Original article featured in The Berkshire Eagle, Ben Garver

A new gateway is greeting visitors to the Berkshire Botanical Garden.

The 4,000-square-foot entry garden, in front of the Center House, is the result of a nationwide competition involving individuals and teams of students enrolled in accredited landscape architecture programs.

The winning design, by a team attending the School of Landscape Architecture at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, was selected by a five-member jury of independent designers, horticulturalists and landscape architects.

"Over the last few weeks, the work has progressed rapidly," said Director of Horticulture Dorthe Hviid, "The fountain and stonework is almost complete. The landscape has been graded into little hills and berms, three native larches and six Winter King hawthorn trees have been planted around the fountain, all serving to screen out the highway."

"This week, the horticulture staff and interns along with volunteers are planting 3,500 plugs of Sporobolus heterolepis — prairie dropseed — throughout the area. The Sporobolus is softening the garden and giving it an air of modern simplicity."

The Botanical Garden launched the design competition in March 2017 to seek an innovative proposal that would complement the design of the newly restored and expanded Center House. 

"The winning design impressed all of us with its clean and modern look that will work well with the traditional facade of the Center House and the surrounding established garden areas," said Executive Director Michael Beck. 

The competition winners were announced last December at the grand opening celebration of the Garden's Center House. Student teams from the Harvard University Graduate School of Design took second- and third-place awards. A group from Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University received honorable mention. 

Describing "huge progress over the last month," Beck said "you can now get a sense of how these structural grass mounds will move in the wind on the hills we have sculpted. Visitors will enter through a stone-clad council circle that is quite dramatic, with water and even fire."

Last year, about 23,000 visited the garden, up 30 percent from 2016. That total includes guests attending special events and taking part in year-round horticultural and educational programs, Beck said.

Renovation of the Center House, which dates back in part to around 1790, began in November 2016 and included the addition of a teaching kitchen, art galleries, a botanical library, classroom and office space.

The $2.4 million building project was the key to expanding adult and youth educational programming, as well as special events, Beck said.

The Berkshire Botanical Garden, at the intersection of Routes 102 and 183 in Stockbridge (5 West Stockbridge Road) is open year-round for classes, lectures, workshops and exhibits. The display gardens are open daily from 9 to 5, May 1 through Columbus Day. Information: berkshirebotanical.org.

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