The Bidwell House, now an historic museum, was originally built in 1750 as the parsonage for
the first minister to the area. Situated on 190 acres of rolling Berkshire countryside, the
property was in the Bidwell family and continually farmed for three generations from 1750 to
1853. Today, through an elegant and beautifully restored 18thcentury saltbox, two farm
buildings, a collection of the finest antique furnishings and gardens representative of the time
period, guests can glimpse the rural lives of New Englanders generations past.
The surrounding grounds in particular are like a living museum, allowing one to interpret the
history of the family and the time period through the land. Through research, the probable
site used by the Bidwells for their garden was determined and replanted.
Kitchen or vegetable gardens were often laid out in quadrants, marked by crossing paths
with a northsouth, eastwest axis. The Bidwell House garden has this basic plan, with each
of the four quadrants representing a different time period. The first quadrant has varieties
likely to have been grown in a colonial garden, including Native American vegetables. The
second quadrant is planted with varieties from 1800-1850. The third sector represents
1850-1900, and the last is a modern garden. This approach to the garden layout is an excellent
educational tool for comparison for the different time periods.
The garden site was chosen for its proximity to the kitchen door, the water pump, and for its
southern exposure and slight south slope.
Heirloom seeds provided by seed saving exchanges, like the Berkshirebased Eastern Native
Seed Conservancy, insures the authenticity of the plants. Gardeners of that time period were
cultivating the same varieties of Deer Tongue Lettuce, Philadelphia Ice Box Radish, Milk
Pumpkin, Jerusalem Artichokes and Vine Peaches that you will see on the Bidwell grounds.
Located across from the vegetable garden is the heirloom herb garden. In the 18th and early
19thcenturies, herb gardens were the source for medicines, cosmetics and food seasonings.
Because it was often women who tended the gardens, it was wise to have a diversion close
by for the children. A small garden with its domed arbor of saplings covered with flowering
Scarlet Runner vines and climbing Nasturtiums was (and still is) a perfect hideaway to intrigue
and occupy children.
Surrounding the house are terraced stone walls brimming with perennial beds. Installed in the
20thcentury when the house was restored, these provide a fabulous setting for this gem of a
These heirloom gardens offer a kind of living history where the record of the garden in
America is recreated in miniature in this corner of the Berkshires.
The Bidwell House is open Tuesday through Sunday and is located at 100 Art School Road in
Monterey. There is an admission charge, but it is worth every penny. For more information,