I had lived here, in Vermont, for almost 20 years and had often seen the sign for the turnoff to St. Gaudens National Historic Site. However, most often, I was on my way to take one of my epic, bi-monthly, grocery shopping trips and had no time for exploring or lollygagging around. Besides, though I LOVE living in Vermont - in the country - many, many museums and house tours aren't really to my taste. I think that I have more of a European aesthetic and the heavy, small time, country Victorian vibe just doesn't thrill me.
Eventually, however, two summers ago - in late August - I realized that, because of biopsies and operations, I hadn't been out of the house (except to go to the hospital or store) but once in seven months. In pure desperation and with a serious case of wanderlust, I went for a long explore and wound up, finally, at the home of Augustus St. Gaudens. The road was charming, the winding, small drive through the pine forest up to the house was secretive, the parking lot...? Well, I've seen larger vegetable gardens! I got out of my car and was presented with a very tall hedge and the glimpse of a house just beyond.
As I followed the path around the walkway and went through the hedge, I was not prepared for what I found. Something small but mighty!
As it turns out, if you have ever been to New York City, you know who Augustus St. Gaudens is. On the lower, East corner of The Park is a tremendous and glorious statue (now, newly regilded and shining gold) of a man - an officer - mounted on a noble steed - upright - being led by a glorious angel - a woman with hand outstretched - named 'Peace'. That is the work of this gifted sculptor of no little fame, influence and standing. One does not often find such an artist of international renown in the rural hills of Vermont/New Hampshire but, St. Gaudens loved his summer home - making it his permanent residence towards the end of his life. Born in Dublin, raised in NYC, studied in Paris and Rome - his home - especially, his gardens - have a resounding European sensibility. What's more, the soul of this man who was so encouraging and inspiring to other artists, still seems to reside here. Being the smallest National Park, it doesn't feel like it belongs to the state hardly at all. I don't quite know how to explain it but.... it feels 'real'. Like the voices of the artist and his family, friends and community are still echoing here.
What's more, it appears that this is the best kept secret ever! You will see that there are no people in my pictures. That's because, more often than not, when I go at the end of the day, I AM the only one there. Actually, I bought a season pass that allows me to stay on the grounds from dawn till dusk and, as any last wandering stragglers leave, the garden is mine! All mine!! My own secret place!!!
This place is a maze of hedge rooms and small gardens - patios and porches - courtyards - a beech allée - and a tremendous sweeping meadow carved out from the woods with glorious views - all wrapped in silence - all curving and winding and opening out into each other.
I've come to explore many times and am always discovering some other nook or corner. This time, I brought my oldest and youngest son with me. They brought their sketch books. We took a hike down to the watering hole where St. Gaudens and his workers would go on hot summer afternoons. The most astounding discovery, this time, however, was in a hedge, fronted with a row of fruit trees whose change I had often admired in the different seasons. After staring and appreciating so many times, how had I missed the archway leading to the cutting garden? It must be a secret garden - only opening up to those who wait for it long enough!