A historic home surrounded by an Italian renaissance garden provides a haven where visitors can wander and admire well maintained flower beds, allees of boxwood, beautiful scenery and views of the rural landscapes. Special events and activities are special highlights
On a hot but not too humid day toward the beginning of August, we wound our way up the hill in our old jeep to Wethersfield, the house and gardens of the investor and philanthropist, Chauncey Stillman (1907-1989). With panoramic views of the Catskills and the Berkshires, the gardens in New York State’s northern Dutchess County were a breezy and secluded getaway on a summer afternoon. Covering ten aces of formal and outer gardens in and around the brick Georgian-style house, the Wethersfield Gardens are a true respite from our speedy lives and a step back in time.
Designed in Italian renaissance style, the gardens are notable for their elegance, flow and synchronicity with the house. A series of grassy courtyards progress from one to the next with neatly trimmed pathways, hedges and stone stairways leading you along. Garden enfilades are created out of shrubbery, pines and statuary from around the world. Major stonework and wide grassy staircases transition from one courtyard to the next.
You arrive at the house via one path only to be drawn down another by an alluring bend or planting. The visitor always finds the center as the garden is designed on an east/west and north/south axes with beautiful vistas out to the fields and farmland. A few painters wearing floppy hats and sandals offered a picturesque addition as they worked with their easels and oils capturing the beauty on canvas.
Some of the garden spaces are calm and restful with closely cut grass, large oval pools and fountains while the cutting garden bursts with hundreds of rows of flowers of exuberant colors ranging from big deep purples Dahlias to the bright orange bouncy Marigolds. Peacocks wander the grounds or are kept in a secluded cage.
One of the main long courtyards has four very dignified 40 foot high weeping beech trees that have beautiful stature and transport one for a moment to Italy. The two horses perched on stone pillars by Jean DeMarco grace the entrance to yet another garden courtyard while a cupid fountain nestles in another wall. Hidden pathways allow the visitor to take in the garden from different vantage points. Some gardens have the disadvantage of seeming to be transitory relying for their beauty on the blooming season, but the Wethersfield Gardens has a sense of permanence emanating from the garden plan, stone walls, statuary and court yards.
Wethersfield Garden History
Bryan Lynch designed the original formal gardens around the house in 1940; and then, in 1952, Evelyn N. Poehler was hired to oversee the maintenance of the gardens. Working closely with Chauncey Stillman, Ms. Poehler led the development and expansion of the gardens for the next 30 years. English sculptor Peter Watts and Polish-born sculptor Josef Stachura created all the statuary during the late 1960s and 1970s. Mr. Stillman himself studied architecture at Columbia and took a great interest in his gardens as well as his entire 1,200 acre estate with the carriages and farm.
A tour of the house helps to appreciate the beautiful plan of the garden. From every point inside, one can see another vista or garden courtyard that serves as a visual, and literal, extension of the house. The axes of the gardens echo the well-planned central axis of the house with hallways ending in narrow pools and French doors opening on to grassy courtyards.
Planning Your Visit to Wethersfield
This Italian renaissance garden of Wethersfield is open June through September on Wednesday, Friday and Saturday from 12:00 to 5:00 pm. Group Garden Tours are available by advance reservation: $12 per person; $10 for Seniors and students 13-18 years of age; $8 per person for groups of 3 or more; Children ages 12 and under free. The first Wednesday of the month, admission is free.
Advanced reservations are required to tour the Main House and Carriage House: $20 Adults; $15 Seniors and Students 13-18 years of age; $12 per person for groups of 3 or more; Children ages 12 and under free.
The extensive trails are also open from mid-April to mid-November from dawn to dusk with a $25 day pass. These are accessible only to equestrians and hiking enthusiasts and please see details on the website at www.wethersfieldgarden.org
The best way to get there is to take the exit off of the Taconic for Millbrook and take Route 44 past the town of Millbrook and Lithgow and then take Bangall-Amenia Road and turn right on to the scenic Pugsley Hill Road and the estate is about one mile down the road on the right.
Things to Do
On the website, you will find a wonderful assortment of activities ranging from piano concerts, falconry demonstrations, plein-aire workshops, theater performances and riding events ranging from trail rides to carriage outings. Regional nonprofit organizations such as Bard College or the Dutchess Land Conservancy often rent the gardens for parties and luncheons and talks.
Highly recommend a tour of the house that has a wonderful collection of Mr. Stillman’s art and sculpture collected by him and his family with paintings by Cassatt, Sargent, Stuart, Toulouse-Lautrec, Dega and Ingres among others. Visitors can also tour the carriage house and Mr. Stillman’s extensive collection of carriages dating from 1850 to 1910.
Nearby Accommodations and Restaurants
The best accommodations are in the nearby town of Pine Plains (2.5 miles away) and The Inn at Pine Plains, is a perfect spot right in the middle of town at 3036 Church Street with well-appointed rooms named after local heritage spots and reasonable prices. A few doors down, the Pine Plains Platter is where most of the locals and visitors are to be found serves up hearty breakfast and a variety of sandwiches and salads for lunch. For a midafternoon juicy cleanse, try Isabella’s Juice Bar but save space for dinner and there is no better choice than Stissing House Restaurant on the corner of South Main Street which has delicious food thanks to Chef Jean Michel and his wife Patricia who once owned and operated the French restaurant Provence in New York’s SoHo (518) 398-8800. Also be sure to visit the garden of Innisfree in Millbrook. http://www.innisfreegarden.org/