The Master Gardeners of Essex County have worked on the restoration of the flower beds at the former home of inventor Thomas Edison since 2009. The 15-acre estate is in the Thomas Edison National Historical Park. Built in 1880 and purchased by Edison in 1886, the 29-room Queen-Anne style residence is now a museum visited by people from all over the world.
The gardens, formerly maintained by Edison’s wife Mina, had been barely maintained after her death in 1947. The property was deeded to the National Park Service in 1959. Two members of the MGEC Class of 2009, the late Mary Jo Patterson and present Project Leader Amy Trimarco contacted the park’s director and volunteer organization and found out that a lack of manpower kept the gardens from being restored. They presented the project and gained Master Gardener approval. Working with the National Park Service-provided encyclopedia of heirloom ornamental plants and historical documents, the pair began directing Master Gardener volunteers in the garden restoration effort.
A highlight of the front garden, or oval, and a rear garden are the stately King Humbert cannas in full bloom from July to late October each year. These plants were traditionally grown at Glenmont. In addition to the cannas there are lush grasses, lavender, nepeta, buddleia and other pollinator-friendly plants. Irises abound featuring Siberian and double-blooming bearded varieties. Master Gardeners also plant two historical urns and an ornamental planter at the site.
Master Gardeners involved in the project gain knowledge of garden planning and design, perennial and annual planting, rhizome cultivation, plant thinning and spreading, pruning, pollinator-friendly plants and pest management using natural methods. Involvement from interested Master Gardeners and students is always welcome.
Once the site was approved as a MG volunteer site, the park service identified a garden bordering the rear of the house as being in dire need of rehabilitation. They agreed to build a deer fence around the bed and provide plant material. NPS staff provided them with an encyclopedia of heirloom ornamental plants as well as historic documents showing what plants Mrs. Edison ordered from garden companies. Horticulture flourished at Glenmont under her direction, but after her death in 1947 Edison’s company permitted the grounds to become weedy and overgrown. The property was deeded to the National Park Service in 1959.
The park service wished to keep a row of mature buddleia at the rear of the bed and asked the master gardeners to add cannas, which had been traditionally planted at the site. Student master gardeners added other perennials. In succeeding years they restored two more beds, including a prominent oval at the front of the house that had been bare for years. Designed by student master gardeners, it now greets visitors through three seasons with a colorful mix of annuals and perennials.
The greatest challenge at Glenmont has been discouraging deer and other garden predators. Annual costs for plants and other supplies are shared by the Master Gardeners organization, the NPS, and the Friends of the Thomas Edison National Historic Park.
Additional gardens may be restored in the future. In 2010 the NPS published the Cultural Landscape Report for Glenmont, which recommends that the park service enhance Glenmont’s historic character so that it more closely resembles its appearance prior to Edison’s death in 1931.
New volunteers are more than welcome. To join the crew at Glenmont, contact the Master Gardeners at 973-228-2210.