QUINCY – The prettiest time of the year is underway at the Dorothy Quincy Homestead alongside Furnace Book Parkway. As the National Historic Landmark opens for the season, one of its best outdoor features is coming into full bloom.
Roses of several varieties are starting to open in the garden surrounding the Colonial-era house with the Georgian frontispiece. Just beyond, lilacs, horse chestnut and linden trees across the front lawn are showing their fragrant and delicate flowers.
Visitors can stroll the garden paths and see a large red-orange poppy, lilies of the valley, an abundance of Colonial herbs and two distinct signs: “No dogs. Fido and flowers don’t mix.” Dog walkers are allowed on the surrounding grounds as long as the pets are leashed.
“June is certainly the prettiest time and the roses will be at their best by June 12,” Rebecca Dinsmore said as she gave a short garden tour. She mentioned a few of her favorites of her: Old English roses, Rosa spinosissima, the York rose and the Apothecary’s rose. Then we headed for the Boxwoods Garden with its lush green shrubs and symmetrical design.
Dinsmore, 77, who lives nearby, has been a volunteer gardener at the historic property on Butler Road at the corner of Hancock Street for 23 years.
She seems a rare find. The names of Colonial herbs and plants used by the American colonists roll off her tongue from her. Basil is not one of them.
“Colonial people didn’t do Basil,” she said. Instead, they had angelica, valerian, comfrey, skirret and costmary.
The Dorothy Quincy Homestead reopened for the season last Saturday after a major restoration. Popular programs hosted before the pandemic are back. Tours will be given once a month on Saturdays every half hour from 11 am to 1:30 pm June 25, July 23, Aug. 27, Sept. 10 and Sept. 24.
While the 1686 house, updated over two centuries, holds great architectural and historical interest, the heritage gardens are their own draw. Their volunteer gardener has shown unwavering devotion.
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“This place gets into your skin and you enjoy being here,” Dinsmore said.
She is a retired music teacher who taught for 34 years in the Marshfield public schools and also taught piano for 37 years, with students coming from as far as Quincy. She still enjoys “musical opportunities,” such as playing the English spinet, a small, compact upright piano in the homestead, and occasionally doing piano concerts in nursing homes.
Dinsmore grew up in a gardening family and in her youth was a junior garden club member. Retirement gave her the chance to follow that interest in full. She took the master gardener course through the Massachusetts Horticultural Society in Wellesley.
“It gives you a broad exposure to all kinds of plants, a very thorough study,” she said. After completing assignments and a final exam, she was certified.
A hallmark of master gardeners is their commitment to volunteering and community service. Dinsmore has also volunteered at the Greenhouse at the Garden at Elm Bank, the Bradley Estate in Canton and the Gardens at Long Hill in Beverly.
She began her association with the Dorothy Quincy Homestead in 2000 after she was walking by and noticed the garden could use some help with weeding and cleanup. She and her daughter de ella began tending to the garden and soon met the staff and ground crews from the state Department of Conservation and Recreation and The National Society of The Colonial Dames in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.
“They seemed happy to have us here, so we just went into it with our whole hearts and I’ve been continuing ever since,” Dinsmore said. One of her goals from Ella has been to select plantings to have “a continuous bloom.”
She began doing research into the house and came upon the original drawings for an herb garden outside the kitchen side entrance, which she worked on reestablishing. The English colonists brought with them a tradition of using herbs in cooking and in medicine, and selecting flowers for their aromas. The garden was designed by the New England Unit of the Herb Society of America.
Dinsmore was especially glad to have the gardens to turn to during the shutdown of the pandemic.
“It was such a relief to have a place to come to and do something that gives you so much pleasure and beauty – to be able to walk around and enjoy seeing something so caring and positive,” she said.
A quiet, private person, she said she is “incidental” to the gardens, but her devotion and hard work for more than two decades help make this property a standout. She works in the gardens five days a week. In her off hours, she is likely visiting garden outlets looking for solutions to problems. For example, she may see a new type of fencing for keeping out the rabbits and think, “Oh, that will make it work.”
Stepping onto the grounds can feel like a walk back in time.
Set back from busy Hancock Street, the large front yard and house have a stately appearance. The website notes that the Dorothy Quincy Homestead was home to five generations of Quincies, one of the leading families of Massachusetts, and was likely visited by Benjamin Franklin, John Adams and John Hancock.
Dorothy Quincy grew up to marry John Hancock, first signer of the Declaration of Independence and the first governor of the commonwealth.
The heritage gardens are accessible to the public sunrise to sunset each day of the year.
Dance in the wind:Rebecca Dinsmore & Patti Smith in the gardens
There are master gardener programs in Wellesley and Barnstable. For more information, visit the American Horticultural Society website.
Reach Sue Scheible at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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