Much of the signature floral design and landscaping seen today at our nine formal gardens bears the imprint of philanthropist Mary Clark Thompson, who brought home ideas and art from her many trips to European and Asian locales. Following the 1899 death of her husband, Mrs. Thompson involved hundreds of workers between 1902 and 1919 in a re-design of the gardens. She was assisted primarily by Boston landscape architect Ernest Bowditch, and later, his assistant John Handrahan.
View our blooming schedule list or our visual bloom guide page to see what flowers will be in bloom and other sights you may see during your visit. Check out Sonnenberg’s gardening blog to learn more about what is happening in our gardens and greenhouses throughout the year.
The Greenhouse complex at Sonnenberg, built between 1903-1915, is one of the few remaining intact Lord and Burnham Greenhouses in the United States. Today, 5 of the greenhouses are open to the public for touring, but as funds for continued restoration are received, more of the greenhouses can be opened again, showcasing a return to their original, utilitarian uses.
In 1906, Mrs. Thompson had this garden, with its detailed landscape, reminiscent of mountainous Japan, fashioned from a smooth lawn by a Japanese landscape designer and his team of workers. Water flows from a large cascade, passing the Tea House, and underneath 5 bridges. A 12th-century bronze Buddha sits nearby.
Past the Roman Bath-style swimming pool lies the Sub-Rosa Garden. Enclosed by boxwood hedges, this “secret garden” features an intricate marble fountain and bench on a raised platform above a deep pool. Restored in 2006, when Sonnenberg became a state historic park, this garden can also be utilized for small wedding ceremonies or family memorials.
The main beds of the Rose Garden feature the red, white and pink blooms of Mrs. Thompson’s original color scheme. Typically, they bloom in mid-June and carry peak color through July. Graced by a tall, iron tower at the north and the classic, columned Belvedere (Italian for “beautiful view”) at the south, this garden will be celebrated with a special event, Roses & Rosés, held every June.
Featuring some 15,000 red and gold annuals in each of four sunken beds, the Italian Garden showcases an elaborate “carpet bedding” style. From the vantage point of the mansion Library or the balcony directly above, visitors can look down on the garden to the 16th-century Italian well-head and the Fountain of Hercules.
Only blue and white blossoms are used in the beds of this intimate garden, which lies off the northwest corner of the Mansion Veranda, and was said to have been Mrs. Thompson’s favorite. A 2007 restoration of this garden included replacing the metal entrance gates which have been missing since World War II.
Beyond the marble pavilion of the Blue and White Garden lies the Pansy Garden, where even the bird bath reflects the shape of Mrs. Thompson’s favorite flower. Small benches tucked in quiet corners reflect its design as a meditation garden, as does the whimsical fountain.
The smallest garden of all is planted mostly in white and silver foliage that blooms in the late afternoon or evening. This garden may be best experienced during our annual “Moonlight Strolls” lights and music series on Friday evenings in July.
Over a quarter-mile of low, boxwood hedge forms the ancient quincunx pattern of five intersecting circles. The stately Colonnade, a columned arbor once covered with grapevines, bisects the fifth circle. With beds filled with perennials, colorful annuals and tall grasses, there is always something in bloom, from early spring to fall.
The castle-like building beyond the Old-Fashioned Garden was once part of an extensive aviary complex, housing some 216 different species of birds. Of the five original buildings for Mrs. Thompson’s birds, just this, the former Peacock House, remains.
The largest garden completed here was once three separate, adjoining gardens: The rustic summerhouse of the Rock Garden has the original climbing Hydrangea that winds along the stair to the open lookout deck above. Its northern extension, with a winding path that traverses a limestone canyon, was once called the Wild Garden. The former Lily Garden, added last, features a water cascade, fed by geysers and springs, and a series of pools below.
Mary Thompson’s architect, Francis Allen, created the swimming pool and enclosing structure known as the Roman Bath. Read/See More.