When immersed in the often jaw-dropping natural beauty of Acadia National Park, it may seem superfluous to seek out man-made gardens, but those on Maine’s Mount Desert Island gild this already stunning landscape. While garden mavens will treasure these sights, even those who don’t know a peony from a pansy will be tickled.
Asticou Azalea Garden and Thuya Garden, Northeast Harbor
Charles K. Savage, landscape designer and a former innkeeper of the Asticou Inn, created both Asticou and Thuya in 1956, when he learned that famed landscape architect Beatrix Farrand (Dumbarton Oaks, East and West White House Gardens, NY Botanical Garden rose garden) was dismantling her nearby Reef Point garden. He sought funding from John D. Rockefeller Jr. and purchased the azaleas for Asticou and other plants for Thuya.
Asticou puts on its best show in spring, when about 70 varieties of azaleas, rhododendrons, and laurels burst into bloom, but at other times, this 2.3-acre Japanese-inspired pocket garden is lovely, just not so flamboyant about its virtues. Highlights include a Japanese sand garden, stone lanterns, granite outcrops, and a tranquil pond, all connected by pink granite paths.
Thuya comprises semi-formal English border beds inspired by English designer Gertrude Jekyll as interpreted by Farrand as well as a woodland garden on a terraced hillside overlooking Northeast Harbor and the Atlantic. Also here is Thuya Lodge, with a wonderful library of botany-related titles.
Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Garden, Seal Harbor
Another Farrand legacy, the Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Garden was created in 1921, when the Rockefellers turned to her to create a garden using treasures they’d brought back from Asia. The enclosed garden is a knockout, accented with secret passages, a sunken garden, English floral beds, Korean tombstone figures, a moongate, and even yellow roof tiles from Beijing. It’s only open one day a week from late July to early September, and numbers are limited, so advance reservations are vital. For 2012, the garden is open on Thursdays, July 12 through Sept. 6, for two sessions, 9-11 a.m. and 11 a.m.-1 p.m. Visitors receive a map for a self-guided tour upon arrival. There is no fee.
Garland Farm, Bar Harbor
Fans of landscape architect Beatrix Farrand will want to visit Garland Farm, her last home and garden. When Farrand dismantled that property in 1955, she moved to the ancestral home of Lewis Garland, who managed her Reef Point property, and engaged an architect to build an addition to the original farmhouse and barn utilizing architectural elements and furnishings from Reef Point. The property was sold a few times, and greatly reduced in size, until the Beatrix Farrand Society, formed in 2002, purchased it in 2004. It is restoring Garland Farm to Farrand-era design and condition. The property, now listed on the National Register of Historic Places, hosts special events and programs. The house and garden are open from 1-5 on Thursdays until Sept. 13, for the 2012 season. There is no fee, but donations are appreciated.
Farrand and Turrets Sea Side Gardens, College of the Atlantic, Bar Harbor
These two gardens on the College of the Atlantic campus are pleasant diversions. The Beatrix Farrand Garden is located behind Kaelber Hall. Designed in 1928, in its heyday, it contained more than 50 varieties of roses and was the prototype for the rose garden at Dumbarton Oaks, in Washington D.C. The Turrets Sea Side Garden is located on the ocean side of the Turrets, the 1895 cottage that’s now an administration building. Eammon Hutton, ’05, restored it as his senior project. The central fountain, created by COA alum Dan Farrenkopf of Lunaform Pottery, was installed in 2009. No fee is charged.
Charlotte Rhoades Park and Butterfly Garden, Southwest Harbor
Few people find this vest-pocket seaside park, donated to Southwest Harbor in 1973, with delightful a butterfly garden established in 1998 to promote conservation education. It’s a lovely spot for a picnic. The garden is free. Note: The 2012 Butterfly Release is slated for July 26 at 3:30 p.m. ($30 age 12 and older, benefits garden).
Somesville Historical Museum and Gardens, Somesville
This small museum, adjacent to Somesville’s iconic white bridge, has two small gardens. The Heirloom Garden contains flowering plants and herbs that have flourished on the island since the late 18th century. The Louisa Conrad Garden honors its namesake, a gardener and architect who summered on the island, and is filled with plants found in woodland gardens on the island.
Wild Gardens of Acadia, Sieur du Monts Springs
Located within Acadia National Park, this 0.75-acre garden is a microcosm of more than 400 plant species native to Mount Desert Island. There are twelve separate display areas representing native habitats. Plants are labeled and a brochure is available.