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A Final Peg, a 'Wetting Bush' and the Start of a New Era

A Final Peg, a 'Wetting Bush' and the Start of a New Era

The “barn” has been raised! In a ceremony to mark a milestone, Berkshire Botanical Garden staff, trustees and friends watched at the final truss of a new camp building was put into place by means of an hydraulic hoist.

Board of Trustees Chairman Matthew Larkin did the honors of hammering in the final oak peg for the framed-out structure that, by summer, will serve as the new heart of BBG’s popular Farm in the Garden Camp. The “barn-raising,” on a chilly, wet Saturday, Jan. 21, included live music played by expert pickers Peter Madsen and Massie McRae, cider doughnuts and other snacks — and many reasons to be thankful.

“This building is going to be a wonderful addition to the Garden and will be a place where we're going to be able to continue to do great work to create the next generation of environmental stewards, the next generation of gardeners, and it is going to be a wonderful, aesthetically beautiful space,” said BBG’s Executive Director Thaddeus Thompson

Before the final truss was hoisted, Barbara and Melissa Leonhardt, who, through New York Community Trust, donated the construction funds in honor of their late mother, Anne, were asked to take part in a traditional ceremony. They nailed a bough snipped from a nearby white pine onto the truss. The ceremony pays homage to the trees that went into a particular construction and symbolizes the establishment of the building’s “roots.” The bough is referred to as a “wetting bush.” 

“It joins the land and the building together,” explained Scott Brockway, of Berkshire Wood Products in Windsor, Mass., who serves as the project’s manager and sawyer. He harvested and milled eight species of trees for the project. Most of the trees are from within a four-mile radius of his mill. Some come from the BBG’s’ own woods.

The building is 30-foot-by-50-foot, single-story, 18 feet tall. It will include a wing with bathrooms and a sizable root cellar. Assembled using old world post-and-beam construction with many notable innovative engineering and design elements, the building will have its official ribbon cutting this spring at BBG’s annual Roy Boutard Day on Sunday May 7.

Larkin, who did the initial design for the building, had originally envisioned a simple structure with sliding barn doors set on a concrete slab, all built to match the height and roof pitch of the adjacent Education Building. The new building certainly will include those elements. But then Larkin presented the project to A.J. Schnopp Jr., Construction Inc., of Dalton, Mass. That’s the same company that served as general contractor for BBG’s renovated and expanded Center House, which artfully includes one of the oldest structures in Stockbridge amidst a new state-of the-art facility. 

Gregg Schnopp had a suggestion for this current project. He introduced Larkin to two men with the expertise to create a structure that matches BBG’s overall creative and utilitarian aesthetic.

Brockway, of Berkshire Wood Products in Windsor, Mass., is one. Adam Miller, a carpenter and consultant from Vermont, is the other. Miller took Larkin’s plans and designed a final building, utilizing his expertise in timber and log framing and complicated, innovative work in organic form scribing. The main 30-foot-by-50-foot portion of the Farm in the Garden Camp building will function as an unheated pavilion. It will be sheathed in vertical boards. Its creative design will best be appreciated from the inside where traditionally planed and squared-off Eastern White Pine timbers will be twinned with a structural support system that incorporates varying species and sizes of tree forks, those Y-shaped sections of trees that bifurcate in the trunk and give rise to two roughly equal diameter branches.

“It’ll be a very nice hierarchy of sizes of timbers as they go up, defining smaller and smaller segments of the space in the roof,” Miller said.

"Things have gone from craft to construction these days," Brockway said. "We don't deal with construction. We deal with functional art. We're putting the art back into it. The art is the structure itself."

"I consider it a craft," Miller said.

At the barn raising ceremony, Miller and Brockway incorporated one final touch with a nod to tradition. They embedded a penny under a post with the date when the frame was constructed, in this case 2022. 

“I found the penny face up outside of my shop two days ago," Brockway said. “It’s a symbol of good luck, a lucky penny.”

In a quiet moment away from the crowd of attendees, Larkin had a surprise for the Leonhardts. He presented them with a wooden hummingbird that he carved. Hummingbirds serve as an intimate reminder of the Leonhardts' mother, Anne, “who was a big proponent of education, nature, and making everything beautiful in this world,” said Larkin.

One of the final details of the construction will include placing that hummingbird up high within those gorgeous, painstakingly engineered and arranged trusses.

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