Charles Payson of the investment company H.M. Payson (one of the oldest remaining in the country) purchased Heron House in 1920 as a summer home. His daughter Margaret lived and gardened there for 65 years, designing most of the grounds, with assistance from her cousin, landscape architect Louise Payson. Horticulturalist Robert Cram implemented Margaret’s designs during his 50-year tenure at Heron House.
The estate’s most striking feature it its peninsula setting with about 3,000 feet of ocean frontage on Casco Bay. The Colonial Revival house and mature oaks and pines are historic landmarks for passing boaters. Margaret Payson expanded on the site’s natural beauty by pruning trees to have an open windswept look, framing waterfront views, and enhancing ledge outcroppings with native groundcovers. Shorefront plantings look accidental but many were selected, positioned, and maintained by Margaret, who also planted non-natives such as flowering dogwood, yellowwood, and dawn redwood. In addition to designing the stone entrance gates, Louise Payson designed two formal gardens near the house. One features a lawn panel framed by Louise’s signature shrub border of enkianthus, azaleas, and broadleaf evergreens, borders of perennials, and a specimen honey locust, all in the foreground of the ocean view. The other garden with its brick pool is no longer part of the estate. One of the few changes to the historic landscape has been altering the drive, which encircled the house during the estate’s chauffeur period. A gravel section of the drive remains in front of the porch, and the drive’s faint outline is visible in the lawn.