As the weather warms up and gardeners look forward to the promise of new growth, we take some time to uncover what the gardens at the Bellamy House might have looked like.
A lot can be learned about what the exterior of a house used to look like by examining it for signs of old paint colors, different foundations, and ghosts of features that were removed long ago. However, it is much more difficult to know what its gardens may have looked like—especially in the years before photography became accessible to the general public. Luckily, information from both the Bellamy and Hanifan families provide some insight into the types of plants that were grown around the Bellamy House from the late 19th century to well into the 20th.
The Victorian era saw a growing interest in amateur gardening, especially among the middle class. Gardeners could now join clubs with fellow enthusiasts and read about their hobby in newspapers and magazines. They also had more options when it came to colors and varieties of flowers.1 An account of a flower show held by the Hampden County Horticultural Society in 1890 describes the many types of ferns, phlox, begonias, verbena, dahlias, vegetables, and other plants that were on display, saying that this event “was the fourth exhibition of the sort given here this summer which betokens the wide-spread activity in such channels.”2
According to Edward Bellamy’s daughter, Marion, her family grew a variety of plants that were both functional and decorative. On the side of the front porch, she remembered a woodbine vine providing privacy to anyone who was sitting there. There were also several bushes around the house, including a firebush and bushes “with pink elongated blossoms.” On the west side of the house, there was a birch tree, a hawthorn bush, an apple tree, and a bed of flowers that included phlox and yellow lilies.
At the back of the property, which used to extend all the way to the street behind, was an orchard that contained cherry, plum, pear, and apple trees. A jasmine bush and two pine trees grew along the unpainted back fence. The family also grew currants, quinces, strawberries, and asparagus, and there was also a grape arbor at the bottom of the garden path, where Bellamy liked to pace while he thought. Each spring, he would enthusiastically plan that year’s vegetable garden; he planted tomatoes, “lettuce, radishes and carrot and the corn, beans and peas” and did much of the work in the garden himself.3
Daniel Hanifan, whose family purchased the property from the Bellamys in 1905, was not only a photographer but an avid gardener as well. According to his daughter, Catherine, he started growing tomatoes and flowers in a lean-to off the back of the house and later expanded into a small greenhouse. To learn more about gardening, he would borrow specialized books from the library of the Massachusetts Horticultural Society, requesting them by mail. While he grew a colorful variety of roses in the backyard, Hanifan particularly enjoyed raising chrysanthemums.4
The landscaping at the Bellamy House has changed significantly since the Hanifans owned the property. The greenhouse was dismantled sometime after Daniel Hanifan’s death in 1962, and rather than roses, the backyard now contains a barn that was moved from a neighboring property. The hostas behind the house, as well as the birch trees and lilies of the valley out front, are a nod to the Victorian garden, but flowers are not as plentiful as they once were. In the coming years, however, once we’re able to complete some work on the house’s exterior, we hope to be able to bring back a splash of color in a way that honors both the Bellamy and Hanifan families.
- Thomas J. Schlereth, Victorian America: Transformations in Everyday Life, 1876-1915 (New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 1991), 136-7.
- “The September Flower Show,” Springfield Republican (Massachusetts), September 25, 1890, 5.
- Marion Earnshaw, “The Light of Other Days,” n.d., Marion Bellamy Earnshaw Collection, 6, 26-7, 59; Consulting Services Group, The Society for the Preservation of New England Antiquities, “The Bellamy Homestead: Historic Structures Report,” November 1977, 7-8.
- Edward Bellamy Memorial Association interview with Catherine Hanifan Connor, August 3, 2019.