When I began to make a garden on my small property in the village of Peterborough, NH, I was at a loss on how to arrange the garden on a steep hill which had glimpses of a view of Mt. Monadnock from the side yard. In the beginning, I concentrated on planting flowers that I liked and then I visited Saint-Gaudens National Historic Site in Cornish, NH. Aspet was the home and artist's studio for the sculptor Augustus Saint-Gaudens (1884-1926). Saint-Gaudens may be best remembered for the Shaw Memorial in Boston. Aspet has a formal design and has garden rooms with white pine and hemlock hedges.
As I studied the Cornish Colony, I learned of the influence of formal Italian gardens in New Hampshire. Charles A. Platt (1861-1933) was a respected architect and later landscape architect who admired Beaux-Arts architecture and studied Italian renaissance architecture. In the early 1890's, Platt traveled to Italy with his brother to study Italian architecture. In 1894, his landmark book, Italian Gardens, was published. Platt moved to Cornish after he returned from Italy and built a house, studio and garden. Judith Tankard, in her book A Place of Beauty: The Artists and Gardens of the Cornish Colony, wrote that "Platt's intention as an architect was not to reproduce what he had seen in Italy, but to adapt its spirit to an American context." Platt's own house and garden has formal design with paths laid out axially in relationship to the house and terraces. The house is nestled into a hill and has a commanding view of Mt. Ascutney in Vermont.
In 2000, my wife's family planned a trip to Tuscany and I had the opportunity to see Italian gardens for myself. While the rest of the family took a day off from sightseeing, I traveled to the hillside of Settignano outside of Florence and visited Villa Gamberaia. Villa Gamberaia is probably the quintessential Italian villa and garden. Its intimate scale makes translating the formality of the garden into a small American plot possible.
When I returned to New Hampshire, it became clear that I was going to make a formal, terraced Italianate garden which related to the house. It was also clear that my version of an Italian garden would be a very humble permutation of Platt's adaptation of an Italian garden in an American context. I believe that Charles Platt created a New Hampshire tradition that made my garden have a sense of its own place. In essence, he gave me permission to build my garden.