10.11.11

LATE AFTERNOON, ASHINTULLY, OCTOBER 2009


I intended to visit Ashintully again this fall, but schedule, weather, and a bad cold all played against me.  Well, procrastination was  involved also, but the point is, I didn't get there.

I'm a road trip kinda guy---I've never met a road I didn't like. A car, a road, I'm there. Some are better than others, but all offer something to think about.  I remember watching the landscape of urban industrial New Jersey flash by from the back of a town car on the way to the Newark Airport from Manhattan one day years ago.  It was a grey day, the driver was listening to a classical station.  The bleak industrial landscape reminded of Charles Sheeler paintings, and of F. Scott Fitzgerald's description of a similar landscape on Gatsby and Daisy's fateful drive.  Suddenly, in that unlikeliest of surroundings, I saw a palace fit for a czar rising on a hill to the left.  At second glance, it proved to be a just a high school, but its proportions, classical details, and pastel painted stucco surface would have been at home on the banks of the Neva.  In the time it took to travel a thousand feet, Daisy Buchanan had been replaced by Natasha Rostova.


At the other end of the spectrum is the Main Road in Tyringham, Massachusetts, one of those beautiful winding lanes that the Berkshires do so well,  taking one through hill and dale, past farms and little hamlets of toy buildings.  Ethan From is long forgotten in this 21st century version, hardscrabble farms replaced with weekend houses.  I'm sorry that I was rushing to my destination.  It was the last hour of the last visiting day of the season, and I didn't dare take time to stop, not even to photograph perfect Federal farmhouses, not even to photograph the surprising cottage at Santarella (speaking of Hansel & Gretel), the former studio of Henry Hudson Kitson, sculptor of the Lexington Minute Man statue.  Fortunately, one can remedy this with the aid of Wikipedia Commons:


According to the Santarella website, the 'thatched' roof is actually composed of 80 tons of asphalt shingles.  But, I digress---This post is really about Ashintully, which I first read about decades, centuries, ago in an article in Horticulture.  I'd ever since wanted to see it, and finally I managed to be in the Berkshires on a visiting day, and racing from the other garden wonder of the region, Naumkeag, I arrived 45 minutes before closing.

The Ashintully estate was created by Egyptologist and politician Robb de Peyster Tytus (An Egyptologist! Hard to believe that nowadays one need only to own a pizza chain to become a politician), who combined three farms in the Tyringham valley to create a 1,000 acre estate.  Titus had Hoppin & Koen design a large classical house (with more than a whiff of that high school in New Jersey in its aspect) sited halfway up a mountainside, with spectacular views across the Tyringham Valley and Bartholomew's Cobble.


Titus died young, of tuberculosis, and in due order, his widow married Canadian publisher John Stewart McLennan.   Their son John McLennan, the noted modern classical composer, inherited Ashintully, and took up residence in a farmhouse at the foot of the hill, on the corner of Sodom Road.  Here he created a garden, both modern and classical, full of surprises and mystery.  I've visited many beautiful gardens, but never one more affecting.


These pictures cannot convey the full experience---the gray fall afternoon, the sensation of ever-chaging vistas---one moment formal, the next wild and asymmetrical, the allusions to other times and places, and the sound of the jet of water in the central pool mingled with rustling leaves, and the sesation of fine mist blown  in the air from the fountain as one approached.  It is a complex garden of simple elements.






The stairs to a little mount topped by a finial are mysterious and dramatic, and the effect breathtaking.




The Regency Bridge


 
The Ram's Head Terrace


A minimalist vista, created with little more than a pair of finials and judicious pruning



The big house, known locally as 'The Marble Palace', burned in 1952.   This gate at the end of McLennan's garden leads to a trail up to the house site.


The dramatic ruins of the gardens of the old house are slowly being reclaimed by nature, but at the end of the trail one is rewarded by the breathtaking sight of the columns of the house breaking the sky, with the valley spread out below---Greek ruins, New England style (and yes, I do realize the columns are a Roman order). 




For a more comprehensive history and description of this amazing garden, with pictures taken in high summer, please click HERE for a link to 'Great Gardens of the Berkshires' at Google Books.

And courtesy of the superior search skills of a favored commenter, is a lovely video about the history and making of the garden at Ashintully.   Click HERE

34 comments:

Ann said...

Wonderful post. I love old gardens, even once they've been reclaimed by growth. It makes it feel all the more special like your own secret garden. And an Egyptologist, how great!

Blue said...

Perhaps a statue, ear cocked to the moaning wind over the moor, of a gypsy foundling named Heathcliffe should have been placed in those woods.

I'm not being sarcastic, Dilettante, for I found your photos both beautiful and evocative - evocative of a place thousands of miles away.

Anonymous said...

I'm crazy about those giant clipped yews dwarfing the house! Fantastic! Please show us more pictures of this aspect of the garden... are they arranged around the house like a cage or are they part of an arrangement of their own?

The Ancient said...

I love those steps to nowhere.

The Ancient said...

For NYT subscribers:

http://query.nytimes.com/mem/archive-free/pdf?res=F00912FD3D5913738DDDAF0994D0405B838DF1D3

The obituary of Robb de Peyster Tytus.

The Ancient said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
The Ancient said...

And then there's this:

[McLennan] met a vivacious and intelligent widow by the name of Grace Seely Henop in London at the outbreak of the war. Grace was the widow of Rob Tytus, a famous Egyptologist, and was the mother of two daughters. She was an accomplished linguist and writer with publications in many magazines and papers. Her opinions and her friends were considered somewhat eccentric. She had contacts all over the world and her associates included Alexander Kerensky, the Russian revolutionary, and others of equal renown. JS and Grace had a short courtship and were married in January of 1915. Their son, John Stewart Jr., was born in November of that year.

The addition of Grace to the family caused some strain. Katharine had been acting as the head of her father's household and now she had to step back from that role. John S. Jr. said that "natural jealousies" emerged within the family, but for the most part, Grace got along tolerably well with the rest. In Katharine's letters, she expresses affection for Grace and her daughters. However, the marriage would eventually become merely a sad footnote in JS's life. Relations between the two turned and with the exception of John S. Jr., the marriage could be said to have been a regrettable experience. It is undoubtedly true that Grace's lifestyle, her friends of international renown, and her liberal ideals did not easily mesh with JS's more resigned, traditional sense of dignified accomplishment and service to one's country. Though the two made a handsome pair, with JS being 6'3" in height and Grace 6', they could not happily live together. For the most part, JS resided at Petersfield or Ottawa and Grace at the Tytus mansion in Tyringham, Massachusetts. According to John Stewart Jr., his parents maintained separate homes from 1919 on and JS, as part of the separation agreement, was denied access to his son except for two afternoon visits a year. John S. Jr. believed the divorce proceedings were so protracted because Grace had little grounds for divorce and she was fighting for custody. Grace would finally "wear down" JS and a formal divorce was declared in 1927. Grace died in 1928 and this left John S. Jr. to begin a real relationship with his father. He would become a valued companion to JS until his father's death in 1939.

http://www.cbrl.ca/mclennans/war.html

The Ancient said...

One more, for shut-ins:

http://www.cultureunplugged.com/documentary/watch-online/festival/play/7094/Garden-Story--Episode-3---The-Garden-as-Exploration-in-Creativity/VFhjOVBRPT0rVg==

smilla4blogs said...

As Blue said..."Heathcliffe should have been placed in those woods." The atmosphere would be very different in spring, but the photos in autumn evoke a sense of mystery and time passing. A beautiful post, thank you!

The Ancient said...

Dilettante --

Can we do a poll of your readership?

I am very curious what people think of the "fountain" in what McLennan called "Baby Chatsworth."

Brilliant?

Misplaced?

Tiresome?

Dreadfully middle-class?

Bad for the fish?

Etc.

(When I started to re-do our house in the country, Jim van Sweden wanted to build an entirely new pond, with an enormous fountain, in the worst possible location. But I am now so old, I am revisiting my youthful prejudices. At least about fountains.)

The Down East Dilettante said...

I've experienced Baby Chatsworth, and can say unequivocally, brilliant. It is not an accolade I bestow easily.

Paul Gervais de Bédée said...

I'm very impressed with this garden, and seeing it now in its autumn austerity brings up its bones—they've managed to create a certain grandeur out of over little. It's a dream we're brought into, with the sketchiness of a dream.

Mark D. Ruffner said...

What a beautiful spot. There is something truly delightful about putting a finial at the top of a mountain, or finding one there. The photograph of the lone columns reminds me of images of the ruins of Persepolis. I wonder what manner of things were lost in that house?

Donna Seger said...

It's always lovely to read your posts. I thought I knew the Berkshires and have been to Santarella several times but had not heard of Ashintilly till today. I wanted to leap in my car and drive across the state, but sadly had to much work to do today!

Donna Seger said...

Sorry: AshintUlly. I got really caught up in my alliteration, as usual.

ayala land premier said...

The Ashintully Estate looks to hold a lot of memories, im imagining an old vampire lived there hundreds of years before lol.

It definitely has a majestic aura, with the founder Titus also having a roman name.
-B

Rose C'est La Vie said...

At last, a breathing space to inhale, ha, the magic of this garden and kick the leaves about. The sudden shock of seeing the house columns 'breaking the sky' made the hairs on the back of my neck stand up almost as tall. Brilliant, DED! x

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wOw it Amazed me , i really like the view the ambiance, very refreshing and pollution free

-Ely

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