Acadia National Park itself is a veritable garden of incredible natural wonder. But Mount Desert Island’s past as a playground for the rich and famous means it’s also home to these breathtaking estate gardens.
Located just over 15 minutes southwest of Bar Harbor, a flourish of vibrant spring cherry blossoms and azaleas of almost every shade bloom at this Northeast Harbor sanctuary. It was first opened in 1956 by well-established Charles K. Savage, who was inspired to design the sanctuary with native plants. His study of Japanese garden design can be seen in the purple rhododendron kiusianum (azaleas straight from the mountains of Japan) that grow alongside Maine’s own native azaleas – a marriage of East and West. Today, the gardens are owned and maintained by Mount Desert Land & Garden Preserve and a committee of volunteers.
It begins with a walk up stone steps leading up to English border beds and indigenous eastern Maine forest. This sister garden to the Asticou Azalea Garden (also designed by Charles Savage) is part of a 140-acre retreat that includes trails connecting to Acadia National Park and is famous for its lilies and more than 65 varieties of dahlias. The bulk of the Thuya Garden was built upon apple orchards that belonged to Joseph Henry Curtis, who summered in the area until his death in 1928. Today, his Thuya Lodge, renovated to accommodate a growing collection of botanical and horticultural books, is open to view original furnishings of his seaside park.
A trip to Seal Harbor, just 20 minutes south of Bar Harbor, unveils stucco walls, glazed China tiles, delphiniums, and foxglove. But make sure to make a reservation before visiting this private garden, as it’s only open one day a week from July to early September to make each experience that more special. The juxtaposition of Asian-inspired woodlands and native flora was inspired by Abby and John D. Rockefeller Jr.’s 1921 trip to tour China and Japan. It was designed by American landscape artist Beatrix Farrand.