Dateline August 2016:
The red house is now 80% complete. We can wait for winter to unpack boxes, paint, fine-tune, decorate– Turning our attention to the long neglected yard, the gardens and the grass.
The gardens and yard had been poorly tended since the late 1990s when the house changed hands, so we knew we had a fairly large landscaping project ahead. The damage incurred digging drainage trenches and foundation work added lots of insult to injury: the marble terrace –chopped up and obliterated, plants–uprooted, stonewalls–knocked over. Old foundation–crumbled walls. What used to be patches of grass, now littered with rocks, gravel, and cement chunks. Oh Boy.
We often wonder what the yard looked like when it was in its prime.
I have been able to piece together an idea of what Miss Hague’s yard may have looked like from recollections of people who visited Miss Hague and Christina Conklin, the master gardener who nurtured the gardens when she owned and lived on the property during 1975- 1998.
“Although I was young, my memories of her and the two cottages are very sharp. Both were that New England red color. There were lovely gardens out back leading to a small stream. Polly and I (the only remaining members of our immediate family) still talk about them. The gardens were like an English country garden, organized beds, but loose flowers without the sort of restrictions found in French gardens. Those gardens were a magical place with paths down to the stream, a little rounded bridge, and paths through the beds. Miss Hague could be seen in the mornings in a straw hat with a tie, snipping away and filling up a shallow basket with blooms from the taller plants. There might have been some vegetables and a strawberry patch. Not sure.” (Penelope Duffy, daughter of Dr. Alfred B. Starratt who inherited Miss Hague’s house upon her passing in 1971.)
In the course of all the research I have done about Miss Hague and the red house I stumbled upon a book by Robin Karson, Fletcher Steele, Landscape Architect, An account of a Gardenmaker’s life, 1885-1971 that documents the renowned landscape architect Fletcher Steele designed the gardens for Miss Hague in 1935.
Fletcher Steele graduated from Williams College and entered the Master of Landscape Architecture program at Harvard in 1907. Steele created over 700 gardens from 1915-1971. He was widely regarded as the key figure in the establishment of modern landscape design. Steele believed that landscape architecture was an art form, like painting or music. Steele renovated the gardens at Naumkeag for Mabel Choate, one of Marion Hague’s closest friends, which explored early Modernist rethinking of design and materials.
I have been unable to access any of Steele’s plans or drawings of the gardens at the red cottage. It certainly makes the mind reel, wondering how delightful and unique they could have been.
And this is where we are……………