The Fells
Newbury, New Hampshire
October 2008

The Fells is a late 19th/early 20th century summer estate in central New Hampshire, once the home of John Hay, a former U.S. Secretary of State. A 22-room Colonial Revival house sits on an 84 acre site bordering on the John Hay National Wildlife Refuge. The property is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

The house and gardens are set way back from the road. The 1/4 mile long gravel driveway makes it obvious this was a summer house. Getting to it in winter would be a challenge today, quite an ordeal 100 years ago. Fortunately the day of my visit was the height of fall color season and the way through the woods is beautiful in the fall.

entry road

I didn't find the house to be anything special. It's big, but compared to many other estate garden houses I've visited, it seems pretty ordinary.

John Hay House

However, the grounds are beautiful. There's not much in bloom this time of year but the fall colors are spectacular and the layout of the gardens is very nice. One of the first things I noticed was the use of granite everywhere. On one end of the house is a grassy terrace surrounded by flower beds and a granite wall. It's called the Rose Terrace and the borders are full of rose bushes. They don't look like anything now but I'll bet they are something in summer. Sadly, this is true of most of the gardens. In front of the house is a 100 foot long perennial border, originally established in 1926 and renovated in 1995. I'd love to get back and see it in summer, but now it's invisible.

walled terrace

The flower gardens may not be much, but there is still a lot to see and like. I loved the rock garden. It was constructed in the 1930's using native granite. I'm usually pretty critical of gardens that are poorly labelled so I shouldn't have like this rock garden so much. There are almost no labels and most of the plants looked pretty bedraggled this time of year, but the layout of it, the way it nestles naturally into the hillside looking like it has been here forever, really appealed to me. Despite being poorly labelled and quite small, it might be my favorite rock garden.

rock garden

From the rock garden, you can glimpse the lake below. It's a beautiful view through the fall colors.

view to lake

A short walk through the woods brings you to the shores of Lake Sunapee.

Lake Sunapee

Another highlight is the Old Garden. It was established in 1909 as three formal walled gardens, but has been neglected for years and now has the feel of a ruin in the woods. It is slated for renovation and I hope they can do it without entirely losing the atmosphere it now has.

old garden

Overall, I liked this garden a lot more than I expected to. The spectacular fall color was part of it, but I also really liked the lost garden feel of it. The place seems well-maintaind but at the same time there is a very natural feel to the place, like it was just 'discovered' by the clearing of woods. I'd like to see more interpretation, and more plant labels would really add to the experience, but it's a really enjoyable way to spend a couple of hours.

here to visit the Fells website.

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