I left Massachusetts early in the morning and headed toward Bristol, RI, home of Blithewold, a 33-acre summer estate on Narragansett Bay. It was good to be on the move again, back in my tiny little world, headed toward a new unknown.
Since I'm trying to be conscious of spending, especially this early in my trip, the $14 entrance fee was a little hard to swallow, but this Moon Gate greets you as you walk out of the tiny visitor center. This gate and garden represent a small taste of what is to come, all of which is well worth the price of admission. There are paths that lead to many, many gardens, and wide open lawns that lead down to the Bay.
The sky was bright blue and the sun was blazing; I'm not yet skilled enough with my camera to battle those conditions, but I managed to get some decent shots during the day. One of the things I want to work on during this trip is my technical skill, but I think that will have to wait until I find the rhythm of the trip and put in time every day so that I can experiment and then learn from my mistakes while I still remember what in the heck I was actually doing when I took a photo.
At 45 rooms, the English-style manor house is enormous, but it doesn't feel as though it is. One of the guides described the place to me as "livable" and after a walk through, I had to agree. It's not fiddly or fancy where it doesn't need to be. The rooms are mostly open, airy, and welcoming, which is very different from other grand homes I've visited. There are windows everywhere, letting in plenty of light. It feels as though a family really did make a life here together.
The gardens are ridiculous. Everywhere you turn there's something to look at and around every corner is another view or an exotic plant that you wouldn't expect to see in Rhode Island. According to the brochure, there are over 500 different kinds of woody plants, and hundreds of perennials and annuals on the property. Since it was a weekday, I didn't run into more than a couple of people during my rambling, which was completely welcome during a travel/transition day.
There's large glass greenhouse, built in 1901, which is mainly used for overwintering plants and propagation. Next to the greenhouse are the 'Idea Gardens', which are used as cutting gardens and for testing new plants for the larger gardens.
There's a tiny water garden chock full of frogs, water lilies, and tiny carp. There is also a much larger, formal water garden, which is beautiful, but lacking water, I assume because of the drought.
One of my favorite parts of the whole place was this bamboo grove. It was quiet, cool, and still inside, the light filtering down gently.
After a couple of hours of hot, sweaty wandering around the edges of the property, I needed a break. I headed back to my car and gathered together a picnic, then found my way back to a bench I'd passed overlooking the Bay. I sat and soaked in the view for 30 minutes, enjoying the last of the cider gifted to me in Maine, scribbling in my sketchbook, and resting my feet.
After lunch I pulled my pack back on and made my way across the large, open park in front of the manor house and into the trees on the other side. There are many native and exotic species all over the property; Japanese Snowbell is one of my new favorites.
There's an exhibit by a Vermont artist in the gardens through October 10th: Stephen Procter Sanctuaries and Destinations: Clay Vessels in the Garden. There are 18 of these huge stoneware vases and jars scattered throughout Blithewold. They are enormous and heavy, with rough sides, and a satisfying ring when you smack their sides. These beauties are meant to be left in place in all weather; I would love to see one in a winter garden.
After walking for the better part of the day I found myself in the 'Bosquet', a wooded area filled with Autumn Crocus. The cool shade was a relief after so much sun. I slowed down, took my time. It was definitely time to think about moving on.
One final stop, though, because a Giant Sequoia in Rhode Island is something that just has to be seen. This particular tree was planted in 1911. Its size is mind boggling and indescribable, just like every Sequoia I've ever seen. For me, the woods are a spiritual place; I return to them when I need to recharge, to let go, and to find some peace. Gazing up to the very top of this massive, living creature soothed my soul in a way that nothing else does.