The Scene: Naumkeag's Annual Garden Party Sparkles with Fame and Flair

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STOCKBRIDGE — Under a pale blue summer sky, over 250 guests, board members, administrators and Host Committee members attended Naumkeag's annual Afternoon Garden Party on Saturday.

The garden party — a summer tradition of Joseph Choate and his family during their time at the Gilded Age cottage — was in celebration of the newly constructed Naumkeag greenhouse complex and flower farm in the historic gardens originally designed by Mabel Choate and renowned landscape architect Fletcher Steele.

Guests floated about in their willowy garden attire conversing with decadent martinis and sunset-colored peach Bellinis in hand while live topiary plants danced in their giant pots under the ethereal white tents just steps away from the doors of the estate.

Mark Wilson, curator of the greenhouse complex, commented on the event and his esteemed work on the greenhouse and gardens.

"It all started when the greenhouse was the part of the property meant to supply plants and cuttings over the winter. We even grew peaches that ripened in early March before anyone else," he said. "Unfortunately under a heavy snowstorm in the 1970s the greenhouse collapsed, and has been a missing part of the landscape for the past 40 years."

When asked about the planning and building process he added."It took about three years of planning and going back and forth; the work started this spring and we finished it within just two weeks to be energy efficient. With the garden restoration we saw that rebuilding the greenhouse was a big piece. Now we can use our heirloom seeds and take cuttings from our plants to grow and propagate them. It's so remarkable to me to walk up the back way and say `wow' it's here again." Naumkeag's General Manager Brian Cruey, dressed in his crisp white suit commented, "With over 250 of our friends and supporters together to celebrate the construction of our new greenhouse and the launch of our flower farm, this year is special for so many reasons. The Garden Party is always one of my favorite events of the season. All of us at Naumkeag are so grateful for the support of such an amazing community."

Honorary co-chairpersons were Robert G. and Elisabeth Wilmers; garden party co-chairwomen were Hilary Somers Deely and Celia de G. Kittredge. Host Committee members included Yo Yo Ma and Jill Hornor, Sarah and Tim Eustis, Nathan and Marilyn Hayward, Paul and Lauren LeBlanc, Susan and Carl Sprague, Tjasa Sprague, Chris and Tyler Weld, Mark and Liz Williams, Kate and Hans Morris, Claudia K. Perles, Robert and Suzette Alsop, Michael and Ramelle Pulitzer, Daniel T.M. Dempsey, William Li and James Oats.

The event consisted of flower demonstrations, guided house tours, live music and performances by the Boston Circus Guild and a ribbon cutting ceremony.

Cocktails were provided by Berkshire Mountain Distillers Inc., locally sourced bites by STARR Catering; music by the Limbshakers; roving/topiary performance by Boston Circus Guild.

Sculptor Robert Shure, of Skylight Studios in Boston, told the charming story of how after being contracted to recreate the Venetian Gondola poles for the Afternoon Garden it was discovered that his teacher and mentor Arcangelo Cascieri had carved the original poles for Miss Choate back in the 1930s. Shure was happy to stand for a photograph beside his colorful and brilliant creations.

Shure was accompanied by his wife and business partner, Kathleen Shure, who passionately said: "Whatever you do in your life don't stop doing it."

Paul LeBlanc, a member of Naumkeag's board of directors, attending with his wife Lauren, said: "I could not be more pleased with the turnout today and the restoration of the greenhouse is a pivotal addition to the estate."

"Every year it gets better and better." said Somers Deely, garden party co-chairwoman, in her flowy blue silk wrap.

Co-chairwoman Kittredge, who was with Somers Deely, added: "I couldn't have done it without her. It's nice to have Hilary on your side."

Guests such as Host Committee member Claudia Perles sat in the sunlight while Norman Rockwell Museum Director Laurie Norton Moffatt hobnobbed in the crowd.

Quoting the American theoretical physicist Richard Feynman, renowned cellist Yo Yo Ma said, "Nature has a great simplicity and therefore a great beauty."

He added, "If we can't take care of our resources no one will. We have to think about what people need; what we're doing here is the essence of citizenship."

Former Gov. William F. Weld, dressed in garden linen and nostalgic tie, posed for a pic and spoke of his involvement with the conservation easements back in 1969.

As the sun began to set guests retired to the lower gardens to witness the ribbon cutting ceremony for the new greenhouse complex. Below, upon the vast lawn with a backdrop of bucolic mountain views, the musicians the Limbshakers were setting up to entertain.

"The spirit of agriculture is important to Naumkeag and over 4.4 million was raised for the project," Joanna Ballantine, vice president of the Western Region, said during her opening remarks.

She was followed by LeBlanc and the Wilmers, who led the momentous ribbon cutting ceremony.

Ballantine said in a final comment, "The Naumkeag Garden Party was once again a beautiful celebration of the magic of Naumkeag and the joy that occurs when family and friends gather to celebrate the spirit of gracious living the Choate's loved and intended to pass on for generations of Berkshire guests."

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