Yesterday, Maine was treated to the cruelest April Fool’s joke imaginable. Winter weary already, we were treated to a Nor’easter dumping almost another foot of wet, heavy snow up on us.  A large cedar beside the house fell, taking down the phone and electrical lines.  I won’t whine—much, but staring out at the dirty melting white stuff, I’ve made a decision.  Nothing but gardens in the blog for the next few days.

Ashdale Farm, the Stevens-Coolidge estate in North Andover Massachusetts, is one of the loveliest, and most perfectly maintained public estate gardens in New England—everything about it looks as it should, the highest praise the Dilettante can give—and too seldom do I get to these days.


The property had been in the Stevens family since 1729.  After Helen Stevens’ marriage to Joseph Coolidge, a great grandson of Thomas Jefferson and nephew of Isabella Stewart Gardner,  the farm became their country estate, from 1914 to 1962.  They had architect Joseph Everett Chandler remodel the house, which comprised two Federal era structures, simultaneously making it more comfortable for modern life—combining smaller rooms into larger, adding a bow front bay to the rear of the drawing room on axis with the gardens, also designed by Chandler—yet making the house even more ‘Colonial’ in spirit than it had been before.

Plan of grounds (Trustees of Public Reservations)
Porches and French doors added by Chandler help open the house to the gardens. 

An old fashioned mixed perennial garden is on axis with the drawing room bow
A walled garden adjoining the perennial the old fashioned garden is cleverly designed to appear sunken, the gentle splashing of fountains enhances the sense of seclusion

Across the back drive from the gardens, huge fields flank an orchard leading to a potager added in the 1920s.
At the rear of the potager, serpentine brick walls echo those designed at the University of Virginia by Mr. Coolidge’s great-grandfather, Thomas Jefferson
The level and quality of  maintenance at Ashdale Farm are superb.  Eye and technique are both at play here.
Mrs. Coolidge willed the estate to the Massachusetts Trustees of Public Reservations at her death in 1962.  Additional land was donated by her daughter, Mrs. Walter Muir Whitehill, whose husband was director of the Boston Athenaeum, and author of the fascinating Boston, a Topographical History.   The gardens are open daily 8 AM to sunset, and the house may be visited on Wednesdays in season.

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