Entry, Pine grove, wetland, and Caretaker’s Cottage
Entering the property you would have seen a Pine grove reminiscent of the Adirondacks, a place Isabelle Martin loved to spend time. The trees were a gift from John Larkin, Jr. knowing Darwin’s love of trees. The Pine grove gives way to an open meadow, filled with native wildflowers and grasses. Darwin asked for paths to be mown in the meadow for the ladies to take daily walks.
Along the drive, native trees and shrubs were planted in groupings to screen the property boundaries. A few notable ones survive including Viburnum species, Dogwood, and a very unusual single seeded large English Hawthorn tree.
Farthest to the west, the Martins sited the Caretaker’s Cottage, a simple bungalow-style structure that was built to house the caretaker of the houses and grounds in 1932. Graycliff acquired this property in 2013 and currently utilizes the house for storage and rental income.
Orchard, Gardens, and Pavilion
As you approach the “Home Grounds” you will see four fruit trees, three apple and a pear, as place markers for the original rows in the orchard. We have replanted the old fashioned varieties of apple: Northern Spy, Golden Delicious, and Cox’s Orange Pippin. The original grape vines were discovered while clearing brush and they are now on trellis fencing with netting to protect from the deer. Margaret Foster, the Martin’s granddaughter, recalls in an interview eating purple and green grapes harvested on the property.
Beyond the orchard was an extensive vegetable garden that was irrigated by a Skinner irrigation system, an overhead agricultural system used on farms. A concrete remnant with an embedded rusted pipe end is still visible near the recreated vegetable garden. Darwin Martin wrote to Wright in 1931, “We are enjoying Graycliff and living mostly off the garden.”
Adjacent to this area, the Piarist Fathers while in residence from 1950 to 1998 built a gymnasium for their school which the Conservancy has converted into its gift shop and visitor’s pavilion.
A large Privet hedge separated the ornamental flower borders and flower picking borders from the fruit and vegetable areas. A main restored walkway runs from the drive up to the visitors center between the stone wall and the privet hedge. Reclaimed brick, as originally was used, lines both sides of the pea gravel walk. We are restoring the original plantings using the historic photos and records to determine the varieties: Old-fashioned Peonies, Lady’s Mantle, Delphiniums, Foxglove, Iris, and Bellflower are a few of the flowers we have replanted to restore this historic garden.
As you pass through the large stone pillars you will see another stone pillar along the property boundary. This is where the original drive entered the property from a driveway shared with their neighbors, the Rumseys. The crowned driveway and some original plantings are visible here.
As you walk toward the house you face directly to the left of the house and out to the expanse of Lake Erie. You can also look through expanse of glass through the house out to the lake. You will be walking through what was the maids’ croquet lawn on the right and the family croquet lawn on the left. These were once planted with layered native trees and shrubs, creating landscape “rooms” sheltered from the ocean breezes as specified on the Shipman planting plan. A few of these still exist in this area including a Cornelian Cherry tree and two Doublefile Viburnum shrubs where the walkway meets the driveway.
The property boundary contains many Shipman plantings here, planted over 80 years ago. Historic Dogwoods in groupings of three are visible as well as several large historic trees. Walking around the driveway to the left of the house, the view opens up to the lake and a large historic Pine tree anchors the lawn. To the right is a stone walled sunken garden under the balcony of Darwin’s bedroom. This is planted to Cut and Come again Zinnias, a great cutting variety, just as the Martins did judging from historic photos. Mrs. Martin cut and arranged flowers for all the rooms of the house every week.
As you round the corner to the lakefront side of the house you see a sunken esplanade with juniper bushes growing on the outside of the stone wall. This sunken area was what Wright envisioned for the water flowing through the house that was never realized. Without the water flowing, he designed a “color planting” down the center to represent water. Also a stone seat was built on the end of the stone wall, where the Martins were often seen in repose. Shipman designed and the Martins planted an Evergreen and Lily garden on both sides of the stone wall. We will be restoring this area to better reflect Wrights original plan but with a nod as well to the Shipman scheme that the Martins planted.
The lakefront is fenced and the stair tower is seen about 20 feet from shore. This was connected by a bridge at one time, however erosion has taken back the cliff and the stone seat with it. Eventually the stone seat will be rebuilt and the lake shore access will be renewed. The Martins brought boats down to the lake by means of an ox cart trail that connects to Eighteen Mile Creek and out to the lake.
The trail was also used to haul the Tichenor limestone that was used in the construction of the house. A band of limestone near the top of the cliff breaks regularly with natural freeze and thaw cycles, creating a virtual rock factory for Graycliff. Sand was also hauled from the beach and used for the exterior stucco and interior plaster. These materials, emblematic of this lakescape, became Wright’s expression of organic architecture on site, building in harmony with the land on which the dwellings sit.