The original Perennial Garden was created between 1911 and 1914 under the direction of Park Superintendent George Parker. This area had originally been the nursery section of the Farmstead. The original Perennial Garden design can only be seen in old photographs and postcards. The garden was similar in formality to the rose garden with its European influence. It is about one-half acre and is bordered by hedges and a rock garden on the west side. It formerly contained 59 smaller beds of hardy and semi-hardy perennials and biannuals, as well as spring flowering plants.
By 1980, the Perennial Garden was in quite disrepair, with sparse plantings surviving in only about five beds. In 1983, with a grant from the Larus Foundation and the Hartford Foundation for Public Giving, the Conservancy oversaw the building of a center wooden Pavilion. In 1987, the Conservancy hired Frederick McGourty, a nationally-known perennial expert from Norfolk CT to design a plan.
Mr. McGourty widened the paths of grass and added over 1,600 new perennials. He enclosed the garden in a dwarf Japanese yew hedge, which created a special garden space apart from the rest of the park. The hedge has four openings to the road – Shade Garden, Lilac Hedge, and the Annual garden – creating the feel of a garden room.
The number of original beds was reduced to eight, but each was made larger. The beds are arranged in a diagonal pattern around the Pavilion, with two sets directly opposite each other, emphasizing blue, pink, and lavender flowers, the “cool” colors. The other sets are the “warm” colors of yellow, orange, or red. The beds accented by silver grey were at the heart of Mr. McGourty’s design. The Clematis Jackmanii vines adorning the eight posts of the pavilion have become a favorite subject for photographers.
The Conservancy maintains the Perennial Garden and hires a landscaping contractor to do spring and fall clean up, perennial divisions, plant replacements, and edging of the beds. The contractor, who was part of the original installation crew, keeps the garden close to its original design. A core group of volunteers, trained by the Conservancy, has maintained the beds for many years.