Sunday, August 21, 2011

Pissarro, Efts and Gardens – Oh, my!

Well, I’m back from vacation with a few stories to tell! Brian and I travelled over to western Massachusetts and visited the Clark Art Institute, the Berkshire Botanical Garden and the Pleasant Valley Wildlife Sanctuary. The first two were planned but the wildlife sanctuary was a happy accident. It just happened to be less than a mile from the hotel we stayed at. Just goes to show, when you’re travelling by car, keep your eyes open; you never know what you might run across!
My husband is a fan of the artist, Camille Pissarro, especially his landscapes, so it was a high priority to go to the Clark and view the Pissarro display. Entitled “The People of Pissarro”, there were only a few landscapes on exhibit, but we got to see another side of a great artist.
I won’t go into a detailed review of the show, but I will say we spent most of the day there and enjoyed every minute. There was an unbelievable amount of finished pieces, many on loan from distant museums. In addition to these, there were also sketches and preparatory works. If you’re a fan of Pissarro and you’re in the area, it is worth going. The café at the Clark makes a mean ham and Swiss sandwich, too, and their chocolate chip cookies should not be missed.
After the Clark, we travelled south to Lenox where our hotel awaited us. A Days Inn on a hillside, it was nothing special except for the desk clerk, a young woman named Allison. She directed two tired and hungry travelers to a local restaurant and gave us a coupon for 15% off our meal. After a tex-mex meal that couldn’t be beat, we brought her back a strawberry lemonade and many thanks.
We had spotted a small sign for the wildlife sanctuary on the way to the restaurant and decided to check it out in the morning before heading for the botanical garden. Good move on our part! It doesn’t look like much when you first arrive – a small wood-sided building for checking in and buying souvenirs or snacks and a path leading off into the trees. First impressions are deceiving, though. The Pleasant Valley Wildlife Sanctuary is comprised of over 1300 acres, including several ponds and trails throughout.

Pike's Pond

The diversity of the plant life was amazing. I consider myself fairly well schooled in identifying wild plants and I saw some things that I had only seen in guide books. Blue cohosh (Caulophyllum thalictroides), used in natural medicine to induce or aid in labor, was a welcome check on my plant life list. We also saw white bane berry (Actaea pachypoda), wintergreen (Gaultheria procumbens) and sharp-leafed hepatica (Hepatica acutiloba).
Sweet Autumn Clematis

Indian Pipe

The wildlife was a bit spotty, mostly because there was a group of kids from the summer camp raising a ruckus. We did spot some beautiful cedar waxwings eating honeysuckle berries and more dragonflies than we could count.

Cedar Waxwing

Red efts, the juvenile form of Eastern salamanders, were everywhere and we had to be careful where we stepped while we were in the forest. The woman at the sign-in place said they were inundated with efts this year, much the way we were with baby toads. Brian got some particularly good shots of the little buggers.

Red Eft

We came very close to remaining there all day and probably would have if our stomachs hadn’t made certain demands. So off we went, further south, to the town of Stockbridge and the Main Street Café. Their Cajun Chicken Sandwich should be on your Bucket List, along with the potato salad. They serve tea in a big, honking mug, too, not those silly little tea cups you have to refill five times to get a drink. When they found out how much Brian loves his coffee, they threatened to give him a soup bowl for a coffee mug.
The last stop on our epic journey was to the Berkshire Botanical Garden, located just outside of Stockbridge on route 102. Not to be confused with two other roads which branch out from Stockbridge, which we took first. Eventually, we found the correct road and arrived at the Place.

Brian at Berkshire Botanical Garden
 There are 26 different garden areas to explore and each one has its own theme. Our favorite was the pond garden. Set among tall trees, the pond has a huge boulder sitting right in the middle of it and is surrounded by moisture-loving plants. A huge stand of cardinal flower (Lobelia cardinalis) grew on one side and a lovely lotus (Nelumbo nucifera) in front of the lobelia. There is also a resident snapping turtle, the size of a laptop computer.

Cardinal Flower (Lobelia cardinalis)

Snapping Turtle

The variety of garden plants was fantastic. One plant growing there was one I had never seen in person - the pineapple lily (Eucomis comosa). They had both the purple and white varieties and they are just as weird in person as in pictures. Just as beautiful, too. These lilies are grown from bulbs which are only hardy to zone 7, or 6 with good protection, but can be lifted in the fall like dahlia bulbs.

Purple Pineapple Lily (Eucomis comosa)

White Pineapple Lily (Eucomis comosa)
They also had a lovely hedge of hydrangea ‘Little Lamb’. The plants at the Garden were only about 4 feet tall and loaded with flowers.

Hydrangea 'Little Lamb'

That’s not even mentioning the hosta garden, daylily walk, the edible gardens, the kids’ garden and the new rose garden. I could go on for quite a while about the neat stuff to see at the BBG, but your best bet is to go yourself and enjoy it! Here are some more pictures to tempt you.

It only took us about an hour to get home. We picked up Gracie, the house monster, from the vet where we boarded her. Apparently she had a great time while we were gone. She played with every dog and person in the joint and got a (much needed) bath.

Gracie, the House Monster
Overall, a great vacation!


The Sage Butterfly said...

What an incredible vacation! You visited some beautiful spots. I enjoyed the wildlife photos. I think I have seen an eft here under a rock in the garden. Welcome back!

Sharie said...

Thanks, Michelle! We had a nice time - very relaxing. I could have used another week, though!