Rose gardens at Fuller Gardens were planted in honor of Alvan Fuller's wife, Viola, who loved the flower. (COURTESY OF DENISE BROWN)
EDITOR'S NOTE: This is another in an occasional series profiling some of New Hampshire's historically significant gardens that are open to the public.
NORTH HAMPTON — Businessman Alvan T. Fuller didn't create his massive gardens for himself. In fact, once he understood that the blooms could be seen from the road, he ordered a redesign so that even more flowers could be visible.
It's in that same spirit that the public is now able to enjoy those gardens every day during the warm weather months. Fuller Gardens, off Route 1A in North Hampton, is one many historic gardens open to the public in New Hampshire.
In 1927, Fuller, known for creating the first auto dealership in Boston and later as member of Congress and Massachusetts governor, commissioned landscape architect Arthur A. Shurtleff to design a garden in the back of his summer estate, which he called Runnymede-by-the-Sea.
One of the earliest gardens in the design was the Japanese garden that still exists today. The Japanese garden features a koi pond and waterfall and is completely shaded, making it the perfect home for a variety of ferns, rhododendrons and azaleas.
"It was probably the earliest part of the garden that has been pretty much untouched from a design point of view," said Jamie Colen, garden director. "Because it's one of those things that it was well-planned and not much got overgrown.… Because it's in the shade things don't grow as fast, and there's no grass there. So there's not a lot of things to get out of whack as they age."
By the 1930s, Fuller was governor and hired the hired the Olmsted Brothers of Boston to improve the gardens and create a rose garden.
"His wife Viola really loved roses," Colen said. "So he built the garden really in tribute to her."
Leon Zach, of the Olmsted firm, designed the side and front gardens.
The side garden is laid out in a circular pattern of rose beds with grass pathways, all of which surrounds an antique well head. The garden is closed in by a privet hedge and a cedar fence upon which are "espaliered" apple trees.
The rose gardens have 125 varieties of roses and 1,700 single bushes which are in bloom from mid-June to mid-October, Colen said. Among the varieties are hybrid teas, which are hardier tea roses; grandifloras, which bloom in long stem clusters; and, floribundas which have a profusion of petals and come in the same colors as tea roses.
Though Runnymede-by-the-Sea was removed in 1961, the carriage house — built around 1890 — is still there and provides a backdrop to the gardens.
The most recent garden on the grounds was built in 2005 and is known as The Lydia Fuller Bottomley garden. After four years of planning to make sure the design was in keeping with the Olmsted design, this garden was created to display statuary given to Fuller Gardens by the late daughter of Alvan and Viola Fuller. It features a reflecting pool with a marble nude flanked by twin rosebeds and an open grassy area.
Though each of the gardens is spectacular in its own way, Colen said, it's the maintenance of the place that is often the star of the show.
Following a plan put in place by the original garden director back in the 1920s, the Fuller Garden staff among other things, cut the hedges every week and mow the grass three times a week. They also keep sharp the demarcation line between the grass and the soil.
"From the hedges to the grass to the care of the soil, when you step in you notice it immediately,"Colen said. "The thing that most people talk about here is the maintenance. The maintenance that goes on here is stuff you get in very few gardens in the world."