In 1931, Mildred Robertson, the wife of a prominent Salem physician, asked Lord & Schryver to design a garden plan for their stately home located in Salem’s Fairmount Hill neighborhood. The catch was that Mrs. Robertson only wanted to pay $75 – $100 to develop a master plan. Lord & Schryver were perplexed that a client would assume they would agree to manage the entire project – from design to installation – for this small fee.
When Edith provided an initial “Sketch Plan,” the Robertsons wanted to purchase it outright for $50. Elizabeth wrote to Mildred that the firm did not operate this way. “We are awfully sorry that you feel that the price is more than you can afford. Under the circumstances, we suggest a price of $75 which could be paid at intervals during the year. We could make the front design and planting plan, and later, when you wish, draw up the rear part of the plan. I do not see how we can possibly lower our fee and we hope you and Dr. Robertson will consider this proposition.”
The site the Robertsons purchased was one of the most challenging the firm would deal with in their practice. It was a modest-sized lot with a steep slope and a 20% grade change. The Robertsons had hired Salem architect Clarence Smith, a colleague of Elizabeth, to design their new home.
The architect centered the house halfway up the slope from the street. Edith designed the shrub-lined driveway on the diagonal, ending in a parking area in front of the house that included a small lawn defined by low stone walls and shrubs.
The real garden was in the rear. Edith created three garden levels running parallel to the house. The first, a stone-flagged terrace 84 feet long by 15 feet wide, was on the same level as the house, creating an area with easy access for entertaining.
Steps led up to the second level, a narrow terrace with flagstone paving and a sundial. A few more steps led to the third level, which opened onto a lawn.
The property’s boundary was informally planted with a variety of evergreen and flowering trees and shrubs. There was a small porch overlooking a naturalistic garden with a rockery pool, forming a cool, shady oasis.
The Garden Today
The current owner, Alan Beardsley, is carefully restoring the garden. When Alan purchased the house 18 months ago, he also acquired the adjacent lot. “I recently became the curator of this beautiful garden. The original design and plantings were very well-conceived, so I concluded my focus should be to bring new vitality by restoring portions. Only now am I viewing some plants in bloom. I enjoy selecting new specimens, planting them with care, and conversing with friendly neighbors who share a love of botanical beauty and stewardship. In quiet times, while working in a secluded spot with Victor (beloved corgi) at my side, I realize our private location was once included in a watercolor sketch that the “Ladies” had rendered.”
The Lord & Schryver Conservancy Neighborhood Garden Tour will be held on Saturday & Sunday, June 4 & 5 in Salem’s beautiful and historic Fairmount Hill neighborhood. The tour includes 12 unique residential gardens all within walking distance of each other. The Robertson Garden, along with three other Lord & Schryver-designed gardens, will be featured on the tour. We hope to see you there!