Brattleboro is a lovely place in the springtime, but sometimes, you just feel like going out and experiencing spring somewhere else for an afternoon. This is especially true if you have out of town guests, as many of us do during the summer. This year, we took advantage of my brother’s visit to take two very different day trips. The first was down to Northampton, where we toured the many gardens of Smith College. The second was a multi-stop drive out to southwestern Vermont where we checked out two lakes and the Southern Vermont Arts Center. Both trips were great fun with plenty of variety to keep things interesting.
The Gardens At Smith College
Just a short drive away in nearby Northampton, MA, the gardens at Smith College are a plant lover’s paradise. In fact, the whole campus is an arboretum, featuring many huge and impressive trees of all species. It was there that we first saw the giant redwood years ago. We were pleased to see that it’s still there along with many others. It’s worth it to just stroll around and look at trees, although you may want to take a gander at some of the buildings too, as there is plenty of interesting architecture in various styles.
We started our tour over by the botanical gardens, a network of greenhouses full of lush tropical plants from around the world. Admission is by donation and there’s a lot to see, so don’t miss it if you haven’t been. The greenhouses are by a large pond (with small island) and surrounded by a large outdoor garden. The manmade mini-pond with aquatic plantings was under repair when we visited, but there were large beds of anemones, irises, and peonies to keep us amused.
The star garden in my view was the rock garden which was in full sunshine when we were there, so able to display itself in all its glory. There are indeed rocks, and every square inch of the area is planted with low growing, miniature, and alpine species. There are three or four separate beds, and the area is landscaped so that each have a different character. The background garden, so to speak, contains larger trees and shrubs, along with ferns and greenery, making it a nice place to pause out of the sun.
The next garden we visited was the President’s Garden, an interesting walled garden resembling a parterre. Alas, it had been heavily rained on and seemed to be between seasons as well, but c’est la vie. The larger and more impressive garden is Capens Garden, in honor of an early botany professor at the school. Here you’ll find roses, iris and peonies again, as well as many other flowering plants. There’s also a knot garden composed of different colors of boxwood. As you may have guessed, Capens Garden is more formal garden than the others.
The Zen garden seemed sadly out of repair, but we enjoyed walking around the pond, occasionally stopping to sniff a particularly fragrant wild rose.
After that, we were hungry so we popped into town for a very nice lunch before making our way up the highway and home.
Lakes, Hikes, and Arts Around Manchester
After much perusual of a very old guide book, we settled on four (ok, five) stops on our recent day trip to the greater Manchester area. We decided to do a loop — out Route 9 to Bennington, up 7 to 7A for the Lake Shaftsbury stop, further up into Manchester for the Southern Vermont Arts Complex and Emerald Lake, and back home on Route 30. We left at 10 am and were home right around 5 o’clock.
Our first stop was the overlook at Hogback Mountain. I had always wanted to stop in there and we never have, so this time we made a point of it. The view was spectacular due to the clear (and quite cool) air. We looked around and enjoyed the panorama, taking a few pictures for our less fortunate friends. We were disinclined to pay $5 each to stop in the Natural History room, but my mother scored a sweater which made her happy all day.
Our next stop was Shaftsbury State Park which is just south of Arlington on Route 7A. The park is situated around a cute little lake, off in the woods and away from main roads, with a nice swimming beach, large grassy picnic area with tables, paddleboats and canoes for rent, and other amenities such as clean public restrooms.
Our goal was to take the Healing Springs Nature Trail which starts at the end of the picnic area, briefly following an active freight line. The walk was probably the most interesting of the day, including a number of varied habitats. The walk opens with a wooden walkway over a swampy area, where there was quite a variety of flora to enjoy. It then crosses a bridge to the first of two islands, which is carpeted with a thick, spongy mat of pine needles, making it fun to bounce on. The second island is craggier and constitutes what my guide book calls a rare chance to walk on a glacial esker. Here, the trail is bumpy with lots of half emergent round stones that keep you on your toes, literally, as you traverse the terrain.
I should mention that all the while, you can hear riotous birdsong from all sides. Although we sighted redwing blackbirds and little else, we heard the songs of many other species. It was a nice break from the traffic and buzz of our usual habitat. I could go on, but you get the idea. It was a nice lake.
We were headed next to Dorothy Canfield Fisher Memorial Pines but methinks they don’t exist anymore. The neighborhood wherein the Pines were supposed to be was littered with No Trespassing signs, so I’m guessing I’m not the first to have been looking for them. But we saw no sign of large old growth pines, or maybe we just weren’t looking hard enough.
Our next, slightly disappointing stop was Emerald Lake, no fault of the lake itself which was very picturesque. By then it was much chillier, with large looming clouds rolling over us continuously from the north; just looking at the water made you feel cold. Route 7 runs right by it so it’s loud. And the hills sort of close you in, making you feel not so much protected as slightly weirded out. We ate our lunch and it was fine, but we left right after to go to the Southern Vermont Arts Center, home to all kinds of interesting nature and art.
The Arts Center was a great way to end the trip. As you drive in, there are modern sculptures tucked away amongst the trees and grasses. Right away, you know it’s going to be that kind of place. Up at the main complex, there’s a museum of modern art, a performance space, a workshop building, and a restored mansion which is now an art gallery. Since admission to Yesterhouse, as the gallery is called, is free, we went in and wandered up, down, and all around.
First off, it’s a great house. The drawing room, foyer and dining room retain the ambience of an old mansion but are now filled with paintings and sculpture from contemporary artists (with price tags on each one, so if you wanted, you could take one home with you). Upstairs, the old bedrooms and sitting rooms had been opened up so you can see all of them as you walk through. It was a very pleasant experience to just stroll around a quiet old house looking at art.
Leaving Yesterhouse, we went back out to the garden where Chris was threatened by a Greek maiden who may have been Atalanta. (Not really, but it made a cute picture). At the far edge of the lawn, there is a plaque marking the start of a short nature trail that winds through the woods behind the house. The woods along the trail are full of woodland plants, some with labels although we were in doubt as to whether all of the labeled plants remained. No matter, it was a nice walk, with plenty to look at and enjoy. My guess is that the garden would have been even better a month before when the early spring-blooming flowers were out.
At that, the complex was getting ready to close so we made our way back down the long driveway to the road and home. As for me, I was able to check off four more destinations on my list, a favorite activity as I am a girl scout at heart.