Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Bloom Day at Grey Towers

Located near my home in the Pocono Mountains of Pennsylvania, Grey Towers National Historic Site is a wonderful mansion to visit at any time of the year, but today it is abloom with beautiful holiday decorations. The mansion was the home of Gifford Pinchot and his wife Cornelia. Gifford was the first Chief of the US Forest Service and two-terms PA governor. His father built Grey Towers, designed by Richard Morris Hunt, in the style of a medieval French chateau to reflect the French heritage of the family. The mansion was originally intended as a summer home and was completed in 1886. It is named for the towers on three corners of the L-shaped mansion.

As a gardener, I am very drawn to Gifford Pinchot, not only because of his magnificent 102 forested acres at Grey Towers, but because Gifford implemented the groundbreaking concept of conservation, or sustainable use of our national resources. Therefore, I was very honored to be asked to speak at this year's annual Gifford Pinchot Audubon Society's holiday tea held at the mansion. The society requested a program on 'sustainable gardening practices that attract pollinators in light of the bee decline' ... a subject very dear to my heart. I loved presenting this program in such a beautiful, and appropriate, setting.

Now, I have a confession to make. Although this wondrous place is little more than one hour from my home, this was my first visit! Oh, dear, why is it that we travel so very far to see the wonders of the world and miss those on our very doorstep? Now I cannot wait to return in the spring and summer to see the gardens in bloom. However, this first visit was very special as I toured the magnificent rooms, enjoyed the holiday decorations, ate delicious cookies and drank hot chocolate, and made new like-minded (as in gardening) friends!

This is my favorite Christmas tree in the mansion. It was decorated with home-made, beautifully crafted ornaments.

There are 15 fireplaces at Grey Towers. The most magnificent one is in the drawing room.

Drawing Room Fireplace
Drawing Room Painting

I think many of you who know me will understand why the library is my favorite room at Grey Towers. Like all the other rooms, it was very tastefully decorated. One thing I like about the holiday decorations at Grey Towers is that they are not 'over the top'.

Library Fireplace

The Library
Gifford would rough it when he camped in the forest. Apparently, he also roughed it in his own bedroom as you can see from its austerity.

Gifford Pichot's Bedroom
Many of the windows in the mansion afford wonderful views of the grounds.

View from a second floor window
Outside, the stone walls surrounding the terraces are graced with elegant stone urns. Today, the urns are filled with evergreens. I feel I want to cut down branches on my return home and start decorating my house and garden (no it isn't done yet) in a similar fashion.

A casual mix of winter evergreens.
I was surprised there is no dining room in the mansion, until I discovered why. The Pinchot family used the house for a summer home, so they usually ate outdoors. Cornelia designed a fascinating dining room in a courtyard. Chairs are arranged around a pool, under a stone arch and pergola. Guests use wooden dishes to float the food across the pool to each other. I can't wait to return in warm weather to witness this phenomenon! Incidentally, there is a magnificent wisteria covering the 'dining room'. I learned that a great deal of work goes into keeping it under control, but I would hazard a guess that the effort is worth it.

The Finger Bowl: Outdoor Dining Room.
One of the buildings in the grounds is a cute stone playhouse. The materials used to construct the mansion and out building were mostly from the local area.

The Tinderbox. A playhouse built for Gifford and Cornelius' s son.
The little courtyard in front of the playhouse has elliptical windows affording wonderful views. The one below frames Grey Towers' most popular tree, the European copper beech. Gifford planted nine of them in the 1920's.

European Copper Beech Fagus sylvatica 'Atropurpurea'
I am so happy I visited Grey Towers at last. I am grateful to Lori McKean of the USDA Forest Service for coordinating my visit. Thank you, Lori. It won't be my last!

This is my entry for Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day. I hope Carol will forgive me, but I assure you Grey Towers is much more interesting than my garden right now! Next time I visit the mansion I will have pictures of real blooms, I promise!

I am hoping to do another posting before Christmas, but in case I don't get to it, I wish all my wonderful garden blogging friends Peace, Joy and Love this holiday season!

Pamela x
Woodcarving of Grey Towers by W. Dauer, US Forest Service

~~ I love reading your comments. I hope you leave one so I’ll know you visited!
I look forward to visiting your blog in return.


  1. I am so happy, happy, happy you took me on this tour. Love the mansion, decor, everything. The playhouse is adorable in a really elegant way. I am off to Blotanical to help this post get to where everyone can see it. Thank you, Pam.

  2. Beautiful set of posts. I am looking forward to your future posts where you visit the gardens.

  3. What a beautiful building. I think the library would be my favourite room as well.

  4. What a lovely mansion and I just love the Tinderbox playhouse.
    We are menbers of the National Trust and like you we love to visit these lovely old houses.
    I hope you and the family are well.

    M X

  5. Thank you for the tour, Pam! I love reading about places like this. I think the playhouse is wonderful!

  6. What a magnificent home. The holiday decorations were lovely and the grounds look incredible. I look forward to seeing the gardens in bloom when next you visit.

    Have a wonderful holiday, Pam!

  7. Hi Pam,
    Such a a wonderful tour. I love that little (not really little though) playhouse for the children.
    It is good you finally got to visit this lovely place!

  8. A wonderful estate and garden review and of a place within driving distance---what a treat. You are right, the Christmas decorations are tastefully elegant. Something to aspire to. Merry Christmas to a fellow PA garden blogger. Carolyn

  9. Happy bloom day, Pam! That sounds like a fun outing. Reminds me quite a bit of Filoli, a must visit if you're ever over here near San Francisco.

    Can't wait for your corresponding summer post...

  10. I am so glad that I stopped by. I have such fond memories of the Poconos when we used to visit my grandparents in Scranton. Thanks for sharing Grey Towers with us. It is so beautiful and so festive for the holidays! I especially love that last photo.

  11. You're so right, we often miss wonderful places which are right on our doorstep to venture further afield. What fantastic views of the grounds from the windows, and that 'dining room', I wonder how they came up with that idea. What child wouldn't want a playhouse like that? I'm sure your talk on sustainable gardening practices went down well. How lovely to be asked to speak on this topic when it's something you're so passionate about.

  12. Merry Christmas Pamela!
    Thank you for taking us along with you on your visit. (An interesting topic for the talk. I love seeing bees in my garden, one of the joys of having a garden is sharing with them.)

  13. Very nice tour! I like the christmas tree and the little round window

  14. I have just added this to our to-do list for our next PA visit. Thank you for the heads up.

  15. Pam, This is such a lovely and interesting post. Beautiful photographs of the interior and grounds of this magical place. I love the simple beauty of the first Christmas tree and the mixed greens in the urn. The Library would be my favorite room too.

  16. One of the first mountains I climbed when I was a teen is in Gifford Pinchot National Park in Washington State. Mt St Helen's—the last mountain I climbed—is also there. It is a wondrous area!

    As a child I often wondered about him, and your post is really wonderful because it reminds me about someone I once admired very much.

    Please get pictures of that crazy table if you can this summer! It sounds hilarious. I wonder how they prevented mosquitos? Do let us know...

  17. I thought you were showing us photos from Europe at first! This reminds me of Biltmore Estate (about an hour's drive from me). They also have wisteria like you described -- maybe that was a popular status symbol. Love the homemade ornaments, too!

  18. Hi Pam

    What an amazing place on your doorstep. I really enjoyed every single photo - lots of stately homes here in the UK don't allow you to take photos. That fireplace is stunning.

  19. Hi Pam,
    That sure is a lovely place! I'm glad it's been kept up and opened to the public. How cool you got to give a talk there!

    I love the colors in the painting in the drawing room. They remind me of a huge mural I loved that was in the women's lounge of our student union when I went to college. I just looked up the artist, Elizabeth Dolan, and found that she lived from 1875-1948. She did most of the murals of the museum, which is part of UNL.

    I look forward to seeing what the gardens look like.

    Merry Christmas to you, too!

  20. What a wonderful place! The home is beautiful and I love the holiday decorations - as you say, they are very tasteful. I hope you get back there and take us on another tour. You're absolutely right about how we visit places far from home, but not those close by.

  21. This is my first visit. What a fabulous tour. I loved it. Still trying to figure out his bed room wall paper,

    Thanks Yvonne

  22. Pam, Thank you for this tour. If only all homes were planned with such forethought and care. I know it was well worth the drive. What an honor to have been ask to speak on this subject. Much has been in the press lately about the bee decline in Alabama. It concerns me greatly. I hope you and your family have a most joyus Chirstmas. I have enjoyed reading your posts this year.

  23. I bet your talk was splendid Pam. Thank you so much for showing us this historic home. Merry Christmas.~~Dee

  24. What a big garden this house. It perfect for this coming Christmas.

    Just like to share with you a quote...

    "Give me a stock clerk with a goal and I'll give you a man who will make history. Give me a man with no goals and I'll give you a stock clerk." - J.C. Penney

    You can get more quotes at

  25. Hi Pam,

    I know exactly what you mean about missing things close to home yet travelling great distances to see others!

    Many people rarely if ever even visit other places in the UK and always go abroad for example.
    When I was young my parents always took us into Nottinghamshire because we were on the border, I've never been up in the Peaks other than to Bakewell or Matlock... Even though parts of Sheffield are in the peak district. So close and yet apparently, so far!!
    I've also never been to Leeds just 30 miles away other than passing through on the train.

    I hope you have a great Christmas, I do love the decorations on the tree in the mansion :)

  26. And now I've added this to our list of places we MUST visit.

    Luckily we drive from our home in California to our little cottage in Maine every summer. So we make many stops along the way to gardens of every type and size.

    We love to visit historic homes, farms, etc.

    I loved visiting with you and send along holiday wishes for joy, health, and peace.

    Sharon Lovejoy Writes from Sunflower House and a Little Green Island

  27. Sometimes I lose blogs in this huge world of communications. To make sure I can find you again I've joined as your newest follower.


    Keep writing,


    P.S. my word verification is ingenue!

  28. Dear Pam - am so impressed with you giving a talk here but then you do know a lot about your subject and practice what your preach in your lovely garden.

    I can understand you've not visited as we think of ourselves as locals and not tourists in our own patch. Bet you'll be back next year with Spring and Summer pics though!

    Anway just want to wish you a very Happy Christmas and look forward to 2011 for many more of your English Garden posts

    Laura x

  29. WOW! That place is amazing, so beautiful and charming...thanks for the pics!

  30. Thank you for taking us on the very enjoyable tour. But above all - Merry Christmas and Happy New Year! Barbara

  31. Now you really must go back and visit in the spring and summer, when everything is green! Very charming place to visit at the holidays.

  32. Hi Pam, Wonderful post! When I first started reading I thought perhaps you were in Europe. I hope you had a lovely Christmas and am sending wishes for a terrific new year filled with joy and good health.