In 1834, William Rotch, Jr. built his Greek Revival house at 396 County Street. Up the hill and away from the noise and bustle of the port below, he positioned the house on the north side of the property to allow for expansive gardens with a southern exposure. Although there are no documented garden plans from the Rotch tenure, we know that his gardens were both useful and ornamental. A founding member of the New Bedford Horticultural Society, records show that Mr. Rotch, with the assistance of his Irish gardener William Howard, submitted fruits, vegetables and flowers to their exhibitions. His special interest was the cultivation of pears, which the people of New Bedford referred to as their “standard fruit.” William Rotch shared his horticultural interests with his son-in-law James Arnold, benefactor of the Arnold Arboretum.
The current landscape of the property is more closely aligned with the Jones period of stewardship (1851 -1935). The pergola, situated at the main axis of the ornamental gardens, is a typical Victorian convention. Photographs of the garden from the latter part of the 19th century capture the boxwood rose parterre beds with tall calla lilies and the pergola laden with vines. Favored flowering plants of the period filled the gardens including hollyhocks, numerous rose varieties and wisteria.
When the Duffs took up residence in 1936, they contracted the services of Mrs. John Coolidge, a Boston landscape architect. Utilizing much of the current design, Mrs. Coolidge created a new plan for the landscape with ornamental beds, reflecting pools and graceful walkways. Over 7,000 tulip bulbs were planted during the Duff tenure.
Today elements of all three residencies remain. A formal boxwood rose parterre garden, a boxwood specimen garden, cutting garden and award winning Woodland Walk surround the 19th century wooden lattice pergola. The Garden Club of Buzzards Bay utilizes the Woodland Garden to introduce fourth graders to habitat, plant identification and propagation.
A historic recreation of a wooden apiary serves as the Garden Education Center for the fifth grade Apiary Program and offers exhibits related to pollination and beekeeping. The program utilizes this unique urban garden setting to introduce students to the important role of the honey bee, gardening techniques, conservation practices, bee-keeping operations and the interdependency of the environment in plant and food production.
Ongoing restoration of the rose garden was initiated in1996. The ambiance of the gardens provides a unique setting for the annual James Arnold Garden Symposium, summer concerts, programs, weddings and special events.