Rocky Pastures: Before There Was the Walled Garden, Part I

Walled Garden with the water feature (missing the statue). One can only imagine the greenery and flowers that filled this garden. Photo courtesy of Paula Robinson Rossouw.

***The following is part of a series to promote Rocky Pastures and the Design Show House the Kennebunkport Historical Society is sponsoring at the estate on June 23 – July 14. You can visit the KHS site here. One of the designers, a friend of this blog, can be visited here.***

In his biography, I Wanted to Write, Kenneth Roberts tells of his search for a quiet place in which to do his research and writing undisturbed.  The genesis of this long search for solitude is difficult for me to pin down (in I Wanted to Write, page 143, in the midst of retelling his travels in Europe as a foreign correspondent on immigration [I believe this is correct], which is roughly around 1919 if my reading is correct), but what can be said is that Robert searched high and low in both Europe and America for his ideal spot in which to write in peace. 

Roberts’ first attempt was an old stable he converted into a home and named Stall Hall (the subject of Part II of this post).  Though he spent several years at this place, his wish for complete solitude was not fully realized due to the nearby golf course and the encroaching neighbors.  In his essay “The Little Home in the Country,” Roberts says of Stall Hall: 

No subtle premonition warned me that the local golf club might build a practice tee beneath my workroom windows: no ominous portent indicated that neighbors would feel an urge to place garages in my front and rear.

One method Roberts pursued to gain privacy from his neighbors and the seasonal golfers utilized his love of nature.  In “The Little Home in the Country,” Roberts provides a humorous account of his trials and errors when trying to plant bushes and vines that were to serve as a barrier to the outside world.

The focus of Roberts’ wit and sarcasm are those “persons who write whimsical pieces for the papers, giving readers the idea that a farmhouse can be remodeled as cheaply and as easily as one can buy a second-hand automobile.”  The implicit target of his humor and sarcasm, though, is himself and his sometimes futile attempts at growing greenery with the ease promised by the experts in the nurserymen’s annuals.  Roberts tells of his battle with unruly hedges (the Laurel-leaf Willow), stout snout beetles that were to ants as cows are to humans, and fruitless fruit trees.  Roberts most trying battle was with the bittersweet vines. 

In the case of my vines…the tip of each bittersweet tendril acts as a summer resort for innumerable aphids; and when these tips rest against a painted surface, the aphids leave unsightly smudges on it – smudges that can be obliterated only with two coats of paint.

The tendrils are long and springy.  When pruned, they sway convulsively, slapping the pruner across the mouth with tips heavily populated with aphids. As a result, for every five minutes spent by the pruner on bittersweet vines, he spends five hours removing aphids from himself…

Roberts search for solitude, then, seemed elusive while at Stall Hall considering his battles with encroaching golfers and neighbors, and the endless pursuit for the perfectly behaving greenery.

Roberts' study opened into the walled garden. These two spots best encapsulate Roberts and his passions. Photo courtesy of Paula Robinson Rossouw.

When Roberts built Rocky Pastures, though, he succeeded in finding his long sought-for solitude by having his study surrounded by a walled garden.  Though the walled garden is now more of a walled courtyard, one can only imagine the greenery and flowers adording the walled garden, easily viewable from Roberts’ study.  In my opinion, these two spots – more than any other at Rocky Pastures (except the duck pond) – encapsulate Kenneth Roberts the man, especially his passions.

Roberts’ hard-earned solitude was not easily gained though, as recounted above.  In addition to his yearly battle with nature, Roberts had to fight yearly with Stall Hall itself…

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