By Peg Lopata, Contributing Writer
SALEM – If you love gardening, what could be better than working as head gardener at a museum with many gardens? Meet someone who has just that job: Robin Pydynkowski. At age 68, she’s head gardener at the Peabody Essex Museum (PEM) in Salem with no plans to retire.
Extensive background in the field
Pydynkowski has had many years’ experience as a gardener. She probably has green fingers, not just a green thumb. Pydynkowski has a degree in floriculture and is a Massachusetts-certified arborist―or tree surgeon. She and her husband ran a landscape and tree care company for many years. In the mid-1980s, they began working as contractors for the-then Essex Institute in Salem, founded in 1848 as a society for literary, historical and scientific pursuits. It merged with the Peabody Museum in 1992, whose roots go back even further, to 1799.
In 2008, Pydynkowski’s landscape business was sold and she retired―for all of three months. She joined the PEM, overseeing the care and maintenance of the Ropes Mansion garden in that same year. The Ropes Mansion, owned by the PEM, is a historical house in Salem, built in 1727. In 2019, Pydynkowski was appointed head gardener for all the gardens at the PEM, which means being responsible for the grounds of PEM’s three campuses and 35 buildings. Some gardeners just have to keep gardening.
A job with variety
Pydynkowski’s job at the museum is as varied as the gardens she manages. She oversees, for example, at the one-acre Ropes Mansion garden, a spring planting of some 4,500 annuals. The Ropes garden was designed in the colonialist revival style (formal, often symmetrical) in 1912 by John Robinson, a Salem-based botanist. This garden is open every day for free to everyone, even dogs.
In addition to the garden at the Ropes Mansion, there’s plenty of other gardens to see that Pydynkowski manages for the PEM. For example, you can take a walk from the 17th century to the 21st through its gardens―a botanical journey through time. Pydynkowski also oversees programs such as talks―on everything from John Robinson to proper pruning―and events for kids.
Gardening as a philosophy
For Pydynkowski the best part of her job as head gardener is planning gardens. No matter whether it’s droughts, monsoon rains, or insect attacks―the planner thinks only of the future.
“Gardening,” Pydynkowski mused, “is forever hopeful.”
She’s also hoping to make the different historical properties of the PEM more “era” appropriate.
“We’d like to have the landscapes better represent the structures they frame,” she added.
Gardening is in Pydynkowski’s soul. Even in winter, she’s very busy planning for the upcoming growing seasons. She’s always got a book on gardening in her car: Currently it’s “Weeds of the Northeast” by Robert Uva, Joseph Neal and Joseph DiTomaso.
Visiting the museum’s gardens
The best thing about visiting the PEM gardens is they’re always changing. Not only with the seasons, but with new gardens to explore. In the museum’s new wing, there’s a 5,000 square foot garden completed in 2019 which features hundreds of shrubs, dozens of trees and flowers and a cascade of water eleven feet high. With many benches, this is an ideal space to sit and relax.
Pydynkowski encourages everyone to come visit the PEM gardens so they can experience joy, curiosity and some ease.
Learn more about the PEM: https://www.pem.org/.