One part vanished stately home, one part romantic garden, all parts serene and very much off the beaten track, Ashintully, the Berkshire property administered by the Trustees of Reservations (www.thetrustees.org), provides a lush green landscape in which to spend an afternoon.
Early in the 20th C, Robb dePeyster Tytus and his wife, Grace, built a 35 room mansion on a hill overlooking the Tyringham Valley. Mr. Tytus died just after the house was completed, and a year later Grace remarried and had a son, John Stewart McLennan, Jr.
Mr. McLennan spent childhood summers here and inherited Ashintully when his mother died in 1937. Destroyed by a fire in 1952, only the foundations and four Doric columns stand today. He and his wife, Katharine, lived below the hill in a farmhouse, with a separate music studio created in the barn. An award winning composer and musician, he began creating gardens and sculpting the land.
When we visited last summer, Katharine was still living there and she charmed us with stories of her husband and the gardens. She described her husband’s methods for working with the land, shaping it to his vision and finding the perfect stone or plantings to carry out his vision. Above a dry stream bed gently curves through the landscape, bisected by and handsome bridge. Last summer’s visit was when it was hot and dry, I am sure this stream is not dry in the spring.
A lead ram’s head acts as a finial to the end of the bridge. There are lots of such details to discover.
Looking beyond the bridge, the path wanders off towards the woodland. If you peer closely, you can see two ‘found’ columns drawing the eye on.
Eleanor of Acquitane holds court in this garden. The lush boxwood hedge shows off the lovely statue, which is notable for its beautiful drapery.
If you follow the trail up the hillside, you will reach the site of the mansion (top photo). In the encroaching landscape, remnants of the old driveway and entrance court fight with the weeds.
Ashintully is Gaelic for “on the brow of the hill”. What hopes and dreams must have been centered on that hilltop landscape and what a romantic ruin it is today. It must be spectacular in Autumn as the leaves turn and fall, opening up the view from the mansion even more.
PS I am teaching a workshop, "Cutting Edge Design: Not your mother's flower arrangement", at the Berkshire Botanical Garden (www.berkshirebotanical.org) on July 20th from 10AM to 1PM. Do register and come! I will be blogging about it later this month!