Vivid color is coming back to Naumkeag (May 5 Newsletter)

The tulips are glowing around the greenhouse at the foot of the hill, crimson red and flame orange and lemon. The colors are intense enough to hold the light. I’ve caught an hour of sunlight on the morning I slipped down to Stockbridge for the daffodil festival, and in these changeable spring days it feels like pure radiant luck.

A year ago I walked through here just before the pandemic broadsided us. Catherine Martini walked with me through the gardens on an early spring day. She is the horticulture manager for the Trustees Reservations, and she told me for the first time about the people who cared for these gardens in the beginning.

I knew the designer and the landscape architect who planned these walks and terraces, but she told me about Robert Crighton, the man who lived here year-round, in his own small house down the hill, and touched the plants with his own hands. He and four or five gardeners started the seeds in the greenhouse, planted and weeded, pruned and watered and helped them grow.

Walking on the grass between these new beds of vivid bulbs, I’m thinking of the hands-on work that takes. Martini and Brian Cruey, Naumkeag’s manager, are doing that work now — for this festival they have planted more than 150,000 bulbs, and they have many more tulips this year, around the gardens, at the foot of the maypole and along the terraces.

And they have invited the world into the gardens. In the years before the pandemic, Cruey opened the doors year-round for events like this, and in the last year, they have given local families a place to come outdoors and find some color and music. Now that the weather is warming up, they are finding new ways to offer garden tours and cut flowers and cyanotype workshops, taking pictures with sunlight.

Around me, children are calling when they find the next hidden marker in a treasure hunt for pollinators. Flags in the wind give a visible glad shout out to the new names of trails on Monument Mountain across the valley, Peeskaswo Peak, meaning a strong and clear-hearted woman, and the Mohican Monument Trail — the Trustees of Reservations cares for the land here too and has been talking with the Mohican Nation in the last year about the stories and the land they preserve for the future.

The soul of the place may have grown since the Choates first came here up the dirt road to picnic in the shade of an oak tree. That tree is 300 years old now, and it is still standing in the center of the gardens. Martini cares for its roots and makes sure it has room to breathe.

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