By Kay Stephens
ROCKLAND—Behind the modest house on 198 Broadway, where famed poet Edna St. Vincent Millay was born, sits approximately a half acre of undeveloped land. In a stand of poplar trees, with a stream running through it, the land is currently being evaluated to eventually turn into a Poetry Garden.
The Rockland Historical Society bought the property in March 2016 and formed a committee to oversee the current restoration of the double house, which is still ongoing. In the meantime, landscaper, arborist and artist Tery Bradshaw, and the board of the Millay House Rockland, are in the beginning stages of planning to turn the land into a contemplative garden, inspiring to all who visit the house.
“When we were all beginning to visualize what this place could be the idea emerged that it could be a small amphitheatre,” said Bradshaw, who runs the landscaping company Ground Control. “There’s a curved path behind the house, which could come to a circle, surrounded by natural elements, such as inverted stumps that create seats and the potential for another small path to curve out to a small sitting area, where you can sit and read a book by yourself. So, it would give more than one singular purpose to the garden. These are just some of our initial ideas.”
Bradshaw, whose family owned land on Amsbury Hill in Rockport for decades, used to revive hidden gardens on the property and cultivate living outdoor spaces. He’d then invite artists to use the property and stage outdoor Art Walks, which were popular with the locals.
“With the Millay garden, we want people to feel as though when they are walking through it, they are discovering new things, rather than walking into something obvious,” said Bradshaw. “We’re looking into working with native vegetation with the potential to produce color year round, so imagine, not just the summer, but being able to walk into the garden through the snow and seeing High Bush cranberries for instance, with all of these bright, shiny berries that attract more birds. I want to design a place where people can contemplate, where ideas flow and which enables you to hear the spirit of the trees.”
Lisa Westkaemper, treasurer of the organization Millay House Rockland, said that while initial sketches are being produced envisioning the elements of the garden, fundraising still needs to be in place before any work can begin.
“As we remove some of the trees, some of the wood will be transformed into sculpture and curved benches, and other organic elements which blend into the setting, all of which have potential for sponsorship,” said Bradshaw. “We’re also considering carving a part of Millay’s poem ‘City Trees’ into a piece of elm as one of the decorative elements. The poem is perfect for this because it is a reflection about how trees still have the same grace in a city as they do in the country.”
“Gardens were very important to Edna St. Vincent Millay,” said Westkaemper. “At Steepletop, a place she cherished for more than 20 years, there were stories about her going outside in the morning in her pajamas and just start gardening, pulling weeds, things like that. Steepletop is actually the name of a plant, a salvia, and we’re hoping to get some of that Steepletop and bring it to this garden as a connection between the two gardens.”
To learn how to donate to the Poetry Garden and other upcoming Millay-centered events visit: visit: Millayhouserockland.org
Click through our gallery for a virtual tour of the house and additional details. Photos by Kay Stephens