Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Travel post: Monticello, Hershey, Coastal Maine, Tower Hill

I've just returned from a trip up and down the Eastern U.S., Virginia to Maine and back, and of course I saw some gardens! My trip started with the Monticello Heritage Harvest Festival, an event I've been to almost every year since 2009, and I've taken so many photos there over the years that I tend to skip it now, but the weather was nicely gloomy in the morning, so here's the obligatory vegetable garden shot, with pea sticks:

But I did take photos of the other gardens, so before I start, here is the inadvertent collection of Large Red Grass shots:

Hershey Gardens
Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens
Tower Hill Botanic Garden

Perhaps these are photos representative of each garden's style. Or else it's just me liking red.

Anyway. First garden stop was Hershey Gardens in Pennsylvania, across the road from the amusement park and near the big hotel. It's worth a visit if you're there and want a nice walk, but I didn't find it particularly exciting or intriguing. (I should note here that I got in free to all these gardens as a member of the American Horticultural Society - the Reciprocal Admissions Program makes joining this organization very worthwhile if you're planning a lot of garden tourism - so any sense of cost-effectiveness, if that applies to gardens, was not in the forefront of my mind.) Hershey has a number of the right elements for a successful public garden, including (not unexpectedly considering the location) a decent children's garden, lots of roses, well-selected trees and perennials, and plenty of vistas, but to me it was kind of formulaic and pretty rather than instructive or appealing to gardeners (also, the plants were inconsistently labeled, which is always annoying - either label them all or none of them!). The "seasonal display garden" area, where the above shot is from, was the most photographable, so here's the rainbow section:

There was a little cafe which was closed, and a gift shop that didn't tempt me. Verdict: not worth a pilgrimage, but okay as part of the Hershey Experience, especially if you like roses.

A few days later I spent a few hours at Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens, and loved it. It's in Boothbay Harbor, so there's plenty of other stuff to do around there if you happen to be touring the coast of Maine (also you will drive right past Edgecomb Potters, which is my favorite pottery place ever). This is a garden that uses its setting very well. It actually reminded me a lot of Mendocino Coast Botanical Gardens, where we went last year: a different coastal vibe, obviously, but the same sense of place.

Here are a few photos:

Part of the hillside microclimates demo area

Lots of Maine woods trails; lots of art objects
Part of the sensory garden, though it was too chilly to walk barefoot on

Also in the sensory (and accessible) garden
The vegetables in the "five senses" garden (representing taste) looked better than the ones in the veggie garden proper, and the raised wheelchair-height beds were splendid. That's Portuguese Beira kale to the left, which I am definitely growing next year.

Other things I liked:

- The children's garden is spectacular; the best one I've seen. Kids could enjoy it for hours and learn things while they're at it. And then they can wander down the slope into the woods and play in the Fairy House Village, which is an area full of stones large and small, and lots of fallen tree branches and pinecones, etc., that can be rearranged into sculptures and Eeyore houses and anything you want. Wonderful use of environment.

- Lots of instructive and usable ideas for different microclimates, if you happen to live in Maine - but beautifully done so nice to look at even if you don't.

- Walking trails! I only did a small portion of these, but it's great to get a hike in while you're there. You can also rent boats in season.

- Plants are labeled; beds are stuffed full in the formal areas and left natural in the woodsy parts.

- Excellent sit-down cafe and intriguing gift shop.

I'll have to go back sometime to visit the rhododendron garden when it's in bloom. Verdict: a must-see, especially with kids, and if you enjoy walking a lot (but you could also stick with the central areas if you can't walk far, and they have shuttle service to the far-flung regions).

My last visit was to Tower Hill Botanic Garden in Boylston, MA, which I also recommend highly if you are in the area. It's smaller in scale, but nicely put together. The highlights are: the systematic garden, arranged by plant families, which was pleasing to this plant geek; the vegetable garden; the heirloom apple orchard (they do tours and tastings, which my visit didn't coincide with, but I wandered around for a bit pleasantly - there are apples in my family tree on both sides, and I love seeing these old varieties grown); meadow and hill hikes. They have an orangerie with warm-climate plants, and a lot of educational programs.

It was a grand day for photos, nice and cloudy:

What I assume was the cutting garden, near the parking lot

I like the simple tomato trellising

Golden larch in the systematic garden

I chose the Ericaceae to photograph, naturally

Great use of color blocks in the veggie garden
Verdict: go if you're in central Massachusetts. Doesn't take too long to see it all, and they have a real commitment to both beauty and education. You can eat and buy gifts here as well.

I also rambled through the Wellesley College greenhouses while I was in town. They have some great stuff in there - it's really just as good as many of the public garden greenhouses I've been to, with the feeling that research is going on in the background. Free and usually open to the public. Didn't bring a camera, sorry.

Where I didn't go: I decided against Yaddo Gardens while I was in Saratoga Springs, because it was raining that morning and because a second look at the website led me to think it would be on the boring side - formality and roses do not really appeal to me. And I was going to take in Chanticleer again on the way home, but neglected to note in my planning that it's closed on Tuesdays. Oh well; I'll have other chances.

Now it is time to tend my own gardens for a while! (Although we are leaving for Italy in less than two weeks. Expect more garden photos after that!)