The Outer Majesty of The Mount

While the inside of The Mount is magnificent, the majesty of the outside slightly dwarfs it. With its tiered terraces leading down to the formal gardens, and the view of a lake, I can imagine being perfectly content here, if a little lonely. Beauty only goes so far in alleviating that kind of loneliness. But to visit, it’s exquisite, and I imagine grand weeks were spent here between Wharton and her friends.

I can say this since I don’t operate the lawnmowers: though grand, it is certainly not imposing in scale. Expansive yes, and I can’t imagine a single person, or even two, could properly manage such grounds, yet it still feels cozy and intimate, its formal structure not in the least bit cold or constrained. With larger spaces like this, such formality works to organize the vastness of what’s at hand, each section becoming like a little room, connected by corridors of trees and shrubs. It creates secret nooks for stolen kisses, quiet corners for hushed conversations, and hidden opportunities for adoring lovers.

The gardens are just at the end of their summer glory, but the Japanese anemones keep it all fresh, and most of the annuals are still putting on a splendid show. Crowds of cleome, clouds of hydrangea, and a full phalanx of phlox soften the stiff angles of the layout. A long twin row of carefully-manicured trees forms the border of the main walkway, a leafy promenade that called for something much more fanciful than my shorts and sneakers.

A fountain of fish and the accompanying cadence of falling water lend a soothing and cooling aspect in spite of the mid-day sun that beats down relentlessly. It reminds me of how important a water feature is to the garden, and how we may have to implement one next year. There are ways to incorporate ideas from a garden this grand into one decidedly less-so.

A woodland walk leads into the forest to the right of this sculptural focal point, a seamless segue into the wilder environs of the grounds, and a chance to be shaded and hidden. If there hadn’t been so many bugs I would have allowed the forest to close more completely behind me.

This corner of the premises offers the most striking view of the house, perched upon its namesake, resplendent in the early afternoon sunlight and framed by ancient pine trees. The soft splashing of the fountain and the calls of a few birds are all that break the tenuous silence – though silence here seems to carry more substance, more lasting power than other places.

The fountain in the West garden (seen below) mirrors the one in the East garden (above), though in a more informal manner – its grouping of rocks more aligned with the shadier, wilder aspect of this part of the land, the circular shape softer and gentler than the rigid angles of the East.

An enormous wall of climbing hydrangeas must have been quite the sight in full bloom – for now just the white begonias and hostas are sharing their subtle blossoms. This garden is more hidden, sunken down slightly lower than the rest of the grounds, tucked deeper into the hillside. Its plants are fit for the shade, less showy with their flowers, more focused on the verdant surfaces of its leaves.

I like the quieter feel of this area. It’s the perfect place to finish up our tour of The Mount. As we walk back towards the house, a large tour group is just traversing the promenade. Our little pocket of stillness and quiet has come to its close, the morning of my birthday easing into the afternoon as we make our way back to New York.

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