Friday, September 14, 2012

Gardens in Northeast Harbor

During our three day exploration of Acadia National Park, we ventured outside the park to visit two gardens in Northeast Harbor: Thuya Garden and Asticou Azalea Garden. Both are maintained by the Mount Desert Land & Garden Preserve. Although small compared to the grandeur of Acadia, they are worth a visit.

As is our habit on trips, we gathered several different maps of the area including the National Geographic trails illustrated map for Acadia National Park, the National Park Service brochure for the Park, and Map Adventures Acadia National Park hiking and biking trail map. The best map of the three was Map Adventures. It showed the topography, the trails, the natural landmarks, the towns, and other interesting sites, including the two gardens.

The 140-acre Thuya Garden is tucked into the western slope of Elliot Mountain overlooking Northeast Harbor. Landscape architect and civil engineer Joseph Henry Curtis built his summer home here in the late 1880s. He called it Thuya Lodge after the locally common northern white cedar (Thuya occidentalis). Curtis designed a Terrace Trail leading from the harbor to his lodge, integrating his man-made trail into the natural topography and rock outcrops along the slope.

Here are photos of the path leading from Thuya Lodge down to the harbor.
After Curtis' death in 1928, local resident and landscape designer Charles K. Savage became trustee of the property. For the next 37 years he oversaw the renovation of the lodge and the creation of Thuya Garden in the former orchard next to the lodge.

The Thuya Lodge and Gardens are accessible by hiking up the 1/4-mile Terrace Trail from a parking lot on Route 3 in Northeast Harbor or by driving up Thuya Drive to the entrance of the garden. Thuya Garden is a blend of semi-formal English garden and the natural woodland of the area. The entrance gate is made of cedar and mahogany, handcrafted with 48 carvings of natural history images by Savage and Augustus D. Phillips. Hummingbirds buzzed about us as we walked the mowed lawn along the colorful flower beds.
Paths lead from the more formal garden into the woodlands and through gates to trails beyond, all designed by Savage. A plague on a granite outcrop along one of the paths, recognizes Savage as "Designer of Thuya Garden and its gates, artist in landscaping and woodcarving, lover of books, public minded citizen of community and government, conserver of ledges, trees, slopes for our delight."
One-half mile up the road from Thuya Garden is another of Savage's creations -- Asticou Azalea Garden. Savage created this Japanese stroll garden in 1956. Savage again blends natural vegetation, stones, and water with plantings of azaleas and rhododendrons. Despite its small area, the meandering paths and garden design create an illusion of vast spaces and vistas as well as intimate natural spaces for quiet reflection.
Although we visited in between the flowering time of the azaleas and rhododendrons (mid-May to July) and before the full display of fall colors, we enjoyed strolling through Asticou. A busy Route 3 was a stone's through away and yet it seemed far away in time and space once we entered the garden.


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