In the Steps of a Master: Trustees of Reservations’ Transformation of Iconic Gardens at Naumkeag Builds to a Dramatic Crescendo

Restoration of Rose Garden and Chinese Temple Garden Headline Final Phase of Extensive Garden & Landscape Restoration at National Historic Landmark

Contact Information

Kristi Perry
PR Director
781.784.0567 x7503

Mark Wilson
Statewide Curator & Cultural Resources Manager

Blue StepsStockbridge, MAApril 13, 2015 – The Trustees of Reservations (The Trustees), the nation’s oldest statewide land trust and one of Massachusetts’ largest nonprofits, is moving into the final stage of an extensive, $3 million garden and landscape restoration happening at Naumkeag – a National Historic Landmark located in picturesque Stockbridge. Designed to bring the famed gardens back to their formal brilliance and original design intent, the massive, 3-year, 4-phase, restoration project began in 2013 and continues to transform the renowned gardens at this iconic property. The final restoration phases, which include the restoration of both the prominent Chinese Temple Garden and charming Rose Garden, among other projects, are now underway with the latter scheduled to be complete this summer.

To date, the project has included the meticulous restoration of several unique “garden rooms” surrounding this renowned historic homestead nestled in the Berkshires of Massachusetts. Naumkeag, and all of 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 homestead’s former owner, Mable Choate, and noted Landscape Architect Fletcher Steele, a leader in establishing modern American landscape design. They are among a dwindling number of Fletcher Steele designs still open to the public and are recognized, collectively, as his most famous work.  The home, originally designed by the noted architectural firm of McKim, Mead & White in 1885 for New York lawyer to titans of industry 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 decade, The Trustees have worked diligently to maintain and restore several of Naumkeag’s garden areas, but recently accelerated restoration efforts as additional aspects of the gardens have suffered damage from harsh New England weather conditions and the effects of time. The restoration is designed to bring the gardens back to their former brilliance and original design so that their lasting beauty can be preserved and appreciated for years to come.

Afternoon GardenSignature accomplishments have included the 2013 restoration of Fletcher Steele’s iconic Blue Steps – one of the most famous and photographed garden features in 20th-century American landscape design – as well as the tree-lined Linden Alleé and the stunning, undulating South Lawn. The Trustees completed the second phase of restorations in June of 2014 which included the whimsical Afternoon Garden, Mabel Choate and Fletcher Steele’s first collaborative garden project and Mabel’s “joy and delight.” It includes elaborate water features and vibrantly-painted Venetian-style gondola poles which “enclose” the garden. The gondola poles were painstakingly re-carved and decorative garden features were recast by apprentices of the original artisans who created them so many years ago.

The final planning for Naumkeag’s garden restoration project is now underway. Phase three entails renovation work on the sinuous marble paths surrounding the vibrant Rose Garden and replanting the flowerbeds, scheduled to begin this spring and be finished by summer 2015. A later addition to the property, Steele designed The Rose Garden to be viewed from the balcony off of Mabel Choate’s bedroom. The adjacent Top Lawn will concurrently be restored to its original appearance with the resetting of long sandstone slabs that form a unique “Great Seat” decorative garden feature and the relaying of blue stone pavement where guests can sit and enjoy the dramatic westerly panorama.  The Perugino View, which lost all of its original plantings over the past forty years, will be replanted with large leaf magnolias, scented shrubs, and a large variety of fragrant perennials and annuals originally selected by Choate and Steele to help frame the vistas of Monument Mountain and the property’s historic, great oak tree.

The fourth and final phase of the magnificent restoration will culminate with the Chinese Temple Garden, with a groundbreaking also slated for spring of 2015. The restoration of this unique garden room will provide an inspirational grand finale and a breathtaking change to the public face of Naumkeag. Perched on the highest point of the property, the Temple Garden evolved over twenty years of continued collaboration between Fletcher Steele and Mable Choate, assuming its final form only shortly before Ms. Choate’s passing in 1958.  Replete with massive walls sheltering a hidden courtyard, a collection of authentic Chinese statuary, walking paths, and a stately Temple structure, the garden represents one of the most complex, recognizable, and prominent landscape features at Naumkeag, with the garden’s circular Moon Gate rivaling the famous Blue Steps as a popular visitor destination and photo backdrop. Trustees’ staff will rely on extensive archival records of photos, plans, and historical correspondence to ensure every detail of the garden is returned to its original grandeur and intent.

Naumkeag’s gardens have been undergoing their dramatic renaissance thanks to a carefully planned preservation effort being led by Cindy Brockway, The 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 conducted extensive behind-the-scenes research and planning, including the careful culling of hundreds of original design plans, historic photos, notes, letters and documents shared between Fletcher Steele and Mabel Choate in order to create a thorough and authentic restoration plan. 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 in-depth 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.”

Moon Gate“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 remaining Fletcher Steele–designed gardens still 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 more detailed information on the extensive restoration work completed to date, as well as before and after photos these and other gardens restored during the project, please visit:

The ongoing work at Naumkeag has been supported by the Campaign to Restore Naumkeag, a 3-year, $3 million initiative that included a $1 million challenge grant. Additional funds were received by the Stockbridge Community Preservation Act ($35,000) and Massachusetts Cultural Council ($128,000).

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: