A Beautiful Ending in Western Massachusetts

Landscape architect Fletcher Steele’s designs at the Mission House and Naumkeag were the focus of the final morning of the Fellows’ North American Experience in Massachusetts. Fellows met Mark Wilson, Curator of Collections & West Region Cultural Resources Specialist, and Eric Ruquist, Horticulturist, at the Mission House in Stockbridge. This historic house dates to 1742 and was originally the home of the first missionary to the Mohican Indians.

The Mission House with summer blooming perennials

The Mission House with summer blooming perennials

Mabel Choate, the daughter of Joseph Choate, a leading 19th century attorney, was a preservationist in the 1920s and acquired the Mission House in order to preserve it and its historical significance. The Colonial Revival gardens surrounding the house were among the first projects she and Steele collaborated on and provided a way for Steele to demonstrate his prowess at landscape design.

After this brief introduction to Choate and Steele, the Fellows went up the hill to Naumkeag, the former country estate of Mabel Choate and her family.

The setting could not have been more idyllic: morning at a Gilded Age estate surrounded by the rolling Berkshires and imaginatively designed gardens. Choate and Steele redesigned the gardens at Naumkeag over the course of 30 years and they are in the final stages of being restored to their original glory.

Looking up at Naumkeag from the Tree Peony Terrace

Looking up at Naumkeag from the Tree Peony Terrace

The Blue Steps flanked by birch trees

The Blue Steps flanked by birch trees

Wilson began our tour at the famous Blue Steps, which were in the first of the five restoration phases. The original brilliant blue paint color of the alcoves was discovered on a piece of concrete tucked away in the recesses of one of Mabel’s desks and has now been restored. Walking up the Blue Steps, we arrived at the reason the Choates purchased the property in 1884: a regal swamp white oak (Quercus bicolor) gracing the hillside and providing a perfect picnicking location.

Fellows all in a row under the amazing swamp white oak

Fellows all in a row under the amazing swamp white oak

The favorite picnicking spot of the Choates

The favorite picnicking spot of the Choates

From the Afternoon Garden and its gondola poles to the intricacies of the house itself, the views and artistry involved were spectacular and made it difficult for the Fellows to pull themselves away for their final stop.

Floodplain forest restoration: silver maple saplings stand above grasses

Floodplain forest restoration: silver maple saplings stand above grasses

Bartholomew’s Cobble, a National Natural Landmark in Sheffield, was the perfect ending for the trip. Julie Richburg, West Region Ecologist, met the Fellows and guided them on a relaxing hike through the cobbles and to the floodplain forest. Ten acres were recently restored from fields to floodplain forest, utilizing saplings from similar areas on site to retain genetic diversity. Julie discussed the challenges of managing non-native invasive plant species and erosion, and pointed out several significant species, including a large American elm (Ulmus americana), a massive cottonwood tree (Populus deltoides), and Gray’s sedge (Carex grayi), a threatened plant species.

Exploring Bartholomew's Cobble, bedrock outcroppings formed as a result of the Taconic and Berkshire mountains

Exploring Bartholomew’s Cobble; bedrock outcroppings formed as a result of the Taconic and Berkshire mountains forming

How many Fellows can fit around a cottonwood tree?

How many Fellows can fit around a cottonwood tree?

The Fellows would like to thank all of our wonderful hosts at the various Reservations, The Arnold Arboretum of Harvard University, and Mount Auburn Cemetery, Cindy Brockway, Program Director, Cultural Resources, for helping coordinate the trip, and our chaperones, Longwood Graduate Program Interim Director Dr. Brian Trader and Longwood Gardens Archivist, Judy Stevenson.

Northeast Region: Day 3

On Wednesday, the Fellows filled their day with visits to incredibly diverse and beautiful Trustees properties. At the first stop, Appleton Farms, Beth Zschau, ‪Education and Engagement Manager, vibrantly described an approach to telling the story of place through the lens of agriculture. Appleton Farms is considered to be the oldest operating farm in the United States, having celebrated its 375th anniversary just last year. With a rich connection between farmers and the land at Appleton, Beth and her team are offering new and creative ways to continue exploring those relationships between people and place. With a 650 member CSA, farm to table events, culinary classes, cheese production, and children’s programming, Appleton Farms offers the community engaging ways to connect to the food they eat and the history of the land on which it grew.

The Fellows enjoy picking strawberries at Appleton Farms

The Fellows enjoy picking strawberries at Appleton Farms

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Delicious!


After touring the agricultural operations of Appleton, the Fellows visited the Appleton Farm Grass Rides. This unique landscape has an unclear history of use, but is currently being managed through fire to protect the New England Blazing Star (Liatris scariosa var. novae-angliae). Through dedication to observation and documentation, Trustees staff and volunteers have been able to see this population of Liatris stabilize over the past few years, and hope to watch it grow in the coming seasons.

Hiking up to the Grass

Hiking up to the Appleton Farms Grass Rides

The Fellows spent the remainder of the breezy June afternoon with Dan Bouchard, Superintendent at Long Hill and Sedgewick Gardens, an absolute treasure trove for plant geeks. Every corner and turn revealed a different garden “room” filled with unusual, rare, and stunning plants. Dan’s deep horticultural skill and natural curiosity have helped this historic family garden continue to evolve as a spectacular collection of horticultural treasures.

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Gorgeous Peonies at every turn.

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The lovely Long Hill House, tucked in the gardens.

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A little frog enjoying the beauty of the gardens.

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Styrax japonicus, dripping in blooms.

Explorations of Boston

The second day of the Fellows’ time in Massachusetts began in Boston with a fascinating visit to The Arnold Arboretum of Harvard University. The group was greeted by Andrew Gapinski, Manager of Horticulture and Longwood Graduate Program alumnus (Class of 2010), and Michael Dosmann, Curator of Living Collections. These skilled plantsmen provided an excellent overview of the Arboretum, its inner-workings, and of course, its plants! The Arnold Arboretum was founded in 1872 and designed through a collaboration between the organization’s first director, Charles S. Sargent, and famed landscape architect, Frederick Law Olmsted.

The tranquil Linden Path of the Arnold Arboretum.

The tranquil Linden Path of the Arnold Arboretum.

The living collections, in conjunction with research involving those collections, are at the heart of everything the Arboretum does. This is evidenced by the well-cared for and meticulously curated plants, as well as the extensive greenhouses, nursery, laboratories, library, and other growing and research facilities.

The Fellows were given a wonderful look at the vast horticultural library of the Arnold Arboretum.

The Fellows were given a wonderful look at the vast horticultural library of the Arnold Arboretum.

The Fellows were excited to encounter a number of unique and famous plant specimens during their tour of the grounds, including the oldest specimen of paperbark maple (Acer griseum) in North America. This tree is one of three individuals collected in central China in 1907 by notable plant collector, Ernest H. Wilson. While all paperbark maples of this species in the United States were derived from one of these three specimens, very recent efforts have begun to bring in additional trees to diversify the genetics of the species cultivated in North America.

The oldest Paperbark Maple (Acer griseum) in North America growing in the Arnold Arboretum.

The oldest paperbark maple (Acer griseum) in North America growing in the Arnold Arboretum.

The horticultural exploration of Boston continued at Mount Auburn Cemetery. The Cemetery’s President, Dave Barnett, and Vice President of Cemetery and Visitor Programs, Bree Harvey, met the Fellows and guided them throughout Mount Auburn’s vast and beautiful landscape.

  One of the integral components of the Mount Auburn Cemetery are the numerous large, mature shade trees that grace its landscape.

One of the integral components of the Mount Auburn Cemetery are the numerous large, mature shade trees that grace its landscape.

The Cemetery was founded by the Massachusetts Horticultural Society, which purchased 77 acres of land in 1831 with the purpose of creating a “rural cemetery” and experimental garden.  Since then, Mount Auburn Cemetery has grown to 175 acres situated in a very urban area and has nearly 100 staff.

The lovely Rhododendrons of the cemetery were in full-bloom and provided striking “pops” of color throughout the grounds.

The lovely Rhododendrons of the Cemetery were in full-bloom and provided striking pops of color throughout the grounds.

The nearly completed Boston Public Market provided an inspiring finish to a jam-packed day in this lively city. The Market’s goal is to make local food from Massachusetts and New England readily available in Boston through diverse vendors housed in one location. Jeremy Dick, Superintendent of the Trustees of Reservations Boston Management Unit, explained that the Boston Public Market arose from a collaboration between local organizations, including the Trustees. They will be responsible for engaging the public through educational programming such as workshops, demonstrations, tours, and events. Jeremy helped the Fellows better understand the context of the Boston Public Market by leading them through the nearby Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy Greenway, which provides a refreshing oasis for the people of Boston.

A long, vine-clad pergola along the greenway near the site of the soon-to-be-opened Boston Public Market.

A long, vine-clad pergola along the Kennedy Greenway, near the site of the soon-to-be-opened Boston Public Market.

Tour of Massachusetts: Day 1

The newly minted 2nd year Fellows traveled to Massachusetts for this year’s Longwood Graduate Program North American Experience. Our first night was spent in the picturesque seaside city of New Bedford, former whaling port, and home to the largest Portuguese-American population in the US. The next morning we set off for Westport Town Farm, one of the ten Trustees of Reservations properties we are visiting on this tour.

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Tranquil Westport River views from the meadow.

The beautiful esturine landscape of Westport Town Farm belies its poignant history, the place having been a ‘poor farm’, an asylum for the poor and destitute, for nearly 100 years. The extensive stone walls that cross the estate’s meadow lands are testament to the backbreaking work of generations of farmers who cleared the rocky land for cropping and grazing. These days, a farmer’s market is held every Saturday during the warmer months, helping to forge new connections with the local farming community and residents of the Westport Town area.

The network of stone walls are a visual reminder of the hard work involved in farming the rocky ground in the Westport area.

Just up the road from Westport Town Farm is the most recent addition to the Trustees of Reservations portfolio, the Allen C. Haskell Public Gardens. The Gardens are the former nursery and garden of well-known horticulturist and designer Allen C. Haskell, offering six acres of precious green space in the city of New Bedford. The Garden is obviously a plantsman’s garden, with a striking range of Hosta, Acer and Magnolia, as well as eye-catching variegated plants contrasting with an array of purple beeches and other assorted woody perennials and trees.

The studio is now the Garden's visitors information and welcoming point.

The studio is now the Garden’s visitor information and welcoming point.

The Master Plan for the Gardens includes plans for a Growing Program, aiming to engage the surrounding community in local food production. It is hoped that its 30,000 square feet of greenhouse space can be utilized to some extent in this endeavor.  Meanwhile, the massive task of cataloging the living collection, the artifacts, and the building structures continues.

The Fellows and Judy Stevenson of Longwood Gardens, Kristin McCullin, Superintendent of Allen C. Haskell Public Gardens, and Dr Brian Trader, Interim Director, Longwood Graduate Program

The Fellows and Judy Stevenson of Longwood Gardens, Kristin McCullin, Superintendent of Allen C. Haskell Public Gardens, and Dr. Brian Trader, Interim Director, Longwood Graduate Program

The last stop for the day was the Archives and Research Center, The Trustees of Reservations’ new facility, which supports research across the organization’s 114 places and specialist storage for archives, objects, and artifacts. A wealth of information about the history of the Trustees of Reservations and its properties is held in the documents, letters, photographs, maps, plans, books, scrapbooks, and ephemera contained within the Archives.

The Fellows with Alison Bassett, ARC Manager.

The Fellows with Alison Bassett, ARC Manager.

The property now housing the Archives was once a farm, becoming the Sharon Sanatorium for Pulmonary Diseases in 1891. Patients with tuberculosis were exposed to the ‘good clean country air’ that was thought to be so essential in the healing process, until antibiotics were discovered and TB could be cured with a course of penicillin. In the early 1950’s the property became a whaling museum, and  in 2007 was gifted to the Trustees.

Day one of our North American Experience was completed with an overnight stay in Boston, and a growing appreciation of the work of the Trustees of Reservations in the State of Massachusetts.

Whilst object storage is not the main function of the Archives and Research Center, nonetheless we did stumble across a room entirely devoted to the storage of chairs!

Whilst object storage is not the main function of the Archives and Research Center, nonetheless we did stumble across a room entirely devoted to the storage of chairs!