Difficulty: Easy. The footpaths through the 3-acre garden are smooth and travel over mostly even terrain. The trickiest part of the trail network is a set of stepping stones that cross a stream, but you don’t have to use them; There are two wide wooden bridges nearby that you can use instead.
How to get there: The main entrance and parking area for the Azalea Garden is located just north of the intersection of Route 198 and Route 3 (Peabody Drive) in Northeast Harbor. To get there, drive onto Mount Desert Island on Route 3, and just after crossing the causeway, continue straight onto Route 102-Route 198, driving to the right of the convenience store. Continue about 4.3 miles, then turn left onto Route 198-Route 3. Drive 5.6 miles (after resetting your odometer) and the entrance to Asticou Azalea Garden will be on your left.
Information: The Asticou Azalea Garden on Mount Desert Island was designed and built in the late 1950s by Charles K. Savage, a life-long resident of Northeast Harbor and owner of the Asticou Inn. His intentions were to preserve the plant collection of Beatrix Farrand, a famous American landscape designer who had formerly lived in Bar Harbor.
He also intended for the gardens to be a place for his inn’s guests to unwind, as well as a stunning roadside attraction. Many of the azaleas in the garden came from the historic plant collection of Farrand. With financial support from John D. Rockefeller, Savage purchased the collection when Farrand dismantled her Reef Point estate in Bar Harbor in the mid-1950s.
Savage intended for the garden to be a blend of Japanese garden design and the natural landscape of Mount Desert Island, according to Asticou Azalea Garden head gardener Mary Roper. The garden features native plants and stones, combined with colorful azaleas, rhododendrons and other specimen plants from Farrand’s collection.
In 1968, the garden was given to the town of Northeast Harbor, and shortly after, it was transferred to the nonprofit Land and Garden Preserve, which also owns and maintains the nearby Thuya Garden.
Over the years, the Land and Garden Preserve has expanded the Asticou Azalea Garden to include more footpaths and several benches for resting and enjoying the peacefulness and beauty of the space. In 2004, the garden underwent a major expansion, which included the construction of a meeting house and a public restrooms.
Today, the garden covers about 3 acres and features 30 species of azaleas and rhododendrons, a pine mountainscape, a sand garden, multiple bridges, a quiet mossy corridor, a fall color planting, a stream, and Asticou Pond (which is frequented by ducks).
The Asticou Azalea Garden is open to the public during daylight hours, May 1-Oct. 31. Entry to the garden is free, however, there is a $5 suggested donation. A donation box is located just beyond the main entrance. Donations go toward the upkeep and improvement of the garden.
Pets are not permitted. Children should be kept in hand at all times, and people should remain on established footpaths as much as possible. Bikes, picnicking and sunbathing are prohibited.
The Land and Garden Preserve gardens peak seasons are staggered. Asticou Azalea Garden’s peak season is roughly May through June, Roper said. Thuya Garden’s peak season is roughly July through August. Then Asticou Azalea Garden has a season of fall color September through October.
For information, including a downloadable brochure with a map of the garden, visit the Land and Garden Preserve website at gardenpreserve.org. Or you can call the Land and Garden Preserve at 276-3717.
Personal note: When my mom and I visited the Asticou Azalea Garden for the first time on May 29, we were lucky to catch many of the plants in full blossom. I’m not well versed in flowers or garden design, but I could still appreciate the beauty and tranquility of the garden. And most of the plants were labeled, which I really appreciated. Some of my favorite blossoms were the salmon-colored Japanese azalea and the woodland peony, a giant pale yellow flower.
While visiting, we encountered several other visitors, as well as a male mallard duck swimming across the pond. Near the water, my mom and I sat on granite stones — which had been donated to the garden by local residents when the garden expanded in 2004. I have to credit my mom for her patience as I posed blossoms and followed bumble bees with my camera in an effort to expand my macro photography portfolio. After our visit, we enjoyed a nice lunch on the deck of Colonel’s Restaurant and Bakery in Northeast Harbor.