There’s nothing like summer in the Berkshires. Life moves outdoors as nature unfolds to verdant paradise. The word for paradise – Persian in origin – means walled garden. If humble gardening is your way of manifesting Eden, visit The Berkshire Botanical Gardens in Stockbridge and Project Native in Great Barrington for both inspiration and material.
For more upscale gardening, the gilded age has no match. As Americans became increasingly urbanized, people hungered for the nostalgia of rural living. As far back as the mid 1800’s when the virtues of living close to unspoiled nature were extolled in the paintings of the Hudson River school and by writers like Emerson and Thoreau, the Berkshires have offered bucolic retreat. The most affluent Americans escaped urban centers with retreats to expansive summer estates. Many of them, including artists and industrialists alike, built their summer homes here. The Country Place Era – as it came to be called – gave rise to many prestigious building and landscape architects as “cottage estates” proliferated across the country. The whole of south county is dotted with innumerable examples like the Bellefontaine, Cranwell, Blantyre, Ventfort Hall, Wheatleigh, and others.
The design of these estates always included extensive, often elaborate gardens and landscapes. The area’s role in the mid-1800s as the birthplace of American landscape has been chronicled by a variety of scholars, and the Berkshires is a great place to see some of its best examples.
Chief among them is Naumkeag. Its stunning collection of gardens were created over a thirty year period by Fletcher Steele, founding member of the American Society of Landscape Architects and seminal figure in American Landscape tradition. A Williams College graduate, Fletcher Steele worked collaboratively with his client Miss Mabel Choate from 1926-1958 to create one of America’s most iconic landscaped spaces. Covering 48 acres, the gardens include an Afternoon Garden, Tree Peony Terrace, Rose Garden, Evergreen Garden, Chinese Garden and the world renowned Blue Steps, a series of fountain pools, painted blue and flanked by stairs and white birch trees.
Open to the public from May 26 to October 15, it remains one of the most extant and fine examples of the Beaux Arts and Country Place Era Gardens in the country. Chesterwood, the 122 acre estate of sculptor Daniel Chester French, and 50 acres of Edith Wharton’s The Mount, also open to the public from May to October. Paradise indeed.