TOUR DE LA NATURE: Inspiration and fantasy at the Berkshire Botanical Garden



Cottage Garden designed by Martha Stewart in 2009, seen July 14, 2021. Photo: Judy Isacoff

July 26-August 8, 2021

MOUNT WASHINGTON – Stroll with me from one artfully designed and carefully maintained landscaping feature to another on the rambling campus of the Berkshire Botanic Gardens (BBG) in Stockbridge. This photographic essay reflects a small sample of the 33 destinations described and mapped in the Garden Visitor’s Guide. I focused on BBG’s efforts to spark the curiosity of customers of all ages – to deepen the relationships between plants and people and to encourage interaction with the landscape. The appreciation shown for rustic structures prompts the viewer to think of new ways of imagining old things and pruning, rather than throwing them away.

The above photograph is described in the Guide as follows: “26. Martha Stewart Cottage Garden – An exuberant garden incorporating heirloom varieties and modern cultivars of flowers and vegetables, interspersed in the tradition of the English cottage garden and anchored by a garden shed with a living sedum roof… ”

Continuing past the Cottage Garden, I found an inviting bench in the shade at the edge of the lush Pond Garden. A twig of Dawn Redwood appeared above my head, then a bright red, browned trunk behind me.

While walking along a path to find the legendary Weeping Hemlock tree, a ray of five huge leaves around a massive seed head appeared at eye level: a Big Leaf Magnolia formed a canopy that envelops the passerby. The Berkshire Botanical Garden is one of the oldest of its kind in the United States, so we enjoy the tree specimens there. BBG’s mission is to preserve native habitats and provide environmental education regarding both local and global topics.

I approached the big Weeping Hemlock with BBG gardener Ryan Campbell, who described how children crawled under branches and dangling twigs where they met the ground all around. The garden staff drew inspiration from their early guests, creating an opening to welcome the curious to discover the internal structure of a large tree.

On the way to the center of an old weeping hemlock tree, July 14, 2021. Photo: Judy Isacoff

Upon arriving at the Center House, an indoor destination that is home to the Leonhardt Galleries, a library, and the Thyme for Tea Café (highly recommended by Ryan), a magnificent living wall stops the beholder in awe.

Living wall in the entrance to Center House, July 14, 2021. Photo: Judy Isacoff

This Friday July 30 from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m., there is an opening reception at the Gallery for Marc Dennis’ ‘Revolution’, a collection of oil on canvas and watercolor paintings. Entrance to the Leonhardt is free with entry to the Garden.

“The Rug Really Tied the Room Together”, oil on linen, by Marc Dennis. Photo courtesy of Berkshire Botanic Garden

Crossing road 102, which crosses the garden, I arrive next to the Carol Tatkon Entrance Garden, adjacent to the starting point for admission and visit. For this story, I had hopped on the east side of the road, back to the south side to learn more about Campbell’s new design for the entrance garden.

Carol Tatkon Entrance Garden, July 14, 2021. Photo: Judy Isacoff

In his words, “Tatkon is a meeting place, where our human context as beings on this earth and as dreamers towards the heavens come together. The founding cultures, which have served countless civilizations and still serve today for our daily physical subsistence, grow here, in the heart of ornamental plants, as an expression of our own creation and the search for beauty in a context accessible to everyone. When we are in the garden, the hope is that we are aware of the oblivion, the current and the timeless in an integrated experience.

BBG Children’s Discovery Garden features this loom, one of many interactive projects in the garden.

Interactive loom, July 14, 2021. Photo: Judy Isacoff

In closing, an image of the iconic herb garden, built in 1937 with the foundation of the garden and located near the original central house. Note the movable chairs, for easy relaxation and offering views from different perspectives.

Le Jardin des Herbes, since 1937. Photo via Wikimedia, user Daderot

For the visitor: The Berkshire Botanical Garden is located at 5 West Stockbridge Rd. (Routes 102/183), Stockbridge, Massachusetts. Open daily from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. until October. Galleries 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Free admission on Tuesday. Check with your city’s public library to get a free pass to the museum. For fees and more information, visit the BBG website or call 413-298-3926.

Mark your calendar: Tom Zetterstrom’s “Portraits of American Trees” will be exhibited in the Leonhardt Galleries from September 17th to October 31st. An opening reception is scheduled for September 17 from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. To see all of the Garden’s upcoming events, including onsite yoga, workshops, and music Mondays, click here.


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