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A Story Takes Bloom

Bunny Mellon’s gardens at her former Osterville home have cemented their place in the history books, but as the years carry on and the flowers wilt away, how does one preserve the legacy of an icon?

As the tides turn, so do storied tales of Cape Cod—pirates and whalers fighting their spectacular battles off the coastline of the Cape while back on land, the homes that would inspire generations of architects took root. And, as Cape Cod communities go, Oyster Harbors is a treasure trove of stories (and perhaps real, pirated treasure) waiting to be uncovered. Arguably the crown jewel of that treasure, the sparkling gem on top of a village of historic legends, is one of the notorious homes of Rachel Lambert Mellon and her husband, Paul: The Putnam House. 

Previously known as the Judge Marston house, named after its famed proprietor, Judge Marston of Marstons Mills, the Putnam House is owned and maintained today by Rachel (“Bunny” as she was affectionately known) and Paul’s grandson, Thomas Lloyd and his family. The home is believed to have been built in 1680, making it one of the oldest homes on Cape Cod—a designation which is an acknowledgment in its own right—and the oldest home on Oyster Harbors, where the house found its current home by way of barge in 1928. But perhaps the most fascinating history surrounding the home comes a bit more recently, when it was annexed to the Grand Island estate of Paul and Bunny Mellon after its purchase in 1973. Mrs. Mellon added a guest house to the seven-acre parcel, but her most unforgettable contribution was to the grounds.

A self-taught horticulturist, and an icon of elegance, Bunny Mellon is recognized as one of the premier landscape designers in the United States and beyond; an expansive legacy that continues well after her passing at 103-years-old in 2014. Beyond simply masterful landscapes, the gardens that Bunny touched became symbols of prosperity, glory, strength, and of course, beauty. Her passion bloomed in John F. Kennedy’s White House Rose Garden, Monet’s garden at Giverny, and the Potager du Roi at Versailles, to name just a few magnificent examples of her far-reaching influence. And, though Bunny disliked the spotlight that came with her aristocratic youth as the granddaughter of the co-inventor of Listerine, and her affluent life with Paul Mellon, of oil and banking fortune, her style as a horticulturist never-the-less left its distinct mark on the world of gardening. That mark was characterized by under-stated sophistication; as Garden & Gun puts it, “Studied imperfection was her style, and about it, she was a perfectionist.” Within her world of old money refinement, Bunny built microcosms of solace through her gardens which were all at once unassuming and approachable, yet grand in their majesty. 

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