The Troutbeck Experience

November 8, 1999 9:45 pm

Text and images by: Katharine Fletcher

Deep in New York State’s Hudson Valley, there’s a home away from home, beckoning.

Snuggled in your wing chair across from a crackling fire, your eye is greeted by rows of books clustered along wooden shelves. Magazines sprawl across a coffee table, before a comfy sofa. The door of the game room is ajar, and the murmur of voices emanates from the ongoing poker game. You hunker down, cozy in your cocoon.

Idly glancing at your watch, you realize you have time for a swim or stroll and a before-dinner drink at the open bar.

You opt for a stroll. Out you go, into the hushed landscape of Troutbeck’s muted colours and sounds.

Leaving the English-style manor house behind you, you follow the bend in the private road. Just before venturing along the nearby “beck” — the brook once filled with trout which gave the inn its name — you spy a historic sign.

It tells you that Troutbeck was the former home of Myron B. Benton, “poet-naturalist, friend of John Burroughs, Emerson and Thoreau.” Images of Walden Pond leap to mind. The sign fails to inform you that this site welcomed the founders of the black movement, including Booker T. Washington, who helped form the National Association for the Advancement of Coloured People (NAACP).

Perhaps now, as you walk, you’ll wonder if Emerson and Thoreau lingered on a stroll just like yours, today, over two centuries later. The sharp, cool scent of autumn pierces such reveries, and draws you onward.

Falling leaves swirl softly about. Suddenly invigorated, you start kicking at the piles of leaves, reliving that time-tested, joyous childhood pastime. Just possibly you’ll break into a laughter-filled, heady run and, as your feet fly, you’ll breathe in the cool, still air.

The sheer beauty of these eastern woodlands catches you. Here and there, tucked away in the woods, you’ll discover private homes straight from the pages of Architectural   Digest. For like many international inns and retreats, Troutbeck’s ample acreage is a refuge for a private community. The artful architecture and gracious settings provide ample inspiration for you… for if you are like us, you’re always on the lookout for great gardening or deck ideas for your own home.

Returning to your room, you’ll marvel again at its unlocked door. There are no locks here and this lends an unexpected charm to Troutbeck, for once you’ve crossed the threshold into its serene world, you have entered a gentler, easier time.

But now the pool beckons… grabbing your swimsuit, you return outside, walking the short path to the outbuilding. Once you’re there, you’ll recognize that it’s also the greenhouse! Plants and flowers provide welcome green borders to the turquoise water. How many laps are you up to? No one will be watching, no one will be counting, so take your time. Try floating in this interior, green world and let your mind focus on the superb meal awaiting you.

Typical meals at Troutbeck include fresh, seasonal and local produce. Who knows what Chef Robert A. Timan will be planning for tonight?

Consider these possibilities… (and do some more laps of the pool, first). A typical dinner menu might include wild mushroom bread pudding; mesclun with spicy walnuts, Anjou pears and champagne vinaigrette; followed by an entrée of ginger marinated duck breasts with a rhubarb chutney.

Dessert? How can you demure? After all, this is a holiday, so surely you’ll test the bittersweet chocolate cake, triple lemon tart, or warm polenta soufflé cake with a molten centre… We dare you to resist.

Whether you opt for dessert or not, the ambiance of the dining room is enchant ing. Candlelight flickers on its exposed, stone walls while leaded glass windows reveal the last glimpses of garden for the evening. Eventually, the old glass shimmers, reflecting candlelight, glass and silverware. Troutbeck is charming, easy, relaxed. Go. You’ll love its gentle ways.

That’s Troutbeck for you, just a bend down the road from Amenia, New York, hidden in the Hudson River Valley’s gentle hills and dales.

What else is there?

The Hudson Valley is packed with intriguing finds. Fine gourmet cooking classes from world-class chefs, antique shops, galleries, historic homes… browse the Internet at:, or write to: Vintage Hudson Valley, c/o Maren Rudolph, P.O. Box 288, Irvington, NY 10533; tel: (914) 591-4503; fax: (914) 591-4510; e-mail:

Spooky Hudson Valley Sidebar

“If I could but reach that bridge,” thought Ichabod. “I am safe.” (from ‘The Legend of Sleepy Hollow’ by Washington Irving)

“But the headless horseman relentlessly pursued him on his jet-black steed. Urging his mount to gallop faster, terrified Ichabod sped through the darkness trying to outrun the horrifying spectre.”

Such is the imaginary stuff of legends and horror… or is it?

Especially come Hallowe’en, it is easy to let our minds wander fancifully, to imagine that sprites and goblins people winter’s approaching dark nights…

American writer Washington trying loved the Hudson Valley so much that he penned the spooky ‘Legend of Sleepy Hollow’ near his home, north of Tarrytown, New York. Here, too, he wrote his other beloved masterpiece, ‘Rip Van Winkle.’ His home, Sunnyside, remains as a heritage treasure enjoyed by thousands of visitors yearly.

When in the Hudson Valley, visit Sunnyside, the 19th-century home of Washington Irving, near Tarrytown. For more information, call (914) 631-8200.

If you go

Troutbeck is a 71/2-hour drive from Ottawa…and a mere two-hour drive from Manhattan if you want to coordinate a business-and-pleasure trip to the Big Apple.

For information on the inn, and detailed instructions about the drive, check out the Troutbeck website at or e-mail general manager Garret Corcoran at

ADDRESS: Troutbeck, Leedsville Road, Amenia, NY 12501. Telephone (914) 373-9681 or tollfree at 1-800-978-7688,Fax is(914)373-7080.

RATES: $650 to $1.050 US for a weekend, NOTE: a 10% reduction is offered on the US dollar for Canadians. Take note that the price is all-inclusive and includes six meals, an open bar (complete with superb single malt scotch), use of the swimming pool, fitness centre, volleyball, basketball and tennis courts, friendly poker table, video library and 12,000 books.

Victoria’s Butchart Gardens

September 8, 1999 9:42 pm

By Katharine Fletcher; Images Eric Fletcher

Fragrance, colour, and delight await you at this old quarry site.

It all started in 1904 with the gift of some sweet peas and a single rose.

Little did Jennie Butchart realize that when she planted them beside her brand-new home just north of Victoria, B.C., that it was the start to today’s internationally renowned Butchart Gardens.

Over a million visitors annually marvel at her flowery legacy that rambles over the family’s 130-acre estate. The remarkable variety of landscaping styles includes a formal Italian garden, a rose garden, Japanese garden and our personal favorite, the sunken garden.

Perhaps we are attracted to it most because of the creative transformation that sunken gardens represent, for they are located in what was once Robert Pim Butchart’s limestone quarry. Or perhaps the very name “sunken garden” invokes a sense of mystery and surprise…

Whatever the reason, the sunken garden juxtaposes many delightful nooks and crannies with breathtaking vistas that, in the tradition of all superb landscape designs, seem to be effortless if not “natural.”

Ross Fountain Butchart Gardens.

But anyone who knows their origin marvels at them. Anthony Everett has worked at the garden for several years in various capacities. He revealed some of the sunken gardens’ secrets to us as he escorted us along their winding pathways. Jennie Butchart worked especially hard at this section of garden. Everett assured our never-ending admiration for her when he told us she was “lowered by ropes over the edge of the quarry, in a bosun’s chair” so that she could tuck soil and then ivy plants into the walls of the old pit.

Unfortunately, no photographs exist of Jennie suspended in her chair. We can only imagine a long-skirted, Edwardian figure industriously creating what has now grown into a green, living cascade of ivy drapery. What vision she had! It included a realization that Victorian residents and visitors alike would enjoy coming out to Benvenuto (as she and her husband called the estate) for an afternoon stroll and tea. By 1915, she served tea to 18,000 people. Nonetheless, the family did not start charging admission to what became known as Butchart Gardens until 1941, when adults paid a quarter and children 10 cents!

Prices have risen and now visitors can purchase their afternoon tea, lunch or dinner in what was once the Butchart’s residence. In fact, we just enjoyed a delectable luncheon in mid-June, served by attentive staff in the airy conservatory room. Overlooking the formal Italianate gardens built upon the original estate’s tennis courts, this room creates a light-green sanctuary. We can hardly imagine a more delightful setting for lunch.

Personally, we have a very special love for Butchart Gardens. We first visited the place on our honeymoon 20 years ago. Whenever we’re in Victoria, we return here and rediscover tranquillity, gleaning many tips about gardening and flower species as we wander the wending paved footpath.

Because the gardens are open 365 days a year, we’ve discovered many types of plants that enjoy different conditions and which flower at different times of the year. This June, a lupin-like spire of blossoms in pale yellow and orange riveted our attention. By glancing at the handy pamphlet entitled Flower Guide to the Butchart Gardens, we discovered that we’d found the fox lily, a species hitherto unknown to us.

Butchart Gardens Sunken Garden.

As avid gardeners, we find ourselves inspired not just by the wide variety of plants here, but also by their artistic composition. Sky-blue and midnight-blue delphiniums rise majestically behind powder-puff pink peonies. Fragrances headily spice the air… and even the trellises that support bowers of climbing roses and wisteria are pretty, for they are molded and carved out of cement to resemble branches. Indeed, since the quarry once supplied limestone for the Butchart’s Portland Cement enterprise, these trellises fittingly echo the family history.

If the gardens themselves are not enough to compel you to linger, the entertainment will invite you to do so. From June 15 to September 15, there is music to enjoy; from July 3 to September 4, there are fireworks to marvel at. Families are welcome and you can take a blanket and picnic basket, and spread out on the lawn to enjoy the show.

There’s always something to tempt us to return to Butchart Gardens. Last December, we found ourselves wandering around the grounds, which were fantastically illuminated by thousands of Christmas lights. We marvelled once more at our beloved Sunken Gardens whose quarrv walls were covered in tiny royal blue lights set to mimic waterfalls. All the while, as we explored, the sounds of carolers singing such standards as Silent Night wafted through the air.

We’ll never tire of these gardens. Whether or not you have a green thumb, whether you possess a perennial bed or a patio pot, we’re sure you’ll find this wonderful spot an oasis of beauty, fragrance and colour.


A scenic 30-minute drive from Victoria. Open year-round, seasonal rates and times. Write for information to: The Butchart Gardens, Box 4010, Victoria, BC V8X 3X4: tel: (250) 652-4422; fax: (250) 652-3883; e-mail:; Internet:

As noted, we have repeatedly visited the gardens and have enjoyed afternoon tea, lunch and dinner on various occasions. All are superb. We recommend that you reserve. Different entertainment is also offered year-round and “A Victorian Christmas” spent in the capital of British Columbia and at the Butchart Gardens is a “must-see” attraction.

Spruceholme Inn: A Victorian Holiday Retreat

January 8, 1999 9:31 pm

By Katharine Fletcher; Images Eric Fletcher

Whether you want a quiet getaway during the holiday season or an elegant Victorian New Year’s, consider spending a night or two at historic Spruceholme Inn.

Located in the village of Fort Coulonge in West Quebec, it’s less than a two-hour drive from Ottawa. Worries and stresses of the city and work slip away while you drive west on Highway 148. You’ll enjoy arresting views of the Ottawa River as well as glimpses of undulating farmland, prosperous homes and swathes of dark woods.

George Bryson, Sr. was one of the Ottawa Valley’s most successful lumber barons. After building his own estate, he built not one but three stone homes in Fort Coulonge for each of his children. Only one, Spruceholme Inn, is a commercial estabshment. The other two remain as private homes.

Today, Spruceholme offers Victorian elegance in the heart of West Quebec. Not only are the bedrooms tastefully appointed in a manner befitting the Bryson mansion, but there is a fine dining room, too. A piano bar just off the dining room completes the ambiance of ease and rest reminiscent of a traditional English pub. Here you can nurse a pre- or post-dinner drink and chat with your hosts, proprietors Glenn and Marlene Scullion.

They saw the ‘for sale’ sign on the property’s wrought iron fence early in 1996. It got their creative juices flowing and they started dreaming their dreams for the old home. After extensive renovations, the Inn was opened for business in 1997.

One of Spruceholme’s particular delights is that the Scullions convinced the former owners – direct descendants of Bryson – to leave many of the original antiques. Some give a particularly intimate feel to Spruceholme.

This intimacy is notable in the dining room, where photographs of the Brysons adorn the walls, peering down at you as you eat. Your attention is also drawn to the sweeping staircase with its gracious banister. The rise of the staircase is gentle, and you soon find yourself exploring upstairs, amid more antiques.

Not surprisingly, the bedrooms are charming, so perhaps your greatest challenge will be in deciding which one to choose. Because Sir Wilfred Laurier stayed there, we chose the Bryson room. A contemporary of George Bryson, Jr., the two politicians would have had much to talk of into the wee hours of the morning.

All of Spruceholme’s six rooms have ensuite bathrooms and the Bryson’s room is wondrous large. It is a well-lit space that boasts a generous bathtub and roomy shower stall. In fact, it is so spacious that surely any couple can dawdle about quite happily without getting in each other’s way.

And we must not forget the food. Chef Roger Guertin presents a fine selection. We both enjoyed the garlic shrimp, not overcooked – and seasoned to perfection! Desserts – all made from scratch by Marlene – are delicious. As well, this lady somehow manages to rise before her guests and make a light breakfast, with piping hot coffee.

Marlene and Glenn do close for Christmas Eve and Day, but they welcome you throughout the rest of the year. Says Marlene, “We offer a really delightful New Year’s Eve menu and at midnight, we gather around the piano. Glenn plays Auld Lang Syne, and everyone lingers, welcoming in the New Year in an old-fashioned, country style.”

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