ISSUE 66  |  Cult of the Kitchen

A Secret Garden: Glorious Springtime in the Berkshires

April 01, 2013 10:00 AM

BY Michelle Slatalla

We love to peek inside readers’ secret gardens, and over the past few months we’ve seen amazing things: giant topiary ladies wearing Toulouse Lautrec bustles, an enchanted meadow of wildflowers, even a swimming pool painted nine intense colors of “pond green.” We can’t pick a favorite, but you did—the most popular was screenwriter Maria Nation’s cloud-pruned boxwood garden in western Massachusetts. Last time we visited her was autumn. Let’s see how the place looks in spring:

A few years ago, Nation discovered the work of French gardener Nicole de Vésian, in Provence: “Her garden, La Louve, hit me like some cosmic thunderbolt. It took my breath away. It is a garden of shapes—formal yet organic; spare but utterly romantic. In this single thunderbolt it became my gardening ‘true north;’ the style that answered all the questions I didn’t even know I had. But I also loved the spirit of the late de Vesian who, remarkably, started La Louve at age 70.” Thousands of miles away in Massachusetts, Nation uprooted and gave away her entire perennial garden and started over, deeply inspired by a woman she never met. For Nation, her garden is all about structure, the play of light on the shapes, the color of the foliage. And it takes our breath away too.

Do you have a secret garden too? Send photos to us at edit @ and we may feature your garden in an upcoming post.

Photographs by Maria Nation.

Above: “I love the solid shapes of boxwood,” says Nation, whose Good Dogs Farm is eight acres. “I like the way they quiet the rest of the activity in the garden.”

Above: Between amalanchier shrubs, Nation positioned a ball she made from invasive bittersweet and wild grape vines removed from her woods.

Above: Crab apple blossoms fall like spring snow.

Above: A field waiting to be planted.

Above: The donkeys enjoying the spring grass.

For another gorgeous reader’s garden, see Spring Comes to Connecticut.

Above: “I wait until later to trim the boxwoods, so they are shaggy in spring,” says Nation. “I love their shape because they carried us through the grim winter.”

Would you like to see a reader’s secret garden with a giant shrub shaped like a Victorian lady walking a dog? See A Secret Garden With Fanciful Topiary.

Above: Most of the color in the garden comes from foliage. “For me, flowers are too fleeting,” says Nation, who nonetheless has a soft spot for purple irises.

Above: “When I re-created my garden, I gave away almost all of my flowers,” says Maria. “I kept this iris because I love the dirty brown color of it.”

For a reader’s secret garden in England, see Enchanted Burchetts Wood.

Above: Nation’s cat URO (short for Unidentified Running Object) rolls on a marble slab. “She was feral and we trapped her after she spent one summer hiding out in various spots around the house and shooting away, scaring us half to death when we least expected it,” says Nation.

Curious about how Nation’s garden looks in autumn? See A Secret Garden: Beauty in the Berkshires.