind all of nature’s refuse, and yet, to you, it still appears beautiful in its natural state … then you are of a special group of gifted and seasoned individuals.

The Old Townhouse, 1827

This project began as an endeavor to share with others a part of this “little big town” of Marblehead that is often unseen by the passer-by or countless tourists who visit the seaside community each season—these are the hidden gardens of Marblehead, Massachusetts.

To many of us locals, Marblehead is known as “The town you can’t get to from here.”

This community is dappled in history and is a treasured part of the lifestyle of those who  live within its limits. It is a town comprised of 19.6 square miles, of which only 4.5 are land and 15.1 are water. Thus, it has a special ambiance that remains unseen by the everyday visitors who traverse the twisting lanes and streets of this wonderful community.

I began my quest to discover that part of Marblehead secretly tucked away in the private yards and courtyards of what I came to discover are some of the most ardent and devoted gardeners I have ever had the pleasure of meeting during my 30 years as a horticulturist.

What follows is a brief synopsis of these special gardens that flourish with charm—created by the hands of these extraordinary gardening enthusiasts—and an individual interpretation of their love of floral display.

In the middle of June, I arranged my first Marblehead garden visit and had the great pleasure of touring what I have come to call “The home within a garden.”

PART ONE: The Gardens of Peggy and Michael Schrage

The courtyard.

I spent nearly three and a half delightful hours at the home of Michael and Peggy Schrage.  Their expansive garden overlooks a breathtaking view of Salem Harbor’s glistening waters and a scenic vista, across the harbor, of Beverly and much of the Cape Ann coastline.

From the time I entered their drive, I was immediately taken by some of the most beautiful plant species that filled every nook and cranny of their yard.

This garden is a work of art in the making, fashioned over more than 35 years.

Peggy and Michael Schrage

A continuous work in progress  featuring numerous specimens, many of which are uncommonly found in the average home landscape, this is certainly a labor of love.

The garden that the Schrage family has created is truly a magnificent display of beautiful floral expression and texture,  naturalized in such a way that the viewer meanders through never-ending displays of interest from the time one enters  until the time one completes the tour. The Schrages have left no stone unturned.

Back entry.

As a designer, I am personally one who follows the concepts of the well-known architect Frank Lloyd Wright, who was not only an architect in his own right  but an imaginative landscape designer, as well. Wright was of the belief that architecture and landscape design complete “one organic whole,” both creating a natural setting where each is  necessary to complete and compliment the other. Hence, his classic creation Falling Waters is a home nestled within the lush wooded Bear Run Nature Reserve and is a timeless monument to organic architecture and landscaping at its very best.

A beautiful Japanese Umbrella Pine

I would add that the Schrage’s residence is a wonderful expression of the Wright concept of landscape gardening in its entire form and layout. It is a landscape garden designed to feature a totally different concept at each turn of the path.

I, for one, gained a great appreciation for what the Schrages have worked at for so many years, a true garden delight. This is a garden that greets each year with new growth and an abundance of color and fragrance worthy to note. With each new day, as the sun rises high above Salem Harbor, you can expect to see Peggy outside removing faded blooms or checking for spaces to fill with new additions to an already beautiful garden.

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