(The 1 p.m. Oct. 24 live chat has been canceled. Carol Stocker will chat next on Thursday, Oct. 31. 1-2 p.m.) The on-going restoration of the house and gardens at Naumkeag, 5 Prospect hill Road, Stockbridge makes it a scenic destination in fall, winter and spring as well as summer, along with other gardens owned and mantained in the Berkshires by the Trustees of the Reservations.
Naumkeag's world wide fame rests on a single image, the art decco Blue Steps, which is rivaled only by Isabel Stewart's nasturtium draped indoor courtyard as an icon of American garden design. With a million dollar gift from an anonymous donor, the hillside of white paper birch trees surrounding a series of four semi-luna blue waterfalls in the middle of four sets of steps with delicately sweeping white railings, was replanted, repainted and repaired this year. Renovation of the rest of the extensive Naumkaug garden, and a new roof for the19th century shingled cottage will continue through 2016 as part of the total $3.5 million dollar project.
The garden was created over a 30 year period in the mid-20th century by Steele who is increasingly recognized for introducing modernism into American landscape design. There is barely a straight line, and very few flowers, in the entire place. Patron Margaret Choate endowed Naumkeag and gave it directly to the Trustees of Reservations along with 30 years of Steele's plans, records and maintenance notes.
The Trustees own a second Fletcher Steele garden in Stockbridge at 19 Main Street literally around the corner. Choate and an organization she helped form saved the 18th century Mission House which was located across the street from Naumkeag.They moved it to the main street in Stockbridge and hired Steele to design his imagined version of a colonial farmstead around it with a barn, "cobbler shop," grape arbor and a pretty front yard garden and then gave it to the Trustees. The garden is free to walk-ins though tours of the house interior are ticketed.
The Trustees newest property is the 600 acre McLennan Reservation and Ashintilly Gardens at the southern end of Tyringham Valley on Sodern Road with beautiful views surrounded by conservation land. At the foot of the hill is a modern garden built by composer John McLennon around a rushing mountain stream. You should definitely make the quarter mile hike up the wooded trail to the ruin of McLennon's childhood home - once the largest mansion in the Berkshires. It caught fire one fall day when the owners were burning leaves and now all that's left is a stone foundation the size of a municipal courthouse and four 30 foot tall entrance columns framing an unspoiled view. It's now the ultimate garden folly. Take the overgrown roadbed back down for a gentler grade. It is lined with mossy cobblestone retaining walls that add to the enchantment of a lost world.
A great Trustees property to stay at during a Berkshires ramble is The Guest House at Field Farm, 554 Sloan Road, Williamstown, Ma (413-458-3135). A favorite with fans of modernism world wide, it is decorated in original Scandanavian influenced furniture from the post-war period. (One chair has seating woven from recycled parachuting!) Plus original American modern paintings and 13 outdoor sculptures. It's like staying at a museum.
For more information, visit www.thetrustees.org/places-to-visit or www.thetrustees.org