In the Steps of a Master: The Trustees’ 3-Year Transformation of The Iconic Fletcher Steele-Designed Gardens at Naumkeag Nears Completion

Final Phase of Restoration to be Complete This Summer 2016 with Chinese Temple Garden

Contact Information

Kristi Perry
PR Director
781.784.0567 x7503

Mark Wilson
Curator of Collections

Stockbridge, MAFebruary 2016 – The Trustees, Massachusetts’ largest nonprofit conservation and preservation organization and nation’s first land preservation nonprofit, is nearing the completion of an extensive, $3.3 million garden and landscape restoration happening at Naumkeag – a National Historic Landmark located in Stockbridge. Designed to bring the famed gardens back to their former brilliance and original design intent, the massive, three-year, four-phase restoration project began in 2013 and continues to transform the renowned gardens at this iconic property. The final phase, which includes the restoration of the prominent Chinese Temple Garden, is scheduled to be complete this summer in time for The Trustees 125th Anniversary and Naumkeag’s Annual Garden Party in July.

To date, the extensive garden transformation 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 estate’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. The Trustees have worked diligently to maintain and restore several of Naumkeag’s garden areas. The restoration has been 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.

“The garden and landscape restorations at Naumkeag have been part of an important ‘Bringing our Stories to Life” campaign The Trustees have been undertaking for the past few years to restore, reinvest in, and attract more visitors to our amazing collection of cultural sites,” says Barbara Erickson, Trustees’ President and CEO. “Since we have undergone the restoration and added new programming at the property, we have seen a 40% increase in visitation at this iconic property. We are grateful to all the enthusiasm and support we have received and look forward to inviting even more people to come see the garden transformation this summer.”

The fourth and final phase of the magnificent restoration will be completed this summer of 2016 with the Chinese Temple Garden, a unique garden room that provides an inspirational grand finale and a breathtaking change to the public face of Naumkeag. Perched on the highest point of the property, the Chinese 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.  Surrounded by 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. The garden’s circular Moon Gate rivaling the famous Blue Steps as a popular visitor destination and photo backdrop.

“Our restoration work has been a culmination of in-depth research, meticulous planning, and the collaboration of many supporters, artisans, and dedicated staff,” says Mark Wilson, the Project Manager for the restoration and West Region Curator. “By the end, few landscapes in the country will have seen such a detailed and authentic restoration effort.”

Signature restoration accomplishments have included the initial 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.” The garden includes elaborate water features and vibrantly-painted Venetian-style gondola poles which “enclose” the garden. The wooden poles were painstakingly re-carved and decorative garden features were recast by apprentices of the original artisans who created them.

The third phase of the garden restoration project was completed in the spring and summer of 2015, starting with the Top Lawn which was restored to its original appearance with the resetting of long sandstone slabs that form a unique “Great Seat” where guests can sit and enjoy the dramatic westerly panorama, as well as the relaying of the surrounding blue stone pavement. The Perugino View, which lost all of its original plantings over the past forty years, was 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.

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, Curator of Collections, and supported by a team of local and regional staff, volunteers, artisans and consultants. The restoration team conducted extensive research and planning, including the culling of hundreds of original design plans, historic photos, notes, letters and documents shared between Fletcher Steele and Mabel Choate in order to create as thorough and authentic of a restoration plan as possible. The Trustees has used the restoration as a model for future restoration projects within the organization and hopes it will be a future resource for landscape designers and garden enthusiasts. 

Support for the Restoration
The ongoing restoration work at Naumkeag has been supported by the Campaign to Restore Naumkeag, a 3-year, $3.3M initiative that included a $1M challenge grant. Additional funds were received by the Stockbridge Community Preservation Act ($35,000) and Massachusetts Cultural Council ($128,000). This campaign has been part of a larger $26.6M “Bringing our Stories to Life” campaign The Trustees have been spearheading to restore, reinvest in, and celebrate its cultural sites and collections to attract more Massachusetts’ residents and visitors. The 5-year campaign has raised over $24M in just 3.5 years.

What’s Happening Next at Naumkeag
While the extensive garden and landscape restoration is nearly complete, The Trustees are planning continued restorations and enhancements at Naumkeag. The next project will entail the restoration of the former greenhouse on the property, which will begin in 2016 as well as the re-introduction of the farm in 2017. A $1.5M challenge grant was successfully completed for the Naumkeag greenhouse and farm project, however The Trustees continue to seek funding for on-going restoration and programming at Naumkeag. For more information, please contact Denise Trapani at

More about The Trustees
The Trustees save and share places of exceptional natural, cultural, and ecological significance around Massachusetts  for public use and enjoyment. Our passion is to engage more people in culture, agriculture, nature, and healthy, active lifestyles, using our diverse properties, our community spaces, and our many programs as a powerful and compelling platform to connect people to places and each other in our increasingly digitized world.  Celebrating our 125th Anniversary in May 2016, we are world’s first land preservation nonprofit founded in 1891 and the Commonwealth’s largest conservation and preservation organization. We believe in protecting the irreplaceable for everyone, forever. 

Trustees’ properties span more than 26,000 acres – from working farms, landscaped and urban gardens, and community parks, to barrier beaches, forests, campgrounds, inns and historic sites, many of which are National Historic Landmarks. Located within minutes of every resident, they represent a preserved 300-year timeline of architecture, designed and natural landscapes, arts and artifacts, and fascinating stories of their former inhabitants, many of whom are deeply rooted in our local, state, and national histories. In addition to our properties, we are also a founding partner of the Boston Public Market, the first all locally-sourced indoor market of its kind in the nation where we operate our Appleton Farms vendor booth and are the programming partner for the Market’s demonstration KITCHEN. Funded by our nearly 125,000 members and supporters and 1.6 million visitors, we invite you to get out, get inspired, and find magic in the moment at a Trustees property near you: