Thin Places: Peacefield

Part of the Isolation Journals, Day 27. Prompt by Jordan Kisner.

My parents are native Bostonians, but they moved to the small city of Quincy early in their marriage and raised my siblings and I there. It’s about five miles south of Boston. It’s also perhaps just as historically significant as Boston, or perhaps even more. It was the residence of some important families who shaped the American Revolution and early formation of the country: the Adams family, the Hancock family, and the Quincy family, the last of which contains the city’s namesake, Colonel John Quincy, and grandfather to first lady Abigail Adams.

Growing up, my mother would often take my siblings and I to the garden of the Adams family at their mansion in Quincy Center, Peacefield. It began when my sister and I sat in our stroller as tots, and we would continue on when our little brother was born, and  he then alone rode the stroller. It’s always been an impressive, sprawling spot. Neatly trimmed hedges form several pathways to display rows and rows of flowers. While it was and continues to be a rite of passage for Quincy schoolchildren to attend a field trip touring the interior of the mansion, my siblings and I being no exception, there was always something special about the garden.

When the house’s famous founding residents lived there, people’s occupations were vast and varied. John Adams was no different from anyone else of his time. He made a living as a lawyer, farmer, politician, activist, and minister. Of course, legalities, politics, activism, and ministry are much easier to quantify and explain in the history books, but his farming is where he tended a majority of his livelihood. Thus, I always wonder about the lineage of the garden at the house as it is presently. Maybe the flowers were descended from the original flowers John and Abigail grew when they built the house? It would be neat to test it, but I’m unsure how to trace the genealogy of flora, let alone flora from over 200 years ago. Further, while flora has species and genus names, they do not have personal forenames and surnames like people do, so labeling a tree like that would be difficult.

The house was occupied by the family for nearly four generations, and I always wonder how their garden changed over the years. Did Abigail select some blooms and tend to them? I feel as though she would. What were her favorites? There had to have been some more vegetables and fruit when this was first planted, correct? Did they crossbreed and create hybrids? I wonder if when John Quincy Adams and Louisa Catherine Adams became the owners, they made any changes from John and Abigail’s original lineup. When John Quincy and Louisa Catherine left the house to their son and his wife, did they change the lineup once more? When the family finally sold the residence to the National Park Service in 1946, what did the NPS add? Any kind of scents and fragrances that were uncharacteristic of the family to tend?

Whenever my mom would take us on this stroll through the garden, she would pinch off the withered blooms from the plants, “deadheading.” We would put them in our pockets, with the sound of the dried out seeds crinkling as we walked. Hydrangeas, hyacinths, poppies, marigolds, sunflowers, you name it. We’d take it to save and enable these existing flowers to bloom better and look better. We would then add these remains to our own garden at home, crunching them in our fists to break up and spread the seeds. I’d then see the plant sprout, and wonder if this plant’s ancestor had been loved by Abigail and John and their children, and their grandchildren, and so on. Had their ancestor seen bloodshed, Redcoat soldiers raiding homes? Lynchings, tar-and-featherings, and other strange corporal punishment? Was their ancestor plucked for use as a fragrance or herbal remedy? Pressed in a large textbook? Cut as a corsage or boutonniere? How did the Adams family even acquire it? Did they purchase them as saplings or seeds? At a greenhouse? Handed down through relatives, neighbors, and friends?

Often, I am unsure if my own genealogy is noteworthy and famous in any right, but I can at least say there’s a high likelihood that our residential garden is.

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