United States of America, Connecticut, New London County, Stonington
Captain Amos Palmer House (Stonington, Connecticut)
A childhood home of artist James A. M. Whistler, the Captain Amos Palmer House garden takes its name from a former owner, whose original marble tombstone stands in the garden among English ivy (his present grave is in the local cemetery). The entrance to the garden off Main Street has granite stairs that rise past a head-high fence topped by Chippendale fretwork. There is an outbuilding that acted as a summer kitchen and cool winter buttery and is now a potting shed. A wide stone path inset in gravel passes the house and enters the full rectangular garden, a winter garden built atop the hummock edged by Wall Street. The long side bed with perennial plants has rounded 'Newport Blue' boxwood and a small fishpond with a circulating waterfall over flat granite stones. The corner linden tree, planted after the hurricane of 1938, rises from a bed of ivy. The most striking feature is a red Chinese gazebo. Boxwood hedges (Buxus sempervirens 'Suffruticosa')--thick, vigorous, and trimmed knee high--frame the four central, brick-edged squares that are each of a slightly different size. Four other species of boxwood grow in large round shapes to counterbalance the square hedge framing; gravel paths are laid between. The smallest square has a hedge of Ilex crenata 'Compacta' with a raised central festoon of mixed flowers in summer replaced with a shell birdbath in winter. The present layout plan and plantings were begun in the 1980s by the current owners.
The approach to and from the garden door of the house is from the central hallway. Adjacent is an area of natural flat stones, laid sometime after the War of 1812 bombardment that damaged the house. This stone area is the site for a summer table and umbrella. Repeating the Chinese feeling in the garden is an ornate red railing next to an area of chrysanthemums. The stone-lined pit beneath it is rumored to have been the hiding place for Captain Palmer's share of privateer's bounty taken during the American Revolution. The Wall Street entrance is a stone stairwell. Topping it, a low red wooden fence supports a lengthy climbing rose named 'White Dawn'. Half a dozen 100-year-old glazed Chinese egg pots embellished with flying dragons hold topiary junipers and there are Inuit sculptures from the Canadian Arctic made of old bone, stone, and ceramic. Round baskets planted with annuals placed at the height of the boxwood edges are multi-colored accents for six months of the year as are a few roses, dahlias and lilies. The perennial green boxwood, ilex, and azalea shape a pleasing winter garden that can look quite enchanting when laced with snow.
Persons associated with the house and garden include: Captain Amos Palmer (former owner, 1787-1816); Dr. George E. Palmer (former owner, 1833-1868); the Palmer family and Lillian MacNeill Palmer (former owners, 1869-1936); Mrs. Rodney Stuart (former owner, 1936-1939); Mr. and Mrs. Stephen Vincent Benét and heirs (former owners, 1940-1983); and L. Irwin Jones (architect, 1936-1937).
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Stonington Garden Club facilitated the submission of this garden's documentation.
The folder includes a worksheet with additional information about the history of the property and its owners, garden plans, and a photocopied illustration from an article about the garden.
Garden has been featured in "Once Whistler's, Now Benét's," House and Garden (November 1942), pp. 36-37
Garden has been featured in Anne Elizabeth Powell, "Captain Amos Palmer House," in The New England Colonial (New York: Bantam Books, 1988), pp. 94-105
Smithsonian Gardens, PO Box 37012, Capital Gallery, Suite 3300, MRC 506, Washington, DC 20013-7012