John Perkins Cushing’s 19th-century lost garden, located in what is now Belmont (a lost section of Watertown,) was in Alan Emmet’s words “among the most splendid in all New England.” To build a rural retreat in 1834, Cushing purchased 117 acres of farmland in Watertown. He designed his own gardens and landscape, providing a view of Fresh Pond, a deer park, a three-acre walled garden and 14 greenhouses. In the first year his gardeners were kept busy planting 600 ornamental and 100 fruit trees.
Cushing’s design ideas were influenced by the work of landscape designers Humphry Repton (designer of the Lyman Estate in Waltham) and John Claudius Loudon. The mid-nineteenth century was a period of active horticultural experimentation in Boston. Cushing purchased seeds and trees from around the world including China, England, France, Germany, Holland, Japan and Réunion. On his estate named Bellmont, Cushing built a 60-foot conservatory to show his camellias, gardenias, passion flowers and a unique pitcher plant (Nepenthes distillataria.)
In 1859 Mr. Cushing promoted the secession of a new town from Watertown. The new town was named Belmont after his estate. Now all that remains of his 117-acre estate are a few old trees that can be seen amongst the many small quarter acre Belmont house plots.
This column was inspired by Alan Emmet’s superb book, SO FINE A PROSPECT: Historic New England Gardens.