Naumkeag in Stockbridge MA was built in 1886-7 for Joseph Choate as a summer retreat from New York City. This lovely home was designed in Shingle Style by Stanford White, of the prestigious firm of McKim, Mead and White.
The Choate’s daughter, Mabel, began working on the grounds after her father’s death, and she had the perspicacity to hire the young landscape architect Fletcher Steele to design new gardens for the house. She was a member of the Lenox Garden Club and went on the famous GCA trip to the Far East in the 1930’s.
The Blue Steps are Naumkeag’s and Fletcher Steele’s most iconic design/image. This gracefully descending set of steps traverse the 28’ drop from the upper house and garden down to Miss Choate’s cutting gardens. Gravity fed water trickles down through the arches, while on a day like this, the fluttering birch leaves cast a dappled shade.
The house looks south over the Berkshire Hills to the former homes of Mr. Choate’s law partners. The silhouetted statue of “Young Faun with a Heron” is by Frederick MacMonnies.
Everywhere you look in this masterful plan are curves which echo the curves of the surrounding hills and of the sloping landscape.
The Afternoon Garden was installed in 1926. It is overlooked by the principal rooms of the house, and is shaded on warm afternoons. There are charming pictures of Miss Choate and Fletcher Steele hatching their garden plans over martinis on the terrace. They were real partners in crime and had no compunction about getting themselves in the thick of things.
This terrace is surrounded by brightly colored poles reminiscent of Venetian canal-side terraces with stone paving and a centerpiece of a boxwood lined parterre. This view looks down the East Lawn.
The lawn slopes gently down to this scarlet ironwork structure with its marble plinth and what look to me like Chinese Scholar Rocks. The luxuriant dark plantings of Oxalis set off the stone.
Miss Choate, her gardener and Fletcher Steele worked on the garden for over 30 years until Mabel’s death in1958. She bequeathed it to The Trustees of Reservation, a Massachusetts Conservation Organization. In 2013, the TTR began a complete restoration of the garden, to be finished in 2016 with the restoration of the Chinese Garden to the west of the house. Until then, come visit, sit on the terrace with a cool drink and enjoy Miss Choate’s retreat as P.S. and I did last week!