Portland Celebrates Victorian Christmas

Portland Celebrates Victorian Christmas

The Victorians knew how to celebrate the Christmas Holidays.

The Victorian period in America from 1840 to 1900 gave us the Christmas we have today, which includes candles, ribbons, flowers, and of course, the evergreen tree.  Decorating the Victoria Mansion in Portland, Maine at this time of year only continues that tradition.

Located in a hilly residential area near downtown, Victoria Mansion now captures the spirit of a Victorian Holiday with its extensive interior decorations.

The Victoria Mansion hosts its special Christmas celebration for the thirty-third year. The special six-week exhibit called  “Christmas at Victoria Mansion” runs until January 8.

Black Hat Tree

The parlor’s black hat tree, designed by Harmon’s and Barton’s, a local florist.

The Victoria Mansion, a brownstone built in 1860 in the Italian villa style, is preserved today as a Victorian home for visitors to enjoy a bit of nineteenth century Victorian fashion and style.

Designers

Holiday lights, flowers, greens, and ribbons fill the house during the Christmas season. Eight volunteer designers include florists, gift shop owners, and interior decorators who donate their time and also the materials to fashion each room.

This year they created each room’s decor with the theme “A Currier and Ives Christmas.”  Designers took their inspiration from the winter holiday images produced by the nineteenth century’s most popular printmaking firm.

Harmon’s and Barton’s, a Portland florist, used a black hat theme to decorate  the parlor. [above]

Mantel in Victoria Mansion

Mantel in Victoria Mansion’s red bedroom by Dan Gifford.

Dan Gifford of Portland decorated the mantel piece in the red bedroom with an array of Holiday colors, including the traditional red berries. [above]

Interior designer Karen Cole, here for her first time at the Mansion, chose a white, red, and green theme for the green bedroom.

Cole chose to create a bodice Christmas tree that stands in the bedroom. [below]

Christmas Tree in the Main Bedroom

Christmas Tree Bodice in the Master Bedroom by Karen Cole

The Mansion has become a special Holiday destination for many. Associate Director Tim Brosnihan says, “Part of the appeal of our Christmas celebration is that it has become a tradition for families.”  Each year many visitors return to see what this year’s designers have come up with for the rooms of the mansion.  He says, “It’s different every year.”

Last year almost ten thousand people walked through the front door of the Mansion to see the decorations.

The Victoria Mansion’s special Holiday decorations only make the house that much more inviting.

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Fletcher Steele’s Naumkeag Design Restored

Fletcher Steele’s Naumkeag Design Restored

A few weeks ago I visited Naumkeag in Stockbridge, Massachusetts.

The house and garden date to the first half of the twentieth century, reflecting a bit of the period of the grand Gilded Age mansions and gardens. This iron chair from the afternoon garden on the side of the house reflects that time. [below]

The chair in the afternoon garden

The blue chair in the afternoon garden

The glory of the day had to be to walk around and see the restored Fletcher Steele garden.

New York landscape architect Steele (1885-1971), along with the owner Mabel Choate, provided Naumkeag’s modernist garden design over a thirty-year period.

Unfortunately, the garden had become overgrown.

Now at a cost of 2.6 million dollars the Trustees of Reservations, owner of the house and garden, has restored the forty-four room house and its eight acres of gardens.

Steele’s famous blue steps bordered with white birch trees had become overgrown.  In the last couple of years fifty new birch trees replaced the original line of trees. [below]

Blue steps

Fletcher Steel’s Blue Steps, the most famous piece of his design at Naumkeag.

The Chinese garden, with its Moongate entrance installed in 1955,  took twenty years to build. This garden began with two stone Chinese dogs.

In the renovation of the Chinese garden over two hundred trees that had become overgrown were removed.

Steele’s landscape includes several gardens like the Tree Peony Terrace and the Rose Garden. Both have been given a new look as well.

A linden allee has been installed off one side of the house, not far from the animal cemetery.[below]

Linden allee

This allee of linden trees is part of the restoration.

Naumkeag today is worth a visit, or revisit, to see the restored work of one of the most famous of American landscape architects.

Edith Wharton’s Mount Features Shade Garden

Edith Wharton’s Mount features shade garden.

Edith Wharton (1862-1937) wrote not only fiction, but her interest in house and garden design inspired both books and articles as well.

She wrote 40 books in 40 years.

Wharton named her house in Lenox, Mass. The Mount. There in the Berkshires she felt inspired to write some of her best work.

In 1902 Wharton designed both the house and the garden at The Mount.

Over the past several years the garden has been carefully restored to its original design.

That design follows a formal Italian look, made of straight lines and symmetry.

At one end of garden you see the formal flowerbeds with the Italianate fountain in all its formal glory in the center.

At the other end of the garden, which you arrive at by walking a tree-lined stone path, she positioned the ‘walled garden.’

When she designed the walled garden, the trees and shrubs she installed were small. Then there was plenty of light.

Today you encounter in that same garden a deep shade since everything has grown to such a height.

Thus the gardeners who maintain the area have now planted hosta, astilbe, and ferns.

This is the view out from the walled garden to the back of the property where you can just catch a glimpse of a body of water in the distance. [below]

shade garden at the Mount

The walled garden is now this shade garden at The Mount in Lenox.

The design of Edith’s garden is formal, but now also includes this garden of shade.

In the early twentieth century when renewed interest in the formal garden appeared both in England and America, Edith Wharton captured the popularity of that design in her own garden.

Today the restored garden at The Mount offers the visitor a chance to capture a sense of that moment in the history of American gardening.

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Rural New Hampshire Features Victorian Garden

Rural New Hampshire Features Victorian Garden

For years people have been telling me about The Fells in the Lake Sunapee area in Newbury, New Hampshire.

John M. Hay, who once served as secretary to President Abraham Lincoln, built a summer house and garden which he then called The Fells.

Last week I drove up to The Fells to check it out for myself.

The Fells history begins in 1891 when Mr. Hay, later Secretary of State, buys the property.

Today the property features a 22-room Colonial Revival House with several gardens.  I loved the gardens because they represent the garden fashion of the late 19th and early 20th centuries

The Old Garden, built in 1909, was the estate’s first signficant garden space, with three formal walled rooms in the woods. [below]. Since this garden grew in shade, I saw plants like ginger, Japanese painted fern, pulmonaria, and ferns.

This garden, built with straight lines and beautiful plants and tall trees, felt peaceful and provided a sense of relaxation.

Fells small formal garden

Boy and turtle fountain in the small formal garden at The Fells.

There were other gardens on the property as well, like the Rose garden near the house that now includes the beautiful lisianthus in several spots in full bloom.

A few feet away I found the rock garden which was planted by the grandson of John M. Hay. This third generation gardener used over 600 species of alpine plants. I walked its rock path to the bottom of the garden. Most enjoyable. The plants are all thriving on that hillside.

A 130-foot perennial border lines the front lawn.  It features a beautiful selection of plants that provide bloom most of the summer and into the fall. Such borders were in fashion at the turn of century, especially since English garden designers Gertrude Jekyll and William Robinson recommended them.

Beyond the front wall of the house you see an extensive meadow that is home to birds and monarch butterflies.

The trees that border the property along the shore of Sunapee Lake have grown so high now that it is difficult to see the lake in the background.  At times I was able to snatch a peak.  In the nineteenth century a boat would bring summer residents from the local train station to their homes.

There is a stone parking area behind the house, and on one side, enclosed in a canopy of small trees, you see a white statue of Hebe, cup-bearer of the gods. [below]

Fells white statue

The white statue of the goddess Hebe at The Fells.

The trip was well worth it. What a garden this is. All I heard about The Fells turned out to be true.

This garden today is well maintained and continues as a tribute to the three generations of the Hay family who built it.

 

 

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