How Does your Garden Grow? Restoring the Maxey House’s Formal Gardens

By Alysha Richardson, Site Manager, Sam Bell Maxey House State Historic Site 

Restoration happens in many shapes and forms, but there is something special about the process of restoring historic gardens to capture their past beauty. To happen accurately, it takes a lot of research to identify the correct plants. As site manager, I get to see firsthand the work it takes to restore a historic home’s' sometimes-forgotten features.  

Gardening at the Sam Bell Maxey House has been happening since Sam Bell Maxey had the home constructed in 1868. With formal gardens, brick walkways, water features, and shade trees, the house was surrounded by greenery.  

The formal rose garden is located on the house's north side. Both Marilda Maxey (1833-1908) and Lala Williams Lightfoot (1872-1965) were avid gardeners and took great care of the formal gardens. Today, we receive help from the Friends of the Sam Bell Maxey House and local Eagle Scouts to help restore and care for the garden! 

While the project may seem like just planting some plants from a local garden center, there is a much larger process that takes place. First, we had to figure out exactly how the garden looked. That meant cleaning up the garden area and looking through historic photos.  

Lots and lots of weed pulling happened during this process to uncover the bricks and flower beds beneath. We also had to learn exactly what kind of plants would have been in those flower beds. It helped that some of our historic photos included good shots of the garden area.   

Thankfully, volunteers found viable plants that could stay exactly where they were during the primary garden cleaning. Next came the planting process, which was the most fun part of this process. Flowers, either bought or donated, went into their designated spots within the formal garden. While this process is lengthy, it is fun watching the garden come to life.  

Staff at the Maxey House cannot thank the Eagle Scouts and Friends members enough for their dedication and hard work to get the formal gardens restored!  

Are you interested in volunteering? Consider joining our friends group by visiting the Sam Bell Maxey House State Historic Site and requesting more information from our staff.  

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