In the Steps of a Master: Trustees of Reservations Continue to Transform Iconic, Fletcher Steele-Designed Gardens at Naumkeag

Phase Two of Extensive Garden & Landscape Restoration Landmark to be Complete by June 2014

Contact Information

Kristi Perry
Public Relations Director

Mark Wamsley
PR Coordinator, West Region

Mark Wilson
Statewide Curator & Cultural Resources Manager

Stockbridge, MAApril 7, 2014 – The Trustees of Reservations (The Trustees) have announced that the Second Phase of an extensive garden and landscape transformation happening at Naumkeag – a National Historic Landmark located in picturesque Stockbridge – is expected to be complete by this June. Naumkeag and its magnificent gardens are visited by thousands of garden, landscape and history enthusiasts from around the world each year. The gardens are a masterpiece of 30 years of collaborative, creative work by the former owner, Mable Choate, and the noted Landscape Architect Fletcher Steele, a leader in establishing modern American landscape design. The gardens are one of only a few Fletcher Steele designs still open to the public and the gardens at Naumkeag are recognized as his most famous work.

Afternoon Garden - Before
Afternoon Garden
(before restoration)

The historic home, originally designed by McKim, Mead & White in 1885 for New York lawyer Joseph Choate, is a rare, surviving example of a Gilded Age Berkshire cottage. Choate’s daughter, Mabel bequeathed the estate to The Trustees in 1958 to care for and keep open for all to enjoy. Over the last 10 years, The Trustees have worked diligently to restore several of Naumkeag’s signature garden areas, but additional aspects of the garden have suffered the effects of time as well as damage from harsh New England weather. As a result, The Trustees have accelerated restoration efforts to bring the gardens and surrounding landscapes back to their former brilliance and original design so that their lasting beauty can be appreciated for years to come. 

Peony Terrace - Before
Peony Terraces
(before restoration)

Last summer, The Trustees completed the first of five phases in their three year garden and landscape restoration project at Naumkeag. The signature accomplishment included the restoration of Fletcher Steele’s iconic Blue Steps – one of the most famous and photographed garden features in 20th-century American landscape design – completed in time to celebrate their 75th Anniversary last summer. Other important restoration projects included the South Lawn stonework, plantings and Chinese Pagoda, the Linden Allée, and several important infrastructure elements including electrical and water features. For before and after photos, please visit:

The Trustees are now in Phase 2, restoring the famed Afternoon Garden, Miss Choate’s beloved Peony Terraces, and the Perugino View that draws strength from the surrounding Berkshire Hills. “The transformation of the gardens to date has been remarkable,” says Joanna Ballantine, Western Regional Director for The Trustees. “We are eager to complete Phase Two in time to share even more aspects of this special property with our visitors and community supporters by summer and are so thankful to our talented staff, community volunteers and donors who have all helped make this important project possible.”

Venetian Poles - Before
Venetian Poles
(before restoration)

The Naumkeag gardens are undergoing their dramatic renaissance thanks to a carefully planned preservation effort being lead by Cindy Brockway, Trustees’ Cultural Resources Program Director, and Mark Wilson, West Region Curator, and supported by a team of local and regional staff, volunteers, artisans and consultants. The restoration team has conducted extensive behind-the-scenes research and planning over many months, including the careful culling of hundreds of original design plans, historic photos, notes, letters and documents from Fletcher Steele and Mabel Choate in order to create a thorough and authentic restoration plan. These efforts, combined with the photo and video documentation process being provided by student photographers enrolled at Monument Mountain Regional High School’s Spartan Launch after-school and summer program, are helping The Trustees team guide and document the restoration process. In the end, The Trustees hopes that the project will serve as a model for future restoration projects within the organization as well as for landscape designers and garden enthusiasts.

“Our restoration work has been a culmination of years of careful research and planning,” adds Mark Wilson, Restoration Project Manager and West Region Curator. “By the end, few landscapes in the country will have seen such a detailed and authentic restoration.”

More about Phase Two of the Restoration
The Afternoon Garden was Mabel Choate and Fletcher Steele’s very first collaborative garden design project. Referred to as Choate’s “joy and delight,” the garden is framed with 18 vibrantly colored Venetian Gondola poles and finials, providing definition to the garden boundaries without interrupting its sweeping mountain views. Pots of colorful fuchsias surrounded playful fountains and the intricately woven boxwood parterre.  Steele had the poles carved to replicate the gondola poles used to steer passengers down Venetian canals, and recall the Mediterranean, outdoor garden rooms that Mabel Choate enjoyed during her travels. To recover its full beauty, the space requires a complete restoration of its structural elements. The Trustees are currently in the process of rebuilding the walls, restoring sections of the grape arbor, installing new water systems, repairing the missing wall fountain, recasting the four shell fountains as well as the wall fountain fish head and a Caesar Bust. Defining features such as the weathered Venetian poles, the glass pool, planters, and original seating will also be restored.

Naumkeag RestorationThe original Venetian poles, a one-of-a-kind feature in the Afternoon Garden, were carved in 1928 by Archangelo Cascieri, a famous sculptor and wood carver in Boston. In a delightful stroke of luck, The Trustees discovered that an apprentice to Cascieri named Robert Shure continues to operate the business co-founded by his mentor under the name of Skylight Studios. The Trustees had recently worked with Shure to restore the sculptures along the Grand Allée of the Crane Estate in Ipswich. Reconnected once more, Robert Shure and his artisans are hand carving and repainting the new poles from New England-sourced oak, seven of which are intricately carved and eleven which feature a more simple Chevron pattern. (Photo on left shows poles being recarved by Skylight Studios.)

Other aspects of the Phase Two restoration include the Peony Terraces and Perugino View. Three rows of terraces with dry laid stonework housed Miss Choate’s extensive collection of oriental tree peonies. Vegetation that surround the terraces above, below, and to the side are being replaced, refreshing over-mature cedars.  In addition, a lovely tripetal magnolia will be pruned and shaped by arborists.  Hundreds of people attend an annual Naumkeag Peony Preview at Naumkeag each year in May to see the magnificent display of annual blooms. The terrace will be restored in time for this year’s event, scheduled for May 17.

Lastly, The Trustees are replanting shrubs and ground cover in Perugino View area in keeping with Choate and Steele’s desire to help frame the view from the south side of the Top Lawn looking down at the great Oak tree. The tree was a Choate family favorite and the site of many annual social gatherings and picnics. Many other important structural, cultural and natural garden and landscape features located throughout Naumkeag will also be restored, replicated and reinvigorated over the next two years through a total of 16 projects, most of which will include rebuilding, and in some cases reproducing, foundational elements such as fountains and waters systems, masonry, decorative arts and original plantings.

“Like our recent landscape restoration of the Grand Allée at Castle Hill on the Crane Estate in Ipswich, we take our responsibility as caretakers of these magnificent cultural resources very seriously,” says Barbara Erickson, Trustees President and CEO. “Since the iconic gardens at Naumkeag are one of only a few Fletcher Steele–designed gardens viewable to the public, we want visitors to be able to experience them in their full and original brilliance. Mabel Choate chose to bequeath her family home to The Trustees, knowing it would be lovingly maintained and shared with generations to come. It is part of our mission and true passion, as envisioned by our founder Charles Eliot, to ensure their exemplary care for everyone, forever.”

For photos and more information, visit:

The ongoing work at Naumkeag is supported by the Campaign to Restore Naumkeag, a 3-year, $3 million initiative that included a $1 million challenge grant. Contributions raised to date total nearly $2.7 million. Additional funds have recently been received by the Stockbridge Community Preservation Act ($35,000) and Massachusetts Cultural Council ($128,000). For more information on the restoration project and/or how to support the campaign, please visit:

About the Leadership Team
Lucinda A. Brockway is the Cultural Resources Program Director for The Trustees. She oversees the care and interpretation of the cultural landscapes on the organization’s 111 properties, including five National Historic Landmarks. A summa cum laude graduate of the University of Rhode Island and Boston University, she ran her own firm, Past Designs (Kennebunk, ME) for 25 years before joining The Trustees. Her Past Designs work included such well-known public projects as Fort Ticonderoga's garrison grounds and Le Jardin du Roi (Ticonderoga, NY), Newport’s public and private Bellevue Avenue estates, the Fells (Newbury, NH), the Battle Green (Lexington, MA), and several projects for the National Trust for Historic Preservation, including the opening of Philip Johnson’s Glass House (New Canaan, CT). Her private residential designs have won recognition throughout the country.

Mark Wilson is the Curator of Collections and West Region Cultural Resources Manager for The Trustees. He has 24 years of experience in the museum profession, including positions at The Trustees of Reservations, the Nantucket Historical Association, and The Clara Barton Birthplace Museum. Mr. Wilson has a Master’s Degree from Brown University in the History of Art and Architecture and a Bachelor of Arts in Archaeology from Connecticut College. He is experienced in the use of archival materials for project research and large-scale project development, budget and resource management, and on-time project completion.

About The Trustees of Reservations
The Trustees of Reservations (The Trustees) “hold in trust” and care for properties, or “reservations,” of irreplaceable scenic, cultural, and natural significance for the general public to enjoy. Founded by open space visionary Charles Eliot in 1891, The Trustees is the world’s oldest land trust and one of Massachusetts’ largest conservation and preservation non profits. Supported by more than 100,000 members and donors and thousands of volunteers, The Trustees own and manage 112 spectacular reservations including working farms, historic homesteads and landscaped gardens, community parks, barrier beaches, mountain vistas and woodland trials located on more than 26,000 acres throughout the Commonwealth. An established leader in the conservation and preservation movement and worldwide, The Trustees have also worked with community partners to protect an additional 34,000 acres. With hundreds of outreach programs, workshops, camps, concerts and events annually designed to engage all ages in its mission, The Trustees invite you to Find Your Place and get out and experience the natural beauty and culture our state has to offer. For more information, visit: