Thursday, July 7, 2011

Gardens of The Berkshires- The Mount

At least once every summer I head out to the Berkshires.  There are some wonderful gardens there and I almost always make a stop at The Mount, Edith Wharton's home in Lenox, Massachusetts.

Author of The Age of Innocence, Ethan Fromme, and The House of Mirth, Edith Wharton (1862-1937) was a successful novelist in an age when the role of most women was to marry and have children.  She wrote over 40 books and was the first woman to ever receive a Pulitzer Prize for fiction.

She also made an informal study of architecture on her many trips abroad and had a keen sense of design and style.  Long before there was Martha Stewart or Ralph Lauren, there was Edith Wharton. In 1897 she co-authored, with architect Ogden Codman, Jr, the influential book, The Decoration of Houses.  This book has recently been re-issued and most reviewers have found the design principles as relevant today as they were at the end of the nineteenth century.  She certainly applied her own sense of style when she designed both the house and gardens in Lenox, taking inspiration for the layout of the mansion from Belton House, a 17th century Palladian style English country house in Linconshire, UK.  The Lenox mansion was built by Edith and her husband Teddy in 1901-1902 at a cost of $57,000.

Belton House in Lincolnshire, UK
Not to be pigeon-holed, Edith Wharton was also an authority on landscape design and an avid gardener. She had a lifelong love affair with Italy ever since the age of four, when her parents took her to visit Rome. She loved everything about Italian art, landscape and architecture and, at the turn of the century, wrote a series of magazine articles about Italian gardens that accompanied drawings by Maxfield Parrish.  These articles were re-published in book form in 1904 as Italian Villas and Their Gardens, which is considered to be the first serious work on the subject and has subsequently influenced generations of landscape designers and architects.  

Looking across the Dolphin Fountain to the Lime Walk and Stone Grotto beyond

The Hall photo by Andrea Geesaman
Edith and Teddy Wharton left The Mount in 1911.  The mansion went through a series of subsequent owners beginning in 1912 and then, over the years, fell into disrepair.  The gardens were completely swallowed up through years of neglect. Then, in the late 1990's, a full restoration of the house and gardens was begun.

The firm of Child Associates, in Boston, was hired as landscape architects for the restoration of the gardens.  Plant lists were developed through extensive research carried out by a collaboration of experts.  By 2001, 100 Tardiva hydrangea, 59 Little Leaf lindens, 60 Meyeri lilacs, 50 Black Knight buddleias, 24 hardy kiwis, and almost 2,000 Green Velvet boxwoods had been planted.  And that was just a start. Today, almost $3 million have been invested in the preservation and restoration of The Mount's gardens.  

One of my favorite spots...the long drive approaching the house.  Visitors must walk this
gravel drive from the parking area to the house which brings an instant feeling of peace
and a return to a bygone era.
In the courtyard

The restoration of the stables, shown in the photo above, are to begin soon
When you visit The Mount and view the three acres of grounds and gardens that surround Edith Wharton's home, you can clearly see the influence that Italian gardens had on her.  You first enter the house on the ground level, through a courtyard, and then ascend a series of steps which lead you into The Hall, off of which are the principal spaces of the home; the library, drawing room, dining room, and den.  All of these rooms open onto an Italian terrace from which you get a sprawling view of the distant Berkshire hills and the formal gardens, including the lime walk, the stone grotto, and the formal parterre surrounding the dolphin fountain.

A view from the terrace looking toward the grotto and the distant Berkshire hills.
There are some summers when I can't seem to get enough of The Mount.  In addition to the opportunity to view the magnificent house and gardens, The Mount always has an interesting series of summer programs and events on their calendar.  And, lunch on the terrace overlooking the gardens is always a treat.  My daughter and I just visited The Mount last week and I plan to return on July 17th when Pearl Fryar will be lecturing there.  For more info on that event, you can click here.

The entrance to the grotto
If you can schedule a visit to The Mount for the end of July then, on Sunday, July 31st, you can also visit seven wonderful private Berkshire gardens in nearby Great Barrington, Stockbridge, and Williamstown that are open to the public under The Garden Conservancy's Open Days program.  For more details and directions to those gardens, you can click here.

For more information on The Mount, you can visit their website by clicking here.

To learn more about Edith Wharton's love of Italian gardens, I recommend checking out Vivian Russell's book, Edith Wharton's Italian Gardens.  Click on the book for more details.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Thank you for your comments!

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...