Forward by Bill Hoffman, Andover Historical Society Landscape Coordinator: Early last fall, Spring Ledge Farm, New London, made a very special offer to the Andover Historical Society that was unexpected and welcomed beyond measure. Guided by the Farm’s commitment to enrich the lives of everyone who lives in this region of New Hampshire, Spring Ledge selected the historic Richard Potter Homestead site for a landscape enhancement project using native plantings and contributed company staff expertise.
Here is the story of the landscaping concept and how it will be accomplished this season and during future years with coordination between the Farm and the Society.
This article was written by Samuel Humphrey, who is the Spring Ledge Farm representative coordinating with the Andover Historical Society to accomplish this very special beautification and educational initiative.
Regarded as the United States of America’s first black celebrity, Richard Potter was an esteemed “Emperor of Conjurors.” As a well-traveled and cultured master of ventriloquism and magic, Potter gained notoriety as an entrancing performer and acclaimed figure of his time. Though there is still much mystery around the story of his life, we know from local historical records and the vivid biography by Andover’s John A. Hodgson just how influential and fascinating a person Richard Potter was.
After learning more about the local celebrity, my close friend Kim Begin and I visited his historic estate at Potter Place in Andover. We were mystified by the beauty of the forested estate and the simplicity of the sweet, natural gardens.
I grew up just two towns over, and I was surprised that it took so long for me to learn about the rich local history right under my nose. As we walked around the area, the idea came to us to create a commemorative native garden to honor Richard Potter and support the community. We paired up with the local farm where we both work, Spring Ledge, and then contacted the Andover Historical Society (the organization that oversees the care of the site) to see if we could create something really beautiful there.
This past fall, members of the Andover Historical Society came together with Spring Ledge Farm staff to start the project small, with an assorted planting of naturalizing spring bulbs near Richard Potter’s gravesite. Very soon, as the bulbs start blooming this spring, we have plans to revitalize some more of the existing garden beds in the area by removing some invasive species that have taken over in parts and reintroducing native New Hampshire and New England plants back to the area.
We plan on redefining the border gardens and the shady beds within the foundation of the estate, as well as introducing a dense planting of native shrubs, perennials, and groundcovers along a banking that leads up to the foundation. The native plants and gardening supplies for the project will be donated by Spring Ledge Farm.
Greg Berger, owner of Spring Ledge Farm, notes that “when Sam and Kim came to me with this idea, it was easy, Yes. Spring Ledge is proud of our long-standing tradition of supporting our community through horticultural education and providing locally grown and sourced plant materials to organizations in our area”.
A native garden is the perfect representation of what we want to establish for the community. Gardening with native plants is so powerful because it decolonizes an environment and brings it back to its real roots, reinstating diversity and harmony to the land. With native plants, we reintroduce a wide array of key interdependent species which helps stabilize the ecosystem and makes for a more productive, beautiful space, rich with life.
The native people of the Northeast, such as New Hampshire’s own Abenaki, thrived for thousands of years by being stewards of the land, using these sustainable, regenerative practices. Rather than utilizing the more flashy, imported ornamentals that are popular in the modern-day gardening market, by integrating native permaculture concepts we can use the plants that have been thriving here for thousands of years.
Many of these native plants look similar to their modern, introduced counterparts, but they also have a multitude of added benefits such as being key pollinator plants, food sources for birds and wildlife, as well as being edible or even medicinal for people. We can try to mimic and emulate the beauty and functions of nature, helping the system to thrive here independently once the plants are established.
Gardening with this school of thought is a way of decentering traditionalist, white, agricultural techniques and Eurocentric aesthetic standards, recentering restorative indigenous perspectives and practices.
Regarding my background, I’m a New Hampshire local who lives and grew up in Sunapee. I have been fascinated with nature and gardening since I was young. I have spent the past four years studying and working in the area. I have worked at Spring Ledge Farm for two years and for two years as a landscaper.
I attended Keene State College for one year, and this winter I completed a liberal arts associate degree focusing on earth sciences and linguistics. Though I have to wait for the world to settle before I can travel again and continue my education, I am beyond grateful to be living in such a beautiful state. I feel fortunate to be heading such a meaningful volunteer project, sharing what I have learned, and giving back to the community.
Together, I think we can make a really beautiful space for everyone to enjoy, and to learn more about the rich history of Richard Potter and the setting of his estate.