March 2005THE LIST
Secret Gardens
Photo by Neil Soderstrom/Innisfree Garden
The unique gardens at Innisfree in New York incorporate native plants and rocks.
Text by George W. Stone
Photo courtesy Innisfree Garden

Soothing places of surprise and Sanctuary in the U.S. and Canada

Celia Thaxter's Garden
Appledore Island, Maine

Poppies pop up from the cutting plots that poet Celia Thaxter cultivated and immortalized in her 1894 book An Island Garden, illustrated by impressionist painter Childe Hassam. Tiny Appledore Island, a 95-acre Eden in the Isles of Shoals, ten miles off the coast of Maine, is a vision of 19th-century flower power: Sweet peas, hollyhocks, asters, and a clematis called Traveler's Joy rule this emerald isle. Visitors have included Mark Twain and Ralph Waldo Emerson, who stayed at the summer hotel that Thaxter's father built here (lost in a 1914 fire). There is no place for a sleepover these days, but tours of Thaxter's garden are offered on Wednesdays June-August.

Stockbridge, Massachusetts

The Choate family's 44-room summer "cottage," designed in 1885 by McKim, Mead, and White, is an attraction. But gardeners love the garden "rooms"—themed outdoor spaces—that literally make mansions from molehills. The Chinese Garden, Tree Peony Terrace, Afternoon Garden, Arborvitae Walk, and Evergreen Garden occupy much of the estate's eight landscaped acres. Forty acres of woodland and meadow surround this "haven of peace"—the Native American meaning of the word Naumkeag.

Sagaponack, New York

Landscape painter Robert Dash believed that gardening must appear effortless to succeed. Although the flat fields along the eastern end of Long Island are better known for producing potatoes, Dash managed to coax subtle annuals and perennials, mounds of tall grass, and allées of clipped privet from his two-acre canvas. Madoo comes from an old Scottish term for "my dove," and these gardens impart a corresponding sense of tranquillity.

Millbrook, New York

"Cup gardens," a Chinese garden design in which enclosure is used to frame a specific feature, are the key to this unique American garden. Set around a glacial lake and incorporating native plants and rocks, Innisfree is a dreamy collection of outdoor spaces. Streams, waterfalls, terraces, retaining walls, rocks, and plants define areas. Motion is embraced as a garden element with jet fountains and a mist waterfall that sends vapors over rocks and trees. Water lotuses, smoke trees, and a hemlock grove give Innisfree a paradise-lost feel.

Wayne, Pennsylvania

This 35-acre estate garden west of Philadelphia attracts the plant passionate. Bulbs bloom in spring, followed by orchards of flowering trees and native wildflowers. Espaliered fruit trees demonstrate the art of horticulture near a water garden surrounded by fragrant herb plants. Waves of wheat form an undulating "sculpture" around boulders, and whimsical courtyards mix perennials with tropical plants for a lush effect.

Franciscan Monastery Gardens
Washington, D.C.

The existence of this monastery tucked into the northeast quadrant of the nation's capital is a surprise even to many locals. More than 20 acres of hillside gardens, woods, and meadows honor the Franciscan order's long tradition of providing garden sanctuary to all—including birds and other wildlife. High-lights include a garden planted with herbs mentioned in the Bible; rose gardens; spring plantings of hibiscuses, lantana, caladiums, and palms; and replicas of the Garden of Gethsemane and shrines from the Holy Land. Walkways allow visitors to wander the wooded landscape in contemplative silence.

Mckee Botanical Garden
Vero Beach, Florida

One of Florida's earliest public gardens opened as McKee Jungle Gardens in 1929, 80 acres showcasing a notable collection of orchids and water lilies—including Amazonian lily pads large enough to hold a small child—and subtropical ferns, palms, and rubber trees. With the opening of Disney World in Orlando in the 1970s, however, the "jungle" faded and closed. Reopened in 2001 with a more manageable 18 acres, this Florida landmark has been restored to full tropical bloom, with bromeliads, heliconias, and lotuses decorating ponds and trails.

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