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 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.

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Friday, August 9, 2013

Asticou Azalea Garden, Northeast Harbor, ME

Asticou Azalea Garden vista across Asticou Pond

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. Savage was a life-long resident of Northeast Harbor, ME, correspondent with Farrand and owner of the Asticou Inn. Charles K. Savage was a lover of native plants and avid student of Japanese garden design. With the financial support of John D. Rockefeller Jr., he purchased the plants and added them to the Asticou Azalea Garden, which he designed and built in 1956. Follow me to see what grows behind that garden wall of Asticou Azalea Garden.

The entrance to Asticou Azalea Garden from Route 198 is not immediately obvious. However, the scene from Peabody Drive will turn your head, hinting there must be a way to get in there. Here's a map of Asticou Azalea Garden for you to find and explore it.

Asticou Azalea Garden is meant for strolling. It's a small garden, so you should have plenty of time to see all of it at a leisurely pace. Paths lead visitors through various garden rooms designed in Japanese style. The rooms, many incorporating water features, inspire a sense of serenity and balance. Vistas are designed to appear much greater than they actually are. Plant species include both native and non-native selections that are appropriate to the style and climate.

East meets West beautifully in the Asticou Azalea Garden. From winter with its hushed blanket, to spring and its exuberant floral display, to late summer's water lilies and fall's explosion of the year's last hot colors (see fall photos of Asticou Azalea Garden at Martha Stewart's blog), every season will delight you with its unique textures and colors. You'll return home with lots of ideas for your own garden. I hope you will enjoy these images of Asticou I captured during my visit in May.

For more about Beatrix Farrand, see:
Dumbarton Oaks

Learn more about the history of Northeast Harbor, ME and consider Northeast Harbor for your next vacation.

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Tuesday, August 6, 2013

What is the difference between a pip and a plant?

Q. Most other sellers represent the dwarf mondo in quantities of PIPs. Could you tell me the difference between your bare root mondo plants and PIPs?

A. "Pip" is probably derived from the word, "pippin", which refers to a small seed or a plant grown from a seed. Some old apple varieties are known as pippins. There are several definitions of "pip." The one you have in mind is: "a single rootstock or flower of lily-of-the-valley, peony, etc." (Webster's New World Dictionary, The World Publishing Co., NY.)

Many plants such as lily-of-the-valley (Convallaria), liriope and mondo (Ophiopogon) produce new plants as offshoots from their bases. As many offshoots are produced a clump is formed. The offshoots are complete plants with roots and leaves, can be divided from the parent plants when mature and safely planted elsewhere. I've produced a Youtube video that demonstrates the process.

Another similar word used less frequently is "bib", which is probably a corruption of "pip." I don't use "pip" or "bib" very much any more because they are obscure, except among some gardeners. So to promote clarity, I refer to small single rootstocks as offshoots, divisions or simply as plants.

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