The Lake Waban Gardener
On this day in 1902, America lost one of its most prominent horticulturalists – Horatio Hollis Hunnewell.
Hunnewell was staggeringly wealthy. He was a railroad financier. But he also had a lifelong love of nature and gardening.
When Hunnewell purchased over 40 acres of land along the eastern and southern shores of Lake Waban ("Wah-bin"), he built a magnificent estate there. He had married Isabella Pratt Wells and he decided to call his impressive home Wellesley in honor of his wife's maiden name Wells.
When it came time for the nearby town and college to settle on a name, they also selected the name Wellesley after conferring with Hunnewell who was the most generous benefactor of the town.
The Hunnewell estate was so large, that when the Hunnewell children grew up, seven of the nine had homes built on the property - right next to their parent's original home. Aside from the impressive homes, Hunnewell added many magnificent features to the estate including a pinetum
with over 325 specimen conifers.
Hollis Honeywell made the following remark in 1899 In reference to his trees,"No Vanderbilt, with all his great wealth, can possess one of these for the next 50 years, for could not be grown in less time than that."
And, Hunnewell also installed the very first topiary Garden in America at Wellesley. He referred to it as the Italian Garden and it was ideally situated along the shore of Lake Waban. When it came to the Topiary Garden, Hunnewell went all out. Whenever he had guests, Hunnewell would have them hop aboard a large authentic Italian Gondola boat complete with an authentically dressed gondola man. After they would glide up to the Topiary Gardens, they would stop to take a tour. Hunnewell's shores rivaled that of Lake Como in northern Italy.
It’s difficult to fathom how much attention this one-of-a-kind garden received from the public. Thousands of visitors from all over the country came to Wellesley just to see the topiary garden firsthand. Many more took in its beauty through photographs and engravings published in the most popular periodicals of the time.
To this day — a century and a half later — the Hunnewell topiary garden is among the most spectacular sites in the region.
There are a few notable tidbits related to Honeywell that bear mention. The first is that Hunnewell and his friend Nathaniel Thayer Jr. are credited with bringing the game of tennis to America. The second Is that Honeywell was the first person to cultivate and popularize rhododendrons In the United States.