Naumkeag was built on a steep hill, and so its landscape required quite a bit of manipulation to be usable. The Peony Terraces behind the house show how a big drop in elevation over a short distance can be turned into a showcase. In this instance, the terraces gave Mabel Choate a way to show off her tree peony collection. An apple cordon in front of the top retaining wall separates the Top Lawn and its promenade from the peony garden; fieldstone walls stepping down the slope make the narrow terraces.
This collection of tree peonies looks good through the growing season, and is a knockout in flower. Each fieldstone wall holds a couple of feet of elevation, at least, leaving a pleasant grassy lawn for passageway between the Rose Garden and the South Lawn.
Retaining walls on three sides enclose the rose garden; in one corner a stairway of radial steps spills into the space from a narrow opening in the masonry.
While the Peony Terraces could be considered to push forward into the lawn space, the Rose Garden, shown here, appears carved out of the hillside. The grade is almost completely flat, the better to exhibit the curvy gravel paths and rose beds to viewers from above. (The pattern is said to be reminiscent of the floral pattern on a Chinese painted plate.) Everywhere on this property is evidence of how the land is sculpted in the service of spacemaking.
A short, controlled slope drops off from the Arborvitae Walk to the marble fountain on its lawn terrace in the Evergreen Garden.
The lawn slope between the Arborvitae Walk and the fountain is short enough and just shallow enough still to be mowable.
On the other side of the Arborvitae Walk, the slope up to the drive and Chinese Garden is planted with Pyracantha and made passable with this stairway of solid granite steps.
The steps leading to the drive from the Evergreen Garden link nicely to a walk across the drive. This walk, in the same stone as the steps (either marble, limestone, or most likely for durability’s sake, granite), brings you to the Devil’s Gate, one of two entrances to the Chinese Garden. (Apparently, the gateway’s 90-degree turn is meant to shake off the devil and prevent him from entering this garden space.)
The Devil's Gate: step up into the space, turn right and go up a short ramp, and find yourself in the Chinese Garden. Some transitions between gardens at Naumkeag are seamless, and easily blend one area into another. Here, the drive separates two distinct gardens, each of which possesses a threshold that requires grade change.
Another stone stair gets you up to the little temple in the Chinese Garden.
Elevating the little temple makes it more imposing and dominant in the Chinese Garden. (That's not a wheelbarrow ramp in the upper stairway; it has some other kind of spiritual significance.)
To leave the Chinese Garden, you walk through a moon gate in the brick and fieldstone wall (masonry types may be the topic of a whole ‘nother post on this place). There’s just enough threshold to reinforce the notion that you’ve left a distinct place, and have entered an entirely different space. A curving ramp brings you back down the the drive.
To get in, go up a step and up a ramp; to leave, step over a threshold, through a wall, and down a ramp.
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