Gardens, Landscape History, New England Gardens

Fuller Gardens

September 22, 2015


I am always on the lookout for books to review for the Massachusetts Horticultural Society and grateful when my local library purchases garden books that I can borrow before I decide to add them to my personal collection. It is even more of a treat when I discover a book that, for any number of reasons (size, cost, title, weird personal preferences), I wouldn’t read if it did not appear on the “new titles” shelf.

Thus is the case of Bunny Williams’ book On Garden Style, a three-hundred page, over-sized tome, by one of America’s best-known interior designers. First published in 1998, the book purports to provide both the novice and professional gardener, ways to think about “style, form, ornament and the look and feel of a garden” helping readers to “ imagine and design their own personal sanctuaries.”


What most surprised me was the brief introduction which I truly enjoyed.  If a love of gardens and landscapes is, as Williams speculates a journey begun in childhood, for me that journey began at the Fuller Gardens, located on the coast of New Hampshire just south of Rye Beach, where I spent summers growing up.  I visited the garden in the late spring for the first time in many years.

Governor of Massachusetts from 1925 – 1929, Alvin T. Fuller was a successful businessman and entrepreneur who created the first auto dealership in Boston.


His summer estate, located in Little Boar’s Head North Hampton, was named Runnymede-by-the-Sea.  In 1927 Fuller commissioned landscape architect Arthur Shurtleff (Shurcliff) to design a garden on the property.


Described as one of New England’s “most cherished 20th century estate gardens” the garden is intimately scaled and divided into two areas by a private driveway (seen on the map below) leading to the original (circa 1890) carriage house which is now used for staff purposes.  The gardens to the right of the map are part of the original design.Screen shot 2015-09-19 at 10.49.41 AM

A wooden gate, which I used many times and is now closed, provided access to the front garden from what was the location of Runnymede-by-the Sea (footprint seen above) which was removed in 1961, three years after Fuller’s death.


Designed in the Colonial revival style, the formal front garden is bordered by perennial beds with a recessed parterre planted with roses.




The front garden’s axis terminates in a small lawn panel with a fountain and leads to  the Japanese Garden.


Part of the original design, the Japanese garden is surrounded by cedar trees. Ethereally beautiful, this very intimate space with its koi pond, small bridge and sculptural elements starkly contrasts with the bright colors and sharp textures of the front garden.



According to the Garden’s website Governor Fuller wanted the front garden to serve as a “showpiece” and amenity for the public despite the fact that he and his wife were infrequent visitors. Instead they derived “a great deal of pleasure looking from their bedroom windows over the road into the garden, seeing a great deal of people — especially on weekends — enjoying its charm.”

In the 1930’s the Olmsted Brothers were retained to improve the gardens and design a rose garden in honor of Fuller’s wife, Viola. Containing 1,500 bushes of 125 varieties, the rose garden is enclosed by a privet hedge with circular beds connected by grass pathways and an antique wellhead at its center.



Described as the side garden on the map, the rose garden is connected to the conservatory and the Lydia Fuller Bottomley garden added in 2005.


Honoring Fuller’s daughter, the Lydia Fuller Bottomley garden is centered upon a reflecting pool with a graceful marble statue. It feature statuary gifted to the Gardens by Bottomley.



The Fullers were avid art collectors who donated works to the National Gallery of Art in Washington and The Museum of Fine Arts in Boston including, Monet’s “The Water Lily Pond,” and Renoir’s “Boating Couple.” On their travels abroad they also collected statues and fountains to place in the garden. I like to think the garden was considered part of their art collection.



The Fuller Gardens were officially opened to the public in 1958 after Governor Fuller’s death and for many years they were open free of charge. In 2001 Presley Associates of Cambridge developed a master plan formalizing the entry area, improving parking and adding a gift shop.


I return to that girl on a bicycle who slipped through the wooden gate to a small and somewhat secret garden many years ago. There were seldom many, if any, people there and like Mary Lennox I developed a deep, affection for this place, which was unlike any I had experienced. It’s particular magic never failed to enchant.   The images below of the front and side garden, converted from slides, are from 1988.



The Gardens are open from mid-May to mid October, seven days a week from 10:00 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. For additional information visit: The 2015 adult ticket fee is $9.00.


Copyright © 2015 Patrice Todisco — All Rights Reserved

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  • Reply Maureen Bovet September 22, 2015 at 9:12 pm

    It is one of my favorite “secret gardens” too. So interesting to hear your story of how it was a childhood inspiration for your interest in gardens and landscapes. I will try to get up there again before the end of the season.

    • Reply Patrice Todisco September 22, 2015 at 11:30 pm

      It’s a charming garden in any season and I like to combine my visit with a trip into Portsmouth where I stop in at the Moffatt-Ladd House & Garden. For me, the Fuller Gardens were truly special and intimate.

  • Reply Judy @ NewEnglandGardenAndThread September 23, 2015 at 12:28 am

    Visited a couple of years ago. Nice. 🙂

  • Reply Laura Eisener September 23, 2015 at 1:56 am

    What a nice reminder of a beautiful garden in a beautiful location! The perennial borders are gorgeous over such a long season!

    • Reply Patrice Todisco September 23, 2015 at 9:16 pm

      As an expert on perennials that’s quite a compliment. Thanks!

  • Reply Gallivanta September 23, 2015 at 5:17 am

    How wonderful to have this beautiful garden to explore as a child. The garden at my elementary school, although not at all grand, holds very special memories for me.

    • Reply Patrice Todisco September 23, 2015 at 9:21 pm

      How lucky you were to have any sort of garden at your elementary school however modest.

      • Reply Gallivanta September 24, 2015 at 2:51 am

        Yes, it’s extraordinary thinking back on it.

  • Reply Of Gardens February 5, 2016 at 2:12 am

    Always happy to learn about a “new” garden to visit, especially within a day’s journey.
    I like your reference to Mary Lennox…she inspired me in my love of gardens.

    • Reply Patrice Todisco February 10, 2016 at 11:59 am

      Indeed. There are lots of gardens to visit in the seacoast region including the Moffat-Ladd House, one of my favorites. Definitely worth a day’s visit (or two!).

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