apple

“A house without a garden or orchard
is unfurnished and incomplete.”

A. Bronson Alcott lived his Transcendentalist philosophy most simply and completely in his love of Nature and its by-products. Son of a farmer and a dedicated vegetarian from a young age, Mr. Alcott knew that the ideals of a virtuous life were often exhibited in, and derived from, the natural world, providing a perfect complement to his spiritual ideals.

Although only two of the original twelve acres of Alcott property remain, the modern-day stewards of Orchard House still respect and seek to honor the powerful connection the Alcotts had to their surroundings.

For decades, volunteers have tended Victorian flower gardens and nurtured surviving heirloom trees on the grounds. Since 1999, semi-annual volunteer grounds maintenance has become a tradition for Orchard House members and neighbors of all ages. The “Little Women Garden,” directly derived from Louisa May Alcott’s own description of plants evocative of “Meg,” “Jo, “Beth, and “Amy,” was created in 2001 with the generous support of the Garden Club of Concord and is a wonderful initial impression for visitors to the site.


In 2005, again with the help of the Garden Club of Concord, a “Welcoming Garden” was created between the historic house museum and the education center/offices located next door. This area also contains a memorial bench in tribute to neighbor Serenella Ling, who was an avid gardener and ardent Orchard House supporter.

Ambitious plans for the complete and proper restoration of the landscape according to drawings and descriptions copiously recorded by Mr. Alcott throughout his family’s twenty-year residence at Orchard House would be a capstone to the structural preservation that is already underway.

 

Much of the planned work is based on the 1986 Master’s thesis of Hope A. Davis, an area resident who thoroughly researched not only the horticultural elements of the landscape, but also the spiritual and economic motivations that drove Mr. Alcott to make the choices he did.Ms. Davis and others believe that the landscape restoration would be a “crown jewel” in an already stellar presentation of the Alcott legacy by Orchard House: “The thoughtfully displayed artifacts, well informed guides, and technical accuracy do not intrude on the feeling of vitality of the Alcott family but instead, in the presence of the house, work together to bring about a heightened awareness of the past transcending a mere literal interpretation.” (Thesis page 164)

The landscape restoration would also enable visitors to Orchard House -- with the help of additional guided interpretation, weather-resistant charts, and self-guided booklets -- to most nearly feel how much the physical environment directed and defined Louisa May Alcott’s writing, May Alcott’s artwork, and their father’s philosophy, incalculably enhancing the visit experience for young and old, Little Women fan or modern-day philosopher alike.

 


May Alcott’s watercolor of Orchard House

  Elements of the planned landscape restoration include:

  • Re-planting a dozen or so of the original 40 apple trees in the orchard (begun with the ceremonial planting of an heirloom variety by First Lady Laura Bush in 2002, and continued in 2005 with the acquisition of five heirlooms from Concord’s Heywood Meadow), including Baldwin, Rhode Island Greening, Golden Russett, Northern Spy, Porter, Sops of Wine, Lady, and Winter Pearmain;
  • Re-planting of two elms in the front lawn, trees known variously in the Alcott’s time as the “Revolutionary Elms” and “The Sentinels”;
  • Re-creation of the Kitchen Garden, encompassing small bush fruits and fruit trees, vegetables, and culinary and medicinal herbs;
  • Re-planting of 19th century blooming shrubs and dwarf flowering and ornamental trees, planting screens, and foundation plantings such as Concord grapes, hops, ferns, lily of the valley, and violets;
  • Re-creation of Mr. Alcott’s rustic structures, such as pyramidal flower bed ornaments, trellises, seats, and the “summerhouse” [gazebo];
  • Re-creation of the original “Path to Town,” the exact location of which was verified through archaeology of the Preservation Project in 2001-2002; and,
  • Installation of a discrete handicapped-accessible walkway at the back of the property to link Orchard House, The School of Philosophy, and the neighboring education center/ offices.

Mr. Alcott and May in the “summerhouse”

Plans for the landscape restoration, founded on the original descriptions and depictions of the Alcotts themselves, are integral to a fuller realization of the mission of Orchard House -- the preservation and interpretation of the Alcotts and their legacy -- and tangible testament to Mr. Alcott’s philosophy that:

"He who loves a garden still his Eden keeps.”



Mr. Alcott’s School of Philosophy and the West side of Orchard House, ca. 1880

Click here to find out more about the Preservation Project, here for information on the Save America's Trasures Project, and here for more on First Lady Laura Bush's visit to Orchard House.

Contributions to the Preservation Project can now be made online
.
Click here
to donate via Visa, MasterCard, or American Express. Contributions may also be made by check or money order (payable to Orchard House). For a printable version of a donation form, click here. Mail the form to: Orchard House, P.O. Box 343, Concord, MA. 01742 or if you prefer, fax the printed form to 978-369-1367.

All contributions to Orchard House are tax-deductible to the extent permitted by law. You will receive acknowledgement of your contribution in the mail and be listed in our annual donor recognition newsletter. Thank you!


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