Now that things are getting back to normal in NYC, the crowds are getting bigger everywhere and we’ve really been wanting to get out into some wide open spaces! In addition to getting our hike on lately, we’ve also been seeking out estates and gardens as a way to get our dose of the outdoors. And a couple weeks ago, we made the 2.5-hour drive up to Amenia, NY where we were positively enchanted by the spectacular Wethersfield estate and gardens.
Wethersfield was the country home of Chauncey D. Stillman, whose grandfather was the founder of what is now Citibank. In 1937, Stillman bought two abandoned farms in Amenia, NY, to begin creating his estate, and as adjoining property became available, he expanded the property to its current size of approximately 1,000 acres. He named the estate Wethersfield after the town of Wethersfield, CT where his family originally settled upon arriving in the U.S. in the 1700s.
Architect Bancel LaFarge was enlisted in 1939 to build the Main House, which currently contains Stillman’s collection of antiques from the 15th through 20th centuries. The house is surrounded by a seven-acre Wilderness Garden, as well as a three-acre Italian Renaissance-style formal garden that was built in two phases. The Inner Garden was added in 1940-1941 under the guidance of landscape architect, Bryan J. Lynch, and the rest of the garden was developed over the next 25 years using the designs of Stillman and landscape architect, Evelyn N. Poehler.
In addition to the Main House and gardens, there is a working farm, several miles of hiking and horseback riding trails, and a Carriage House Museum, where you can find Mr. Stillman’s collection of carriages from the 19th and early 20th centuries.
A visit to Wethersfield can be as simple as strolling through the garden, or you can make a whole day of it and head out on the several miles of hiking or riding trails as well. Since we had a long drive both to and from Wethersfield, we opted to simply visit the garden and take only a short stroll on the trails afterwards. Also, note that not all of Wethersfield is open to the public at this time. If you want to know more about what might available the day of your visit, it would be best to reach out to Wethersfield directly.
Advance reservations are required, and when we arrived, we were greeted at the front gate and asked to show our reservation receipt and sign some waivers. We were then welcomed inside, and we headed off to the parking lot just a short drive away. There are nice, clean restrooms right next to the parking lot in case you need one after a long drive like we did!
As soon as we got out of the car, we knew we were in for a treat. There were lush green, rolling hills in every direction and a delightful breeze blowing atop the hill where the gardens and house are situated. We set out for the garden first and decided to follow the suggested route on the garden map. This had us start at the East Garden, where we discovered a brick entryway that was created using retired Belgium Block from the streets of NYC.
Next, we passed through the Arborvitae Arch and around the Rose Garden and the Cutting Garden, which had some beautiful and unique flowers that I had never seen before. At one time, the Cutting Garden supplied all the flowers that were displayed daily in the main house. Nowadays, it better serves the butterfly and hummingbird population that come here to feed.
We continued on to the northern section of the garden and up the Allee to the bronze statue at the Naiad Fountain and then back to the Water Garden with its adorable turtle fountains! Both the Allee and the reflecting pool were added in the 1950s.
Just on the other side of the reflecting pool sits the main house and the lovely Inner Garden. We walked through the center of the garden and up to the Knot Garden at the northernmost section before walking back down to the house through the Beech Tunnel, which was planted in 1973 (the original planting from 1941 was replaced).
Unfortunately, the house wasn’t open for exploring indoors, but we did continue the suggested route around the southern side of the house, where the views from the house and South Terrace are just stunning. From here, we also caught a glimpse of a landscape-painting class in progress. They certainly chose a lovely spot to paint!
The front door and driveway to the house are on the western side of the house, and this is where you can also pick up the Wilderness Path so that you can enjoy the seven-acre Wilderness Garden.
We started the Wilderness Path and briefly attempted to wander along some of the hiking trails, but we had the hardest time determining where we were on the trail map. Definitely be sure to start with a good landmark before setting out on the trails so that you can properly orient yourself. Eventually, we just made a big circle and re-entered the southern tip of the Wilderness Garden, which was shady and cool and quite beautiful as well.
Once you leave the Wilderness Path, you’ll cross back along the southern section of the main house, go back past the reflecting pool, and then complete the suggested route along the elevated section of the garden called Peacock Walk, aptly named because of the peacocks who live there! We saw about five of them the day we visited. All but one were within an enclosure, and the solo gentleman was kind enough to let us take his photo.
From Peacock Walk, you are treated to gorgeous overhead views of the East Garden, and you can also walk up the lovely path to the Belvedere, which sits at 1200 feet – the highest point in the garden.
It didn’t hurt that we had perfect weather the day of our visit, but it’s hard to imagine that Wethersfield would be anything but beautiful no matter the time of year. However, the garden is only open to visitors through the end of September, so if you want to visit this year, you’re running out of time!
If Wethersfield is a bit too far away, there are plenty of other outdoor adventures closer to the city and there’s no shortage of gardens that offer an escape from the hustle and bustle. I hope you’ll make it to Wethersfield soon, though, and that you come on back here and tell me what you thought of your own visit!
Plan Your Own Visit
Where to Go
- Wethersfield: 257 Pugsley Hill Road, Amenia NY 12501
When to Go
- Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays from June 4th through September 26th, 2021
- The garden is open from 12:00 pm – 5:00 PM. The Main House was not open to visitors when we visited – check in advance if it will be open on the day of your visit.
Tips for Visiting
- Bring lots of water and sunscreen!
- You must make a reservation in advance on the Wethersfield website. Remember to bring a copy of your receipt, as you’ll need to show this at the front gate.
- To get the most out of your garden visit, follow the suggested route on the garden map.
- Trails are available for both horseback riding and hiking. If you plan to ride or hike during your visit, be sure to sign the appropriate trail waiver in advance.
- The hiking trail map was a little confusing once we got out onto the trails. Try to start the trail near an identifiable landmark on the map so that it will be easier to follow.
- Dogs are not permitted in the garden or during organized equestrian events, but leashed dogs are permitted on the trails. No bicycles are permitted on the trails.
- Restrooms are available right next to the parking lot.
- Don’t forget to check their Upcoming Events in case you’d like to experience the garden during one of their special events.