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Posts Tagged ‘Naumkeag’

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One of the garden estates we visited this summer was Naumkeag, located in Stockbridge, Massachusetts. You can tour the house (no photos allowed!) and walk the grounds. A self-guided audio tour of the garden is included with admission.

Joseph Hodges Choate (1832-1917), was a successful New York lawyer. He and his wife Caroline had five children. In 1884, they purchased property in the Berkshires and developed a summer retreat where the family and their guests could enjoy tennis and golf, hiking and swimming and entertaining. ‘Naumkeag’ is a Native American word for the area around Salem, Massachusetts, Joseph Choate’s birthplace.

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The 44-room mansion combines the ‘Shingle Style’ popular at the time with European elements. The grounds, initially laid out by Nathan Barrett, included formal perennial beds, two terraces, an evergreen topiary garden, lawns and a linden tree allĂ©e. The balance of the 49-acre estate included a farm with greenhouses and vegetable gardens to provide the family with fresh produce. Here’s the Arborvitae Walk of clipped cedars (Thuja occidentalis), which dates to 1890.

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Mabel Choate, second-youngest of the children, inherited Naumkeag in 1929. She continued to spend her summers at Naumkeag until her death in 1958. Mabel was an avid gardener, and in 1926 began a collaboration with landscape architect Fletcher Steele that would, over the next 30 years, transform the Naumkeag gardens.

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Their first project was the Afternoon Garden. Fashioned like an outdoor room, it features a central reflecting pool and brightly painted Venetian-style poles that frame a view of the surrounding hills.

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The most original and famous result of their collaboration is The Blue Steps. The water that cascades through a series of fountains down the hillside is supplied by the Water Runnel, linking the Afternoon Garden pond with the Blue Steps.

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Constructed in 1938, the concrete stairs provide a gradual descent down the hillside. Originally, a cutting garden was laid out at the foot of the stairs.

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The Art-Deco design is framed by white paper birches, which compliment the curves of the white railings. The Blue Steps design is one of the most famous creations of American landscape architecture.

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The Chinese Garden was developed over a number of years from 1936 to 1955. You enter the garden through the Devil’s Screen, designed to thwart the Devil. The entry, with its sharp turn, obscures the garden from view and creates a surprise entrance to the enclosed space.

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The garden features a Chinese-style temple and oriental plants and trees. The Spirit Walk leading to the temple features a tablet carved with the Imperial Dragon over which only the emperor could be carried for purification. A group of nine ginkgo trees shades the garden and is underplanted with large-leaved butterburr (Petasites japonicus).

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You exit the Chinese Garden through the circular Moon Gate. Passing through its perfect circle into the light is said to bring good luck. The path from the Moon Gate leads back to the house.

Late in life, Mabel Choate spent more time in her rooms, and the Rose Garden was designed to be viewed from her 2nd-floor bedroom. The serpentine lines of gravel wind through 16 small beds of roses.

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Mabel Choate never married or had children, and left the house and grounds intact to The Trustees of Reservations in 1959, a reminder of a bygone era of gracious living, at least for the very rich. Below, Steele and Mabel Choate consider the paint colour for The Blue Steps.

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