Asticou Azalea Garden – A Popular Spot for Visitors to Acadia National Park

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Jun 102012

Beatrix Farrand was a prominent landscape architect in the early twentieth century, who designed gardens for John D. Rockefeller, Jr., Princeton University, and the White House, among others.

A niece of Edith Wharton, she spent summers at Reef Point, her family’s estate in Bar Harbor, Maine, where she experimented with garden design in her early years and then later in life returned to develop an extensive garden which she planned to turn into a public study center.

But in 1955 she decided the project was not viable.  She donated her library and drawings to the University of California, dismantled the house, and sold the property.

This shocking end to a magnificent career does have a poignant twist.  With the financial support of John D. Rockefeller, Jr. and other Mount Desert Island residents, the plants from Reef Point were saved and moved.

And today you can see some of Beatrix Farrand’s plant collection in the Asticou Azalea Garden.  It is a worthy stop during a visit to Acadia National Park.

Just drive down Route 3 towards Northeast Harbor and you’ll find this unique and compelling Japanese style garden on your left.  With convenient parking, the garden is open from May 1st through October 31st.

Asticou Garden’s designer Charles Savage took his inspiration from a traditional Japanese stroll garden, but adapted it with coastal Maine’s native plants, particularly Mrs. Farrand’s.


Asticous Azalea Garden Northeast Harbor

Asticou Azalea Garden Northeast Harbor Maine


As you meander along the raked paths from one garden room to another, you’ll discover rhododendrons and azaleas native to the mountainous regions of the world.

Asticou Azalea Garden Acadia National Park

Asticou Azalea Garden Acadia National Park

Although the latter are the stars of the show, we found so many other individual specimens to be show stoppers, including these peonies, my favorite of the day.

Asticou Azalea Garden Acadia National Park


We also admired the handiwork of the gardeners in creating the appealing rounded symmetry of the Sargent Flowering Crabapple.

Asticou Azalea Garden Crabapple Tree


Although the Sand Garden was a stunningly serene spot, we found ourselves mesmerized by the long vistas across the Lily Pond and Asticou Pond.Asticou Azalea Garden Charles Savage

Asticou Pond

Late May may well be the perfect time to visit since the azaleas and rhododendrons are alive in so many hues at that time of year, but the Azalea Garden offers visitors great delight at every season of the year, including September and October when the garden glows with the colors of fall.  A stopover at the Asticous Azalea Garden should definitely be incorporated into your itinerary for things to do during a visit to Acadia National Park.

It will be all the more meaningful if you remember the origin of some of the plants.


Thuya Garden in Northeast Harbor – Beauty that Compounds the Enchantment of Acadia


Where to Stay on a Trip to Acadia National Park: A Profile of Mount Desert Island’s Villages

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May 062012

Mount Desert Island is shaped like a pair of lungs.

On the eastern side are Bar Harbor and some of the most popular places in Acadia National Park, including Eagle Lake, Cadillac Mountain, Thunder Hole, and Jordan Pond.

The western side, known as the “Quiet Side,” also has two glacial lakes, Echo Lake and Long Pond, as well as mountain hiking. Its best-known landmark is the Bass Harbor Head Lighthouse, and its largest town is Southwest Harbor.

In the area between the two “lungs” is Somes Sound, seven miles long.  This glacial bay, often referred to as a fiord, is the geological star attraction of many hikes on both sides of the island.

But, in the most practical sense, Somes Sound makes navigating around Mount Desert Island a challenge and consideration of where to stay a key component of successful vacation planning.  Choosing the village in which you’ll be based should be your first step before researching any particular inns or real estate rentals.

Start by looking at a map and considering your priorities:  Which is more important — quiet or convenience?  Proximity to shopping or swimming?  Will you always eat out or sometimes cook in?

Also having a sense of the particular activities you want to pursue on vacation, from napping on the porch to sampling the local micro-brews to sightseeing (or maybe all three, but in the reverse order), will be very helpful as you familiarize yourself with Mount Desert Island’s diverse towns and villages.  Each has its unique personality.

The town of Bar Harbor has six villages — Town Hill, Eden, Salisbury Cove, Hulls Cove, Otter Creek, and downtown Bar Harbor.  It’s no wonder that Bar Harbor has
greater name recognition than Mount Desert Island itself because it is where the cruise ships drop anchor and where you’ll find the greatest concentration of shops, restaurants, lodging, and important community facilities such as the Mount Desert Island Hospital and the Mount Desert Island YMCA (which, by the way, offers
day passes and temporary memberships – great options for rainy days in Acadia National Park).

While detractors complain that Bar Harbor can be “choked with people” when cruise ships come in during July and August, others wouldn’t stay anywhere else, citing the convenience of being close to so many restaurants, shops, and night spots.  Hospitality options are the greatest here, ranging from Victorian mansions in the village to chain motels along Route 3.

Ben and Bill's Chocolate Emporium Bar Harbor Maine


South of Bar Harbor, still on Mount Desert Island’s eastern side, is the tiny, charming village of Seal Harbor.  It has a lovely village green and harbor showcasing the classic yachts of its summertime residents.  Among those with homes in Seal Harbor are long-time resident David Rockefeller and relative newcomer Martha Stewart.  Her house, called Skylands, was owned by Edsel Ford and sits on 63 acres overlooking the harbor.

Northeast Harbor is also a wealthy summer colony, with roots dating back to the late 1800s.  Its village center has antiques shops, art galleries, and several stores (The Kimball Shop and Boutique is a personal favorite for tableware).  Another key attraction is Asticou Gardens, featuring both the Asticou Azalea Gardens on Route 198 and Thuya Garden, accessible to both autos and walkers from Route 3.

Thuya Garden Northeast Harbor Maine


If you want to base your vacation in Northeast Harbor, there are certainly memories to be made at the Asticou Inn, located at the north end of Northeast Harbor, a classic resort with much history and no TV’s in the main inn.  Rentals in Northeast Harbor can start as low as $2000 weekly and soar to $50,000 monthly for grand shorefront homes.

The western side of Mount Desert Island is home to many year-round residents, including lobstermen and artists.  It also has a large stock of attractive rental

Somesville is the first village you’ll see coming south on Route 102 along the western side of Somes Sound.  Somesville is where I live, in a house where Teddy Roosevelt reputedly was a guest in 1880.  Founded in 1761, the village has a library, museum, repertory theatre, and one of the most photographed spots on the island – the Somesville bridge.  Renters in this area have easy access to Acadia’s Echo Lake and Acadia Mountain.

Somesville Bridge Mount Desert Maine


Southwest Harbor is one of my favorite places on the island.  The home of Hinckley Yachts, it’s known for boat building, unique shops, great restaurants and cafes, and a beautiful working harbor.   I particularly like the hardware store, which reminds me of the Maine state slogan: The Way Life Should Be.  In Southwest Harbor it’s possible to rent a place where you can see the harbor and still walk to town.  There are charming inns, as well as another classic summer refuge, The Claremont Hotel, which has a restaurant overlooking Somes Sound that is open to the public.

Claremont Hotel Southwest Harbor Maine


Bass Harbor is an authentic fishing community, widely recognized for its lighthouse, great lobster pounds, and get-away-from-it-all inns.   It is my favorite place on Mount Desert Island to visit at sunset – not to see the sun itself descend, but to witness its beautiful work on the harbor and its boats.  My first rental on Mount Desert Island was a sunny condo overlooking the harbor.

Lobster boat Bass Harbor Maine


Just on the other side of Bass Harbor is Bernard, home of Thurston’s Lobster Pound, a “must” for any visit to Mount Desert Island and Acadia National Park.

Tremont, Seal Cove, and Pretty Marsh are the quietest villages on the “Quiet Side”!  The distance from Bar Harbor discourages many visitors, who miss out on picnicking at Pretty Marsh, hiking the quiet trails of Western Mountain, and kayaking on Long Pond.   Rentals here include cottages and cabins overlooking Seal Cove Pond or the quiet coves of the western shoreline of Mount Desert Island.

In love, real estate, and where to stay on Mount Desert Island, there are always trade-offs.  I invite you to join the conversation and comment on which villages you’ve enjoyed on your visits to Acadia National Park.




Thuya Garden in Northeast Harbor Compounds the Enchantment of Acadia

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Aug 242010

There are many ways to get to Thuya Garden. Visitors by sea can tie up at Asticou Terraces Landing and walk up Asticou Terrace Trail.  Drivers can park either at the landing or at the top of Thuya Drive.  But we preferred to hike.

The path we chose was Little Harbor Brook Trail to the top of Eliot Mountain, visiting Thuya Garden on our descent as a slight – and very worthwhile – detour.  After all, even in the most enchanted of bucolic settings, which this trail is, it is rare to come upon a wooden fence with a door that opens onto such manicured beauty.

Thuya Garden was created by Charles K. Savage in 1956 on land that was formerly the orchard of Joseph H. Curtis, who built a home on this property in Northeast Harbor in 1912.  In the style of a semi-formal English garden, it features colorful annuals, perennials, expansive lawns, and indigenous eastern Maine woodlands.   (By the way, the name Thuya is derived from Thuya occidentalis, the northern white cedar, that grows abundantly in the area.)

A special aspect of the garden is that many of its original plants and garden ornaments are from the collection of Beatrix Farrand (1872-1959), the prominent landscape architect who designed gardens for private estates, botanic reservations, college campuses, and the White House.   She worked closely with John D. Rockefeller, Jr. and designed the landscaping around Mr. Rockefeller’s granite bridges in Acadia National Park.

Thuya Garden is a lovely place to rest, contemplate, and study plantings that thrive in eastern Maine.

Come by sea, car, or hiking trail – but be sure to come.