Table of Contents

Salt Box and Cape Cod House Styles
   - Formal Parterre garden style

Fig.1, Salem witches house
Fig. 1
Colonists bring the styles of their origins, but quickly adapt them to different climate and living conditions. They typically spend the first year or two living in a tent or one room hut, but the first real homes are soon built. These first colonial styles, developed by English and Dutch settlers, modify a medieval house form, and include the Saltbox and the Cape Cod. They are between 36’ to 40’ long and about 30’ wide, with the distinctive feature of the Saltbox being an asymmetric gable roof – short in front with a long roof plane in the back, extending over a lean-to. It mimics the shape of the salt boxes in use at the time.
Fig. 2, Drawing from Saltbox and Cape Cod Houses, Schuler, 1988
Fig. 2
The Saltbox and the Cape Cod are framed with heavy oak and have a massive central chimney, providing an open fireplace for every room. Unpainted clapboard siding is used on Saltboxes and shingles on Capes. Bricks are scarce and limited to the fireplace. Roofs are wooden and windows may have interior blinds (Schuler, 1988). Facades are symmetric, but the sides and back often have eccentric window placement.

Garden plan
The gardener’s attitude toward nature often determines the landscape design. For English and European settlers, nature is not a source of inspiration. The forest wilderness is thought to be a source of foul miasmas,‘malign creatures, animals, barbarians, and supernatural monsters’ (Fitch, 1956). Nature is not considered beautiful until it is tamed (i.e., tilled and neatly cultivated).

Northern Colonial dooryard gardens are small and use a geometric layout. If there is additional land on the side of the house it is cultivated as a pleasure garden, and divided into 4 to 12 rectangles or squares, called parterres. A round or oval bed in the center is often planted with topiary or includes a garden ornament such as a sundial. Parterres are edged in box or fragrant herbs, and each parterre often has a fruit tree in the center surrounded by ivy or flowers. A wider path down the middle branches out to smaller paths, leading to a focal feature, often a bench. Mixed flower borders edge the garden. The three primary garden characteristics are bilateral symmetry, low hedges and an irregular planting scheme.

Fig. 3, Williamsburg
Fig. 3
Paths and Fences
Straight paths to the front door and between outbuildings are made of marl, gravel, or crushed seashells, and later with brick. Fences are of stone, split rail, and pickets. In rural areas, a ditch, called a water fence is common, as is the post-less, rustic, zig-zag rail fence. Usually a combination of fencing is used to protect the garden from wandering cattle and goats. Roses, barberry, or box may be planted on the inside of the front fence.

Vegetables and Herbs
In the earliest gardens, 6” raised beds supported by boards, are devoted to food production, and only incidentally interspersed with flowers, such as tulips in a bed of radishes and lettuce. By 1634, commonly vegetables grown and stored for winter are turnips, parsnips, carrots, beets, onions, garlic, shallots, and leeks. In season vegetables include lettuce, cabbage, radish, muskmelon, cucumber, and sweet sorrel. Peas and beans are eaten fresh and dried for winter. The colonists recognize and eat native grapes, wild strawberries, huckleberries, blackberries, and raspberries. Useful plants learned from the Native tribes include corn, beans, pumpkins, melons, and tobacco. Herbs for medicine, perfume, or cooking, are usually grown as borders in the kitchen garden. Exceptions include the Shakers, who cultivate large herb gardens for commerce, and some doctors, who keep physic (often called botanic) gardens.

Flowers, Shrubs and Trees
Decorative native plants, later popularized in Europe, include the black-eyed Susan, golden rod, fall blooming aster, dogwood, redbud, magnolia, catalpa, American elm, chestnut, poplar, sycamore, and oak. On the other hand, European plants like yarrow and daylily, escape and quickly become naturalized wildflowers of the American landscape. Trees and shrubs are treated as specimens and usually not planted in multiples. Large trees are not planted near buildings for fear of damage due to lightning strikes.

Fig. 4, Cordoned fruit trees at Mt. Vernon
Fig. 4
Fruit trees, bushes
In the early years, trees are more often cut than planted, and new trees in the enclosed front yard are often fruit trees. Larger properties have apple orchards, with bush fruits, such as currants and gooseberries planted in the borders. In small gardens, fruit trees including pears, plums, and cherries are planted in borders. Apple and pear trees may be decoratively espaliered along a wall or cordoned (Figure 4).

Lawns, and Water
Grass is typically scythed or grazed by sheep, interspersed with daisies and violets, and taller than current lawns. Cisterns assure a water source during dry spells.

Foundation Plantings
An 18”-24” wide space next to the foundation is usually paved, followed by lawn. Foundation plantings are not used for aesthetic and practical reasons. In winter, straw bales are often placed around the foundation for additional warmth, providing a habitat for rodents, who would eat any bark or roots growing there.

Focal points
Water features are not added in the earliest Colonial gardens (although there is an installed pond and a maze on the grounds of Gov. Spotwood’s home in Williamsburg, VA). Focal points are achieved with benches, arbors, topiary, and sundials. Colonial Williamsburg is one of the better resources for restored Early American gardens.

Formal Parterre Garden Design - Saltbox House Style

Fig. 5

Fig. 6

Formal Parterre Garden Features

• Squared symmetric parterres, edged in box or fragrant herbs
• Plum trees in center of parterres, pear trees espaliered along fence
• Ajuga, (ivy or flowers) in parterres
• Scotch rose (or barberry) along front fence, Canada Yew hedge at right and back
• Straight paths of marl, or seashells,
• Topiary as focal point
• Bench under arbor of virginsbower
• Fences of stone, split rail, pickets
• Lawn with daisies, violets and taller than current lawns
• Mix of European and native plants

Formal Parterre Garden Plant List(for Figure 5)

Scientific nameCommon name
• Native plant
HeightSpreadTextureSeasonal interest
1. Catalpa speciosa• Northern Catalpa40'-60'20'-40'CoarseSummer
2. Magnolia tripetala• Umbrella Magnolia15'-30'15'-30'MediumEarly Spring
3. Prunus americana• American Red Plum15'-25'10'-15'MediumSpring
4. Pyrus communisCommon Pear30'-50'20'-35'MediumSpring-Fall
5. Buxus sempervirensCommon Boxwood15'-20'15'-20'Med.FineEvergreen
6. Diervilla lonicera• Dwarf Honeysuckle3'-5'3'-5'MediumSummer
7. Juniperus sabinaSavin Juniper4'-6'4'-6'MediumEvergreen
8. Kalmia latifolia• Mountain Laurel7'-15'7'-15'MediumSummer
9. Rosa pimpinellifoliaScotch Rose4'3'-4'MediumLate Spring
10. Taxus canadensis• Canada Yew3'-6'6'-8'MediumEvergreen
11.Clematis virginiana• Virginsbower12'-20' MediumSummer-Fall
12. Ajuga reptansBugleweed6"-9"8"MediumSpring
13. Alchemilla mollisLady's Mantle18"24"CoarseLate Spring
14. Aster novae-belgii• New York Aster12"-36"12"MediumFall
15. Cimicifuga racemosa• Black Cohosh48"-72"24"-48"FineMidsummer
16. Hemerocallis lilLemon Daylily30"36"MediumSummer
17. Iris sibericaSiberian Iris36"24"MediumSpring
18. Iris pallidaSweet Iris36"48"MediumSpring
19. Lily pyrenaicumYellow Lily48"24"MediumSummer
20. Phlox divaricata• Wild Sweet William12"8"MediumSummer
21. Ruta gravelensCommon Rue24"-36"24"-30"FineMidsummer
22. Thymus serpellumWild Thyme3"-6"18"FineLate Spring
23. Tulipa sp.Rembrandt Tulip10"6"MediumLate Spring
24. Iberis sempervirensCandy Tuft15"8"FineSummer-Fall