Gardening, Random Rambles, USA
Comments 12

Yaddo: Retreat to the Rose Garden!

Hours fly, Flowers die, New days, New ways pass by, Love stays ~ Inscription on the Yaddo sundial by poet Henry Van Dyke, a friend of the Trasks

I love gardens, and if I had a won for every hour I’ve spent crawling around in the verges and weedy embankments of Korea trying to shoot flowers (and the critters that choose to hunt, feed or fornicate upon them), I’d be — well, not too well off, ’cause a won is pretty much worthless. In fact I sometimes throw handfuls of them in the trash ’cause what’s the point of ’em? Useless wallet ballast is all. But that’s another blog post.

Thing is, though I love shooting flowers as much as the next camera-toting weirdo, I reckon they’re among the hardest subjects to photograph satisfactorily. And if there’s one thing I’ve learned the hard way it’s that bright, unfiltered sunlight is seldom ideal for many of the things I like to photograph. Especially flowers.

But sometimes you just find yourself somewhere like this — with light like this:

The house at Yaddo, used by artists in residence

The house at Yaddo, used by artists in residence

And what are you gonna do? Chuck a star fit and demand that we head home, not to return till the next time there’s a nice, gentle, flower-flattering dawn shower? Damned right. And I tried it, but it was Kate’s car, and she was having none of it. Ever tried to buckle three kids into a car? Half your day is gone and you’re still in the driveway. You’re committed.

So I bit the bullet and it turned out nicely, but you won’t see many pictures of roses in this post about a walk through a rose garden.

You enter at the bottom of those sloping acres of lawn in the picture above, pausing to admire that fantastic — but unfortunately off-limits to visitors — mansion on the hill beyond the fountains…


Every garden needs a water feature

..and to gaze into those cool and tempting waters…


..before passing through this monogrammed gate and into the Rose Garden:


The stonemasons charged by the letter

S.T. and K.T.? Spencer and Katrina Trask, a wealthy NYC capitalist with a sensational power name and his wife, a poet (a wise fallback plan for any aspiring poet is to marry a wealthy financier).

Let me quote from the souvenir brochure (I’ll be doing it a lot — it’s been a long day):

In 1881 [the Trasks] bought the property, naming it “Yaddo” at the suggestion of their young daughter. When the main residence burned to the ground 10 years later, the Trasks built the present mansion, completed in 1893. It was the scene of famous house parties attended by artists, statesmen, and industrialists.

The gardens are split into two distinct parts, the Rose Garden, and the Rock Garden a little further up the slope, separated by a a terracotta-columned rose trellis. Cheerful volunteer gardeners and groundspersons outnumbered visitors that early in the day. Here they are at work, with the trellis in the background…


..and beneath the critical, all-seeing eyes of the statues (Italian marble) representing the four seasons:


Not sure which season is embodied in this eerie beauty…


Is this damsel with child, or am I imagining it?

..but I’d guess this one, bearing a sheaf of wheat, is Summer:


You meet all types lurking in the mysterious woods. This is “Christalan”, sculpted in marble by William Ordway Partridge in 1900 as a “memorial to the children of this house”:




And there were several:


But sadly the Trasks outlived all four of the children of the house, and without heirs for the property to pass to, in 1900, they secretly formed what would become known after their deaths as The Corporation of Yaddo and they endowed it in perpetuity to administer a working community of artists.


The Rose Garden was built to an Italian classical design

Spencer died in 1909 and Katrina in 1922. Their legacy was faithfully realised, however, and the mansion on the hill is in use as an artists’ colony or retreat to this day. I’m not sure what membership of an artists’ colony entails, but apparently Yaddo’s mission is to offer artists uninterrupted time to work.

Kate & Camille check the time

Kate & Camille check the time

Check out this pretty damned impressive list of a few former beneficiaries of the Trasks’ ongoing gift to the arts:

Milton Avery

James Baldwin

Leonard Bernstein

Truman Capote

Patricia Highsmith

Flannery O’Connor

Sylvia Plath

William Carlos Williams


The Rose Pergola

The kids had a great time running around the winding paths. And I was again blessed with a bounty of (mostly) willing models. My usual subjects — enigmatic dragonflies, capricious butterflies, the odd sagacious mantis — have served me well, but these ones are just as photogenic, if you can keep them still for a few seconds.


“That is the most amazing lump of gravel I’ve ever seen!”


We found ourselves in the shady Rock Garden, where the filtered light was more my thing:



I’d given Lily my little compact (water- and shockproof) Sony to play with, and it kept her absorbed for ages:



Woodland Border

Beyond these gates were the private grounds of the retreat. I could certainly appreciate how uninterrupted work might be achievable there (provided you keep certain visitors on the right side of the gate):


Perhaps tamed by the soothing atmosphere of the gardens, the twins revelled in their sweet and photogenic sides. I just set the camera to Maximum Adorability and away we went:




A flash of colour as something small & bouncy sped down the path

In time — honestly, I’d lost all track — we found ourselves descending the terraces and back in the Rose Garden. I steeled myself to attempt some rose shots…


..and I even had a willing, or perhaps unwary subject…


..but evidently it was time we got going:


Oh, well. There’ll be nice, soft morning or early-evening half-light to play with there some other time. For now, it’s good to imagine the pleasures of holing up for a while there with some project or another, wandering the grounds before or after the visitors are about, talking to the statues, searching eagerly for big, fat, accommodating bugs ravishing the rose petals.

To conclude with another brochure extract:

Yaddo welcomes creative artists from all nations and backgrounds working in one or more of the following media: choreography, film, literature, musical composition, painting, performance art, photography, printmaking, sculpture, and video.

*     *     *     *     *

There’ll be a short interview with yours truly, mostly about the naming of TGTW, on the WordPress ‘Daily Post’ page from September 11. Just how did the name The Goat that Wrote, arguably the best part of the whole blog, come about? Part of an ongoing WordPress series about choosing blog names…

~ And that’s all the Goat wrote


  1. Rest assured the goats writing is a welcome change for me.I loved the beautiful photographs of the flowers and the pretty twins.You are so lucky!

  2. Robert says

    Hey Goat, thanks for transporting me back to any one of a number of grand Italian and Viennese gardens I wandered around with my crew back in June/July. It sure beats exploring the piles of A4 size plantation timber product obscuring the surface of my desk! BTW, you’re a lucky dude!!

    • Agreed on the last point, Robert! I envy you seeing some great European gardens. I’m soon to revisit one or two historic gardens from my past in…well, you’ll see!

  3. bill murray says

    One of the most beautiful places I have ever been …..We need to go back …. it’s insperational …. thanks my man ….

  4. Goat, I love this post and thanks for the history lesson! I think I need to do a few visits to our historical areas, as I need a change of scenery. I do love reading about people who dedicate themselves to the arts.

    I noticed your interview. Well done! You’ll be a celebrity in no time! Maybe you could introduce some signed paraphernalia? Some sort of ‘special signature Goat range’?

    • T-shirts are still my main priority in the merch department, Greg. I’ve still got that company in the States sending me reminder notices about the nifty TGTW designs I did online. My goal is to outdo the Ramones, whose T-shirts are worn worldwide, the vast majority of the wearers being, by my estimation, people who have never even heard of the band.

      Yaddo was fun, and I hope to return, ideally in a light rain! Not the most challenging adventure, admittedly — I’m thinking of renaming this blog “The Goat that Strolled”. I’ve got one or two more of that type in the works before something far more hardcore to restore my reputation.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s