Thursday, August 29, 2013

Thuya Garden and Asticou Terrace Trail, Northeast Harbor, ME

Thuya Garden vista from the Upper Pavilion
Charles K. Savage, a life-long resident of Northeast Harbor, ME and owner of the Asticou Inn was a lover of native plants and talented landscape designer. He was also a garden rescuer. When noted "landscape gardener" Beatrix Farrand decided in 1955 to quickly dispense with Reef Point, her family estate in Bar Harbor, for commercial development, Charles K. Savage stepped in to incorporate many of the plants in his own garden. Similarly, he transformed the orchard of Joseph Henry Curtis into Thuya Garden.

Curtis was a landscape architect from Boston who summered on Mt. Desert Island, ME for 48 years. His summer estate, Thuya Lodge, was situated high above Northeast Harbor, nestled among native white cedars (Thuja occidentalis). Thus the name, Thuya Lodge. Curtis established a trail from Asticou Terraces Landing to the lodge that allowed access to his lodge from the harbor, with terraces and shelters along the way.

From the landing's parking lot on Route 3, Peabody Drive, the trail climbs first to the Joseph H. Curtis Memorial terrace. A granite slab is carved with Curtis's profile in relief and acknowledges “The Asticou Terraces are his gift for the quiet recreation of the people of this town and their summer guests.” Native azaleas (Rhododendron canadense) flower against a granite backdrop.

Further along, a trail leads to Stone Lookout. The shelter provides a limited vista of the harbor and protection from rain. Most notable are its well-crafted rough-hewn beams and stone construction.

The trail might seem challenging to some visitors. Stone slabs seem to lead ever upward, sometimes past gurgling watercourses, sometimes to precipitous heights. But the trail is not difficult.

Panorama of Northeast Harbor

From the Second Lookout, a trail westward leads to the First Lookout. It's a smaller structure with rustic details providing an excellent panorama of Northeast Harbor. Like the others, it gives protection from the elements, though I suspect less on windy days.

To climb to Thuya Lodge, a visitor can walk to Old Grass Road and loop around to the Ascitou Hill Trail, or return to Second Lookout and proceed upward. Both are delightful paths to the lodge.

Joseph Curtis gave his estate in trust to the residents of Mt. Desert Island as a public park. Charles Savage was appointed trustee. It was Savage's vision to turn the lodge into a horticultural library and the orchard into a semi-formal, herbaceous garden in the manners of Gertrude Jekyll and Beatrix Farrand.

The heart of the garden is, of course, the expanse of lawn flanked by perennial borders. A plant list for 2013 can be downloaded from www.gardenpreserve.org. We missed the beautiful borders in full flower during our May visit. But volunteers were hard at work cultivating them.

Thuya Garden path
A path around the garden leads past a reflecting pool and Spring House. The Azalea Garden includes some rhododendrons salvaged from Ms. Farrand's nearby estate at Reef Point.

The Lower Pavilion and Upper Pavilion provide vistas of the herbaceous garden. As with the Asticou Terrace Trail lookouts, they are well-crafted with rough-hewn timbers. Both reflect something of the Japanese style that so fascinated Savage; especially so does the Upper Pavilion.

Savage completed the garden in 1962. Since then, it has been partially redesigned by Patrick Chasse, former garden curator at Boston's Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, an authority on Beatrix Farrand. Chasse is a resident of Southwest Harbor, Maine.

Visitors to Thuya Garden can park in the Asticou Terraces Landing lot on Route 3, or drive to the lodge and park in the upper lot. The driveway entrance is also on Route 3. The sign marking it is easily overlooked.

Thuya Garden is open from May 1st through October 31st. Thuya Lodge can be visited from mid-June through mid-September.  The Thuya Garden and the Asticou Azalea Garden are owned and operated by the Mount Desert Land and Garden Preserve, a Maine non-profit corporation.

Return to goGardenNow.com.

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