Gazette Gardener: Tricks & treats in Stockbridge

It is October and since Halloween is just a few weeks away, I thought a road trip to a magical garde

It is October and since Halloween is just a few weeks away, I thought a road trip to a magical garden followed by lunch at a haunted inn might be fun.

The Berkshire Botanical Garden has created a Hogwarts Garden, using plants mentioned in the best-selling children’s books of J.K. Rowling.

The brainchild of guest gardener Page Dickey, the Hogwarts Garden is filled with herbs rich in lore and fantasy and valued in past times as elixirs, magic potions, spells and cures for numerous ailments and predicaments.

Adding to the fun, the plants included in this garden have wizardly names such as Black Snakeroot (Cimicifuga racemosa), favored for fevers and nervous disorders; Dragon Weed (Artemisia dracunculus), a sure cure for snakebites; Wolfsbane (Aconitum napellus), used in deadly potions; and Mad-dog Skullcap (Scutellaria), which was believed to cure rabies.

Hangman’s Root (Nepeta cataria), Dickey said, was thought to make the nicest person mean. It was once thought executioners ate the roots before carrying out their gruesome task.

If you go …

– Berkshire Botanical Garden — 5 West Stockbridge Road

Stockbridge, Mass.; (413) 298-3926;

– Norman Rockwell Museum — 9 Route 183, Stockbridge, Mass.; (413) 298-4100;

– The Red Lion Inn — 30 Main St., Stockbridge, Mass.; (413) 298-5545;

Further down the herb garden path, young visitors will discover Horehound (Marrubium vulgare), once used to protect against witches’ spells, Dead Nettle (Lamium maculatum), which was fashioned into whistles, and Cobra lily (Arisaema triphyllum), also valued as a cure for coughs and colds.

There is an informational sheet at the entrance to the Hogwarts Garden. By reading along, you will learn, as Harry and Hermione did, about the plants and their magical uses. But know that this garden looks the way herb gardens do: a bit unruly and full of green plants.

A bench made of twisted branches catches the eye, but the plants are discreet. I wondered if the bench was made of alder, the preferred wood for witches brooms.

Visitors beware. Some of these plants are toxic and should not be touched or tasted.

As I wandered about the rest of the botanical garden, I couldn’t help but notice the plants that look marvelous in spite of this season of hot, dry weather. Check out the ornamental grasses, the zinnias mixed with euphorbias and the design of the vegetable garden. The last has raised beds of a size that would be productive yet easy to manage.

Also, note the whimsical gate to the children’s garden with its oversized flowers. It is charming.

Berkshire Botanical Garden is winding down for the season, but the display gardens and visitors center will be open daily until Friday, Oct. 22. Admission is $10 for adults and $7 for seniors and students. Children under 12 are free.

For further information about exhibitions, events, educational classes and membership, call 413-298-3926. Classes are held throughout the year and a holiday marketplace is held in early December.

Steig cartoons

After you visit the garden, you might like to stop at the nearby Norman Rockwell Museum and view the exhibit of William Steig’s cartoons. Steig, who died in 2003, drew for the New Yorker magazine, but children would be more likely to know him as the creator of the Shrek! picture books that were later turned into animated films by DreamWorks. You will definitely smile and perhaps even laugh out loud at the drawings. I know I did. And I wasn’t alone.

The William Steig exhibit runs until Oct. 31. For more information on admissions, directions or hours, go to the museum website at

Then you can head to downtown Stockbridge to the reportedly haunted Red Lion Inn ( for lunch. There’s no telling if you will see a ghost, but there are stories of sightings of two different spirits — one a little girl carrying flowers and the other of a fellow in a top hat who has awakened guests.

Established around 1773, and rebuilt in 1897, The Red Lion Inn is one of the few remaining American inns in continuous use since the 18th century.

It has hosted five presidents as well as Nathaniel Hawthorne, William Cullen Bryant, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow and some guests who apparently never left.

Legends of ghosts

Tales of spirits float around the historic Inn. But Carol Bosco Baumann, director of marketing and communications for the inn, has walked the halls and has never seen anything out of the ordinary.

“As much as I would like to tell you I have, I haven’t,” she said, adding that she finds the stories interesting and fun. She has heard about ghosts pulling the covers off the feet of guests and one guest said she saw a “sweet little girl standing in her room. Our ghosts are very kind,” Baumann said.

One of the more interesting things to happen to Baumann was “one time when I was the manager on duty at the front desk, a man asked to change his room. It was James Van Praagh, the producer of “Ghost Whisperer.” He wanted to be moved from the main inn to a guest house. Most people want to be in the older historic building, so I thought it was curious.” And wanting to be sure everything was all right, she asked him if he was happy.

He said he was very happy but wanted to move. “I didn’t know who he was. He told me he was a renowned spiritual medium. And that there was so much [spirit] activity in the main building, he couldn’t sleep,” she said.

“I asked him ‘What are they [the ghosts] doing?’ He said they were ‘Having a good time.’ ”

I don’t know if you will see a ghost in the dining room if you stop there for lunch, but Baumann said you will see a wonderful autumnal decorations, complete with gourds and a huge 600-pound pumpkin. “We fully embrace the seasons,” she said.

The Red Lion Inn specializes in contemporary regional cuisine. There are three dining options: the elegant Main Dining Room, the cozy Widow Bingham’s Tavern or the casual Lion’s Den pub. Executive Chef Brian J. Alberg emphasizes natural flavors and the use of fresh, local ingredients in his cooking, and the menus are revised to reflect the bounty of each changing season. Accompanying the menu is an award-winning wine list with more than 200 selections.

While it is likely that the only thing that will give you a chill at the Red Lion Inn is a serving of ice cream from the dessert menu, should you experience something that sends shivers down your spine, let me know.

Happy Halloween.

Categories: Life and Arts

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