If traveling through eastern Massachusetts be sure to allow time for a visit to The Mount, the former home of author Edith Wharton. Wharton created the estate and surrounding gardens to suit the classically formal designs of her book, The Decoration of Houses. Wharton also wrote many other books on gardens and landscapes including, Italian Villas and their Gardens.
Wharton traveled extensively throughout France, Italy, and Spain with her family as a child and into her adulthood. In 1901, she began construction of The Mount. She used what she learned about European gardens to create The Mount’s Italian walled garden, a formal flower garden, a tree-lined allee with a fountain and reflecting pool at one end and steps leading down to a ‘hidden’ garden at the other. Wharton’s landscape also includes the oft photographed grass steps. The expansive rear terrace of the house overlooks most of the gardens, which she set at formal angles from the house. Wharton’s niece, at the time Beatrix Jones (later Beatrix Farrand, a master in her own right – many gardens in Maine and those at Harkness Memorial State Park right here in CT) was embarking on her notable career as a landscape gardener and played a role designing some parts of the estate. Both the house and the gardens reflect many European influences, but the gardens, particularly the ‘hidden’ garden, highlight Wharton’s love of Italian design.
You enter the house through the Italian walled garden – structure accented by a few plants.
The house is filled with beautiful furnishings, but I focused my photos on the gardens. From all the rear windows of the house, and especially from the rear terrace, the gardens draw you outside for a stroll. Here are views of the flower garden, the central path, and the ‘hidden’ garden from the terrace.
Stunning from above but much more so once you descend down to garden level. Upon reaching the central path you can choose to turn left for a stroll along the sugar maple lined allee that leads to the fountain and what is described as the flower garden. I think, however, that some of the original structure of the flower garden was lost to time.
A right turn upon descending the stairs from the terrace leads to the ‘hidden garden’ described more thoroughly after our brief tour of the fountain end of the allee.
Below is the view from the fountain looking back down the allee. The pool is surrounded by annuals that were still small during my late May visit in 2004.
From the fountain, the house sits atop a rise to the right. If you walk across the lawn you’ll reach the grass steps, created by shaping the underlying soil into risers and treads, then overplanting the soil with grass. Following either the grass steps or a path from the fountain area brings you to another less formal garden (not shown here). I think this was the location of a kitchen garden in the original plan.
A relaxing stroll back down the allee leads passed the central stairway and path from the house, and into the lower level ‘hidden’ garden.
You need to be in the hidden garden to really appreciate its design, structure, and peacefulness.
Built into the massive stone wall at the back edge of this garden are arched ‘windows’ that give you a peek at the space beyond and entices you to investigate the other side of the wall. I did a quick visual survey of the outside area to see if I could find the deer fencing I knew had to surround the gardens. You cannot plant arborvitae, hostas, ivy, and juicy annuals in the midst of surrounding woodlands in New England without suffering major deer damage. It took some time, but I noticed extensive deer fencing near the edge of the woods.
Once you again enter the hidden garden you are greeted with views of the house and all connected areas above.
Walk back up the steps above to again reach the allee and head back up towards the house.
Like many former estates, The Mount is maintained by a non-profit group, therefore it is not perfect. But a visit there gives you a chance to view a classic example of design symmetry so familiar in formal European gardens. Check the website for the group’s list of summer 2010 events. I hope to visit here again this summer to check out progress on the gardens since my last visit. This time I hope to have better light for taking photos, and I will definitely figure out where deer fencing is.
The Mount can be visited along with Naumkeag, the topic of my previous Gardens to See post, but make sure you wear comfy shoes and allow ample time to thoroughly enjoy the unique qualities of the gardens at each estate.