By Thomas Christopher
Blue skies and superb gardens greeted the 40 attendees of the “Grand Cottages in the Berkshires” Region 1 meeting on July 22. The tour began with an early morning photo shoot at Naumkeag, Mabel Choate’s iconic early 20th century garden in Stockbridge, Massachusetts. These gardens on the “quintessential country estate of the Gilded Age” are considered to be landscape architect Fletcher Steele’s most famous work.
Several of the attendees (including this writer) remembered the decayed state of this garden from earlier visits. It was a very pleasurable surprise to see its pristine renovated state, thanks to a recently completed $3.5 million program of restoration by The Trustees of Reservations.
After breakfast we had a brief GWA business meeting in Naumkeag’s Chinese Garden. Then we were given a guided tour of all the gardens, by Jason Veil, Naumkeag’s Director of Horticulture, followed by a tour of the house.
Next on the itinerary was Bartholomew’s Cobble, a 329-acre bio-reserve in Sheffield, Massachusetts that supports 800 different species of plants. After lunch at the Visitor’s Center, we split into two groups. A docent took some attendees on a tour of the Fern Forest. Others took the opportunity to have their lunch at the Berkshire Botanical Garden and spend a couple of hours roaming its 15 award-winning acres.
At 2:00 we reassembled at The Mount, Edith Wharton’s “cottage,” in Lenox. Understatement was characteristic of the Berkshires’ homeowners of the early 20th century. Wharton’s cottage includes 25 rooms and measures a total of 16,000 square feet. Anne Schuyler, Visitor Services Manager at The Mount, met us on the terrace of the house and spoke to us about the house and gardens and their place in Wharton’s life and career. Wharton is remembered today chiefly as a novelist, but she actually first won fame as an authority on home decoration and design and gardening. Her 1897 book, “The Decoration of Houses,” and her 1904 work, “Italian Villas and Their Gardens” remain classics of the era. The gardens at The Mount, with the English and French flower garden linked to an Italianate fountain and walled space by a linden tree allée, remain a fascinating exposition of her theories.
Following the tour of The Mount, we assembled in the parking lot for a trunk show. GWA President Kirk Brown distributed a truly staggering quantity of plants provided by Mark Osgersby of Proven Winners. Finally it was on to a free jazz concert. A brief rain shower impinged on our time but our luck held. It was followed by a glorious rainbow – a fitting comment on the day’s events.
Meet the Author
Tom Christopher is the author of many gardening books, most recently as co-author with Larry Weaner of Garden Revolution — How Your Landscape Can Be A Source of Environmental Change (Timber Press 2016). He gardens in central Connecticut and western Massachusetts and has a special interest in heirloom hard cider recipes.