A garden can be a destination by itself. It can also invite people to stay longer, offering a place to get one’s bearings before and after visiting the house. The garden examples above complement their houses and set them in context.
Hearthstone, built in the 1880’s, is an important historic treasure. It is a stunning, Queen Anne style home built by nationally recognized architect William Waters. Hearthstone was also a technological breakthrough - the first house in the world lit with an Edison central hydroelectric station. Cheryl Kaczmarek, Hearthstone Board President explains, “Hearthstone's examples of rare 1882 wiring cleats, light switches and electroliers that are still in operation may be the only surviving example of Edison’s wiring and fixtures in their original location.”
Set along the banks of the Fox River, Hearthstone was originally surrounded by a beautiful picturesque landscape. Rolling hills dotted with small groves of trees provided glimpses of the house from the distance. It had a style right out of Andrew Jackson Downing’s 1842 best-selling garden guide: Victorian Cottage Residences. Over time the original landscape gave way to real estate development and Memorial Bridge, a major Fox River crossing.
The current landscape includes a beautiful Magnolia tree in front, a memorial garden, and new lilacs. It was created by the community, led by Grounds Co-Chairs Ed Hilgendorf and Orlo Zins, Tour Chair Stephanie Malaney, with the support of local nurseries. Despite these efforts, Hearthstone is not known for its landscape.
This year, docent Cheryl Theimer, a history buff and Master Gardener, kicked off an effort to enhance the garden further with period-inspired plantings and paths. “I love this house and want it to have a special garden. Knowing that this would take a few years to implement, we first focused on a solid plan that everyone could support,” Theimer explains.
Theimer found me through my writings and talks about historic gardens. Together we looked at old photos, garden guides from the period, and other Victorian houses in the area. To our delight, our research led us to a garden designed for the site almost 15 years ago by one of Wisconsin’s most important landscape architects, Dennis Buettner. He is most famous for designing The Paine as well as the Green Bay Botanical Garden. “Former Executive Director Bev Harrington deserves a lot of credit for engaging Buettner. Having a Victorian landscape for Hearthstone was her longtime dream”, Kaczmarek explained.
For Hearthstone, Buettner’s design includes a curved garden walk, lush borders, trees around the house, a rear terrace overlooking the Fox River, and a secret garden in back. “Buettner’s design incorporated the authentic historic elements we were looking for, making this find a real blessing. After reviewing the plans with the Board, we agreed to move ahead,” Theimer explains.
Theimer is excited by the front beds because“they play an important role in framing the entrance and showcasing plants that were used in the period. On the shady side hostas, ferns, and astilbe fill the space. As the beds get more sun, we’ll see lady’s mantle, bleeding heart and coral bells.” Thanks to Theimer’s research, the garden will use heirloom varieties that were common in the 1890’s.
I am looking forward to the addition of deciduous trees planned for the front and side yard. The existing magnolia tree is an important part of the current garden. The plan repeats similar trees to anchor the house, while still allowing it to be seen.
The Hearthstone Garden is now an Outagamie County Master Gardener sanctioned project. A group of volunteers has already begun to test the soil, to assess tree health, and to prune. A rear bed has been planted with lilies and lamb’s ear, and the front borders have been laid out. This project is just beginning and there is much work to be done.
Kaczmarek is thrilled as these pieces come together, “We are so grateful for everyone’s efforts to realize a historically correct and beautiful landscape setting for Hearthstone. And it is wonderful to see that all the work that went into the plan all those years ago can now come alive.”
The land along the Fox River was originally part of the Menominee tribe. They were "pressured to sell away 11,600 square miles of land along the lower Fox River [in] The Treaty of Prairie du Chien of 1825... significant in the history of American Indians in Wisconsin," according to the Wisconsin Department of Health Services.
Visit Hearthstone to take in the beautiful architecture, check out the ground-breaking technology, peek at the Fox River, or see how the garden is coming along. Stay tuned for updates as the garden comes to life.