“Gardening is the slowest of the performing arts.”
~ garden historian Mac Griswold
This last weekend, I visited the 84-acre estate and gardens of The Fells, formerly John Milton Hay’s home. (Hay was Secretary of State to McKinley and Teddy Roosevelt, and private secretary to President Lincoln.) This great chunk of land is part of over 800 acres originally owned by the Hay family; 675 acres now belong to the Society for Protection of NH Forests, and about 80 acres to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for their wildlife refuge system.
The Fells has been gardened in one way or another since the late 1880s, evolving over time, without or without the tending of gardeners. John Hay’s wife, Clara, started with a garden of roses and hydrangeas.
In time, their son Clarence, and his wife, Alice, transformed rocky sheep pasture into terraced lawns and formal gardens, particularly to suit Alice’s tastes for a neater perennial border and fragrant rose garden.
Clarence favoured a garden where wild and cultivated edged side by side (a permaculture gardener before his time), which he created, as well as a large rock garden, with a small stream running through it, on a hill facing Lake Sunapee.
Today there are remnants of the Old Garden, as it’s called; many rhododendrons that have been there for decades; both the perennial border and the rose terrace; the rock garden and its small pond; and views to the lake, and a meadow and woods through which one can reach the lake in a 10-minute downhill walk.
The day I was there, it was Plein Air art day, with about a dozen artists working outside in oil, acrylic, watercolour, charcoals, and pastels, re-creating the landscape. That’s in addition to the sculpture show also going on. The art of nature, the nature of art.