The O’Reilly family took great pride in their gardens. The garden was designed to frame the architectural details of the Italianate house.
Peter O’Reilly and daughter Kathleen were particularly passionate gardeners. The family grew a number of ornamental plants, roses, and trees. The most prominent of these is the Wellingtonia redwood tree, also known as a Sequoiadendron giganteum. This tree was ordered by Peter O’Reilly from San Francisco in 1876. From 1889 to 1914, the garden visibly transformed from a more formal and sparse garden established by Peter, to an informal and full style of planting created by Kathleen.
The site was ideally positioned for the successful cultivation of a variety of trees, shrubs and flowers. A number of historical trees first planted by Peter O’Reilly, such as mountain ash, horse chestnut, acacias and maples, have become vital protectors of the house and garden, sheltering the site from the jarring sights and sounds of the surrounding industrial area.
The Point Ellice Garden area is just under two acres. In the southern portion of the property, there were both vegetable and cut flower gardens, as well as a small fruit orchard and a greenhouse. The south garden was the ‘working’ garden for Point Ellice House – a site that provided food and year-round flowers for the O’Reilly family.
The lawn on the west side of the house contained the croquet and tennis court. Lawn games like tennis and croquet were an important part of the social calendar for the O’Reillys and their friends. Tennis or croquet parties would have been an opportunity to entertain, and for young people to meet and mingle.
Point Ellice House has a fine collection of Victorian garden tools and catalogues, as well as heirloom plantings. The hollyhock plants found on-site are a living link with the earlier garden flowers grown by the O’Reillys and, with the careful saving and proper storage of seed annually, the continuation of an “O’Reilly” strain of hollyhock has been encouraged. Wrapped around the back of the house, as well as in the heart shaped garden facing the water, are lush, fragrant rose bushes accompanied by plants both foreign and native such as irises, lilies, petunias and more.