One could spend several happy months visiting the places Willit Mason describes in his useful guidebook: notable homes, stately mansions, formal gardens, art collections, ocean views, and much more.
In his introduction, Mason states that when he was touring the Berkshires and the Hudson Valley, he could not find a guidebook that gave the “highlights of both the house and gardens” and summarized “their particular strengths.” His book does all of these things admirably.
He divides his book into eight regions. Situated in New York and New England, the sites included represent a multiplicity of styles and attractions. For instance, Blithewold, (Rhode Island), an English manor style mansion, has a garden that includes a “bosquet with 50,000 daffodils.” Hammond Castle (Massachusetts) boasts an experimental pipe organ, a “draw for some of the finest organists.” The locations are maintained by trusts, historical and botanical societies, and state and federal agencies.
Mason traces each house through its various owners, architects and revisions. He tells how the gardens were planned and who planned them. He discusses the historical figures involved, including presidents (Washington, Adams and Roosevelt), magnates (Vanderbilt, Peabody, Rockefeller, etc.) and writers and artists (Longfellow, Wharton, Saint-Gaudens and Daniel Chester French).
He also gives thorough descriptions of the homes’ architecture and the layout of the trails and gardens, and often puts readers right there: “The woods are carpeted with ferns and vinca which pick up the shadows and sunlight filtering through trees.” Numerous photographs (sadly black and white) also help give a sense of place. And helpful maps are provided for each section, as are site-specific details, such as opening times, tour availability and contact information.
This is a comprehensive and well-researched guide. An index would have made the content more accessible, but despite this easily correctable omission, this volume should become a standard for New England visitors.
Also available as an ebook.