Gardeners and others seeking to witness ways to optimize the particulars of a landscape with simple, striking design should add a visit to Naumkeag to their list of gardens to see. Naumkeag, in Stockbridge, Massachusetts, was the summer retreat of Joseph Choate and family. The 44-room ‘cottage’ and surrounding gardens sit high on a hill overlooking Monument Mountain. The gardens were designed by famed landscape architect, Fletcher Steele, though history hints that Choate’s daughter, Mabel, helped.
My last visit there was in 2004, when I grabbed the photos shown here. If memory serves me correctly, the view from the road does no justice to the sights you’ll find upon entering the gate. To the right sits the knot garden patio adjacent to the house.
Straight ahead and to the left, you are greeted with a view of the steps that lead farther down and below to the vista beyond.
To the right of the steps, when walking downward, you’ll find a row of tree peonies. They were not in full bloom when I visited, but they are supposed to be spectacular if you happen to catch the short bloom period. I did manage to capture two shots of the few flowers that remained during my late May visit.
Beyond the tree peonies rests the rose garden and views of the ‘cottage’ above.
From the rose garden, steps lead upward to the other side of the house where the Chinese garden rests. I’m partial to blues and purples and I adore the lavender rails and chains of the fence and support posts and their echoed hue in surrounding blue and purple perennials.
Upon reaching the top of these curved steps you’ll see the brick and stone wall that hides the Chinese garden. Wildflowers and ferns highlight the porthole from this vantage point.
The Chinese garden needed a fair amount of work when I was there – the plantings were sparse – so I took few photos. But there is a link at the end of my post where you can see Fletcher Steele’s drawing and other Naumkeag photos, including a shot of the Chinese pavilion.
My favorite parts of Naumkeag are the rill steps that guide you down to Steele’s famous blue steps. You can traverse down either side of the blue steps. At each landing you’ll be greeted with a pool of water filled from a fountain spouting out of a blue-painted half-circle wall.
The steps are edged with flowing white railings that guide your eye upward while other half-circle rails mirror the shape of the half-circle fountains. The white rails blend the steps to white of the birch tree trunks that flank either side of the series of steps. The rails also highlight reflections against the blue from the water below.
Even on the hottest of days, the woodland setting provides a cool place to stop and enjoy the expansive view below.
After reaching the fourth pool and fountain you must, must, must walk down the sloped lawn to get a sight of the blue steps from below. From there the true genius of Steele’s design becomes obvious – the symmetry, the simplicity, the contrast, the unity.
The steps and just below become an oasis – there is no view of the house and gardens above. Look away from the steps and you’re delighted with views of fields below and tree-covered hills beyond. Go to Fletcher Steele’s design drawing of the Naumkeag site for more photos.
I hope to visit Naumkeag again this spring or summer … this time in the company of my favorite photographer. Finally … wondering why the name Naumkeag? Find out while perusing Naumkeag visitor information. Let me know in a comment below whether you figure it out.