Tour and Be Inspired by This Historic Country Garden

Get inspired by this historic Massachusetts estate where evergreens, flowering trees, heirloom annuals, and pretty perennials offer a glimpse into the past.

historic country garden pergola pathway garden

A family legacy that endures for generations can inspire and inform us in the present, especially when that legacy invites the wider public to enjoy and learn from it. Legacies may involve long-lived industries or political influence. For Ellen Peabody Endicott, born into an affluent Massachusetts family in 1833, her bequest was her love of gardens and good landscape design. By carrying on her grandfather’s interest in beautiful gardens, then inspiring the same passion in her son, she turned Glen Magna Farms into one of the finest examples of America’s golden age of gardens in the 1920s. Lovingly tended by one family for generations, it now provides pleasure for the public today.

The country estate in Danvers, Massachusetts, had its beginnings in 1814 when Joseph Peabody, a successful Salem shipping merchant, bought a farm for his family’s summer home. He hired George Huessler, a Dutch horticulturalist, to design a large ornamental garden at the back of the house. Known as the “old-fashioned garden,” it still exists today and signifies the cultural shift from perceiving land as a productive commodity to developing it for pleasure’s sake—a shift made possible by rapid economic growth and wealth in the 1800s.

Like formal European gardens at the time, the old-fashioned garden’s layout was symmetrical with a central, axial path leading from the home’s parlor door to an octagonal summerhouse designed by one of Joseph’s sons. Although the garden plan was organized and conventional, the plantings were relaxed, with broadleaf evergreens, small flowering trees, and the lavish blooms of perennials and annuals.

Over time, the garden and home continued to please the family as their summer escape from Boston. The pretty landscape, lovingly referred to as “The Farm,” changed little until Joseph’s granddaughter, Ellen Peabody Endicott, inherited the property from her parents in 1892. Ellen and her husband, William Sr., decided to transform the family farm into a fashionable country estate by renovating the original farmhouse in Colonial Revival style and developing the landscape. The firm of Olmsted, Olmsted, and Eliot drew up plans to integrate the grounds with the home and garden, including moving outbuildings away from the front of the house and replacing them with a grand circular drive.

That same year, Ellen’s son William C. Endicott Jr. and his wife, Louise, took up full-time residence there. In a letter Louise wrote to her mother-in-law in Boston, she said she and William were starting to “spruce things up,” buying new plants and moving existing ones to promote plant health and color balance in the landscape.

Ellen’s daughter, Mary, was married to renowned English statesman—and amateur horticulturist— Joseph Chamberlain. He planned an elegant Anglo-Italianate perennial garden divided by paths into four quadrants with a central fountain. He sent Ellen lists of plants to purchase that included peonies, poppies, irises, lilies, and a Pieris japonica hedge. “Another year we shall know how to group the flowers better, and when we have the tank filled with waterlilies I am sure it will be quite a lovely garden,” Louise wrote to her husband’s sister, Mary, after the installation.

Chamberlain also designed an informal parklike “shrubbery garden” that leads to the perennial garden through a wisteria-covered arbor. Noted botanist Charles Sprague Sargeant, a close friend of William Sr., also shared unusual shrubs and trees for the shrubbery garden. Unlike many moneyed New Englanders of the time, both generations of Endicotts worked with designers and horticulturists to develop the gardens and landscape, all while maintaining the property as a working farm.

The most striking addition to the garden was the two-story Derby Summer House, moved to Glen Magna in 1901 from a nearby farm. The little Federal-style structure was designed in 1793 by Samuel McIntire, a Salem woodcarver and architect, for Elias Hasket Derby, another prosperous merchant in Salem. It was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1968. Famed Boston architect Herbert Browne, William Jr.’s friend, designed a rose garden east of the summerhouse to settle the home into its new surroundings.

Glen Magna’s landscape reached its peak in the 1920s, when beautiful estate gardens were being created for the wealthy all over the country and gardening was seen as a worthy pastime. In 1926, shortly before her death, Ellen received a Massachusetts Horticultural Society award for “the owner of an estate … planted with rare and desirable ornamental trees and shrubs in a tasteful and effective manner.” Upon notification, she wrote, “The fourth generation has added much to its charm and beauty … while sustaining the atmosphere of the past, my children deserve my recognition of the work they have done.”

Today, Glen Magna’s gardens display the romantic beauty that the Peabody and Endicott family was instrumental in creating. Visitors experience the lush blooms, the hum of pollinators, and the satisfaction of being in well-designed garden rooms that flourish and change with the times. “Each generation built on the last generation’s improvements,” says Matthew Martin, the estate’s building and grounds restoration manager. “As a gardener, it truly resonates with me. I want to leave a lasting impact, to leave the place a little better for the next person who cares for it.” Now that’s a lasting legacy.

A male house sparrow perches on the bronze fountain at the center of the Chamberlain garden. The motif of Cupid holding a water-spouting dolphin derives from a classical sculpture found in the ruins of ancient Pompeii. High windows on the Derby Summer House supply cool breezes and allow a sweeping garden view from the second floor.

historic country garden pergola fountain

In 1930, a plain cedar pergola in the perennial garden was replaced with a pergola made of 12-foot marble columns from the John Perkins Cushing estate in Belmont, Massachusetts. Glen Magna's perennial garden was designed by English statesman Joseph Chamberlain. In late spring, purple wisteria covers the marble pergola and the main axis blooms with Spanish bluebells, peonies, and roses.

Practical, Sustainable Plants for Traditional Designs

The design of Glen Magna’s flower gardens may be traditional, but the perennials in them are modern and sustainable. “Restoration horticulture must be responsive to cultural concerns,” says building and grounds restoration manager Matthew Martin, who is reestablishing the 1920s landscape. “What I do now affects the future of the property and the people who visit it.”

The balance between historical accuracy and sustainability means Martin is growing more low-maintenance North American natives and routing introduced plants such as goutweed (Aegopodium podagraria), once prized but now considered invasive. With the demands of weddings each weekend and limited staff and budget, he needs hardworking beauties to fill the gardens with constant color. “I can’t achieve that with perennials alone, so I get a little help from annuals,” says Martin, who is creating a database of plants that prove themselves resistant to drought, disease, and insects on the property. His new favorites include the following plants:



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