A Moon Gate in New England


Two evenings ago, driving along a road in open farm country, I watched as the January full moon rose over a snowy landscape....the large white disc shining brightly in a liquid gray sky was spectacular! I now understand why animals howl at the moon - it must be a sympathetic show of appreciation and awe...

The grandeur of the full moon made me reflect on moon gates, the traditional Chinese circular entryways that lead into contained gardens and cities. The rounded opening alludes to the full moon and the Chinese adage that says, 'Flowers are more beautiful when the moon is full.'

Stepping through a round portal is symbolic of so many things. Like our entrance into this world, an enveloping enclosure calls to us to see what is on the other side. This sort of entry speaks to us of mystery and delight - no soaring Calatrava-like bridge or ornamented portico -  a moon gate beckons quietly, saying 'all is well, come see for yourself..."

photo by Jan Johnsen

One of the most lovely moon gates that I have had the pleasure to step through is the gate in the Chinese garden at Naumkeag in Stockbridge, Massachusetts.

Naumkeag is a shingle-style 'country house' estate designed by noted architect Stanford White in 1885. As all Gilded Age homes, it is filled with finery and art, but, to me,  it is the gardens that make this public attraction memorable.

Sitting on 8 acres of landscaped grounds surrounded by 40 acres of woodland, meadow, and pasture, the property was originally designed by Nathan Barrett then expanded by noted landscape designer, Fletcher Steele (what a great name!) between 1926 and 1956.  The moon gate is part of Steele's Chinese Garden (1936-1956) and was added as the last piece of the puzzle in 1956. 

The most wonderful aspect of this particular moon gate is the masonry. The wall, of which it is a part, is built from dark red brick and gray fieldstone. The gate itself is brick topped with lovely brickwork and a wooden roof. The masonry is quite different from traditional Chinese moon gates which are often fashioned from smooth stucco or finished stone.  Here, the large round gate fits in with the native plants of this region perfectly and does not look ersatz or slightly out of place as so many Chinese gardens appear to be in my part of the world.

Btw, it is said that a moon gate brings good luck to all who pass through it so, with that, a summer visit to the Berkshire Mountains and the stunning Naumkeag may be just what you require!

This photo taken from the naumkeag official website


  1. What a perfect way to start my day, by reading this beautiful post! How interesting that a moon gate can be designed to work with any style serenity garden, and everyone can use a little good luck!

  2. This reminds me of the temples I saw in Shanghai in 1998 (and other places in China). I've always been drawn to circles and circular things. Did you know that this place existed or did you stumble upon it by accident?

  3. I knew about Naumkeag because, as a landscape designer,it is one of those 'places to see'....but I did not realize how fabulous the Moon gate was until I got there....

  4. Fabulous photos, not easy photographing the moon. Lovely garden, I love walled gardens.

  5. Thank You! The moon gate is not often featured - and it is so great....

  6. Hi,

    I would really love a copy of the photo of the moon from the back drive. Would you be willing to share pit or sell me a copy?


    Blake Pearson

  7. i think i got it from big stock photos....the moon in the sky photo.

  8. What an innovative idea of building moon gate and it is interesting to know that whosoever passes through it gets good luck. Great! Thanks for sharing.

    1. Isn't that so fun? Thanks for commenting!


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