A handful of gardens are open only on special days; others you can visit throughout blooming season. It’s a bed of roses (and peonies, irises and lilacs).
Home gardeners can satisfy their need for fresh ideas—and their voyeuristic curiosity—with annual garden tours of some of the best private gardens in the state hosted by garden clubs from Cape Elizabeth to Bar Harbor. Add these dates on your calendar, but remember, throughout spring and summer there are ongoing opportunities to visit some of Maine’s most spectacular floral displays, from the June peony bloom at Gilsland Farm to New England’s largest lilac collection at McLaughlin Garden (get on that one this month). Don’t forget the innovative University of Maine demonstration gardens at Tidewater Farm or the state’s largest gardening-related tourism attraction, Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens. With a garden season full of this many choices, you might want to clip our lists on the following pages.
ANNUAL GARDEN TOURS
Camden Garden Club House and Garden Tour
July 19, 9:30 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Camden has the oldest garden club in the state, established in 1915. Its well-regarded annual home and garden tour draws many return visitors from all over the United States. This summer’s tour includes six properties—some with just the garden on the tour and some with both the home and garden. Tickets are $35 in advance, $40 on tour day. Check in at Camden Hills State Park on Route 1, north of Camden, or Maine Sport Outfitters on Route 1, south of Camden. Carpooling is encouraged as you’ll need to drive from location to location. (camdengardenclub.org)
Bar Harbor Fine Island Garden Tour
July 20, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.
The Bar Harbor Garden Club offers this annual rain-or-shine tour of the best gardens on Mount Desert Island, where ocean views and dramatic hardscaping abound. Start at the Northeast Harbor Marina (40 Harbor Drive) to pick up your ticket and maps (check out the gardening-themed vendor marketplace too). Admission gets you into six private gardens, three in Northeast Harbor and three in Southwest Harbor. Tickets are $30 in advance or $35 the day of the tour. For more information, including how to buy tickets by sending a check with a self-addressed stamped envelope: barharborgardenclub.org.
Cape Elizabeth Garden Tour
July 20, 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Fort Williams Park, Cape Elizabeth
With Portland Head light and wide views of Casco Bay, the Friends of Fort Williams Park have a stunning location for a self-guided tour of eight gardens. The tour starts at the Children’s Garden and Cliff Walk Landscape and continues on to private gardens offering hillside ocean views, ornamental trees and shrubs, native plants, woodlands, raised beds and stonework. Tickets are $30 in advance and $40 the day of the tour (register at the Children’s Garden), Proceeds benefit the nonprofit’s work supporting the park’s ecology and natural beauty. Rain or shine. (cegardentour.com)
SEASONAL GARDEN VISITS
Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens
Season runs April 15–Oct. 31
132 Botanical Gardens Drive, Boothbay
Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens is the largest botanical garden in New England, including nearly a mile of saltwater frontage. Exploring on foot is the most common way to take in the nearly 20 acres of gardens and trails. But one-hour electric cart tours are available for up to five passengers, led by trained docents. The new Butterfly House (opening June 15) has weekly Botany of Butterflies tours at 2 p.m. any Thursday from June 20 through Oct. 25, starting at the bridge outside the Visitor Center (no reservations needed). Art lovers are invited to Plein Air Days, May 30–June 1, when artists set up their easels around the gardens. The season runs April 15–Oct. 31 with admission $18 for adults, $16 for seniors, $9 for kids. Over Memorial Day weekend, admission is free for Maine residents with ID. (207–633–8000; mainegardens.org)
Gilsland Farm’s Peony Garden
Peaks in June
20 Gilsland Farm Road, Falmouth
Maine Audubon’s headquarters are at this historic farm along the Presumpscot River estuary, five minutes north of Portland. Conservationist David Moulton bought the land in 1911 and spent 40 years cultivating more than 400 species of peonies. They’re spread over seven acres, but be sure to look for the large bed near the headquarters building. Maine Audubon members are invited for a Peony Day celebration on June 19, the height of peony garden perfection (nonmembers can join then, too), with live music and free ice cream. Shoppers at Maine Audubon’s annual native plants sale June 15 (10 a.m. to 4 p.m.) will also see the peonies in their glory. Visitors are welcome year-round to explore two miles of trails through the property’s woods, meadow, orchard and salt marsh from dawn to dusk. (207–781–2330; maineaudubon.org)
University of Maine Gardens at Tidewater Farm
Open sunrise to sunset
Farm Gate Road, Falmouth
These demonstration gardens overlooking the Presumpscot River are open to the public from sunrise to sunset with no admission fee. The property includes an All-American Selections Display Garden in collaboration with Southern Maine Community College, an apiary managed by the Cumberland County Beekeepers Association, Harvest for Hunger plots, a pollinator garden, a children’s garden, a meadow garden, an orchard and a picnic area. Visitors can walk the adjacent Portland Trails, attend a class or workshop, join a work party or just soak up gardening inspiration. (extension.umaine.edu/cumberland)
Season starts May 10
97 and 103 Main St., South Paris
This century-old Maine farmstead boasts the largest collection of lilacs in New England. The two-acre formal garden also features mature collections of hostas, daylilies, astilbes, iris, phlox, sedum, cimicifuga and sempervivums as well as a diverse collection of Maine wildflowers and ferns. Opens for the season May 10 with visitors welcome daily from dawn to dusk. The gift shop is open Tuesday through Sunday 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. with plants for sale. Special events include a Wildflower Celebration May 10–12 and Lilac Festival over Memorial Day weekend. The lilacs will be long gone by then, but there are Garden Illuminated nights on July 19 (for children) and July 20 (for adults). (207–743–8820; mclaughlingarden.org)
St. Anthony Franciscan Friary
Open sunrise to sunset
28 Beach Ave., Kennebunk
This Franciscan monastery a short walk from the center of Kennebunkport is on 66-acres that include an English country garden, rolling lawn s and a path through the woods, leading to marshes and river views. The estate is open to the public from sunrise to sunset. Walking tour brochures are available at the Franciscan Guest House front desk. (framon.net)
Open dawn to dusk
153 Hospital St., Augusta
While the focus of any arboretum is trees, the sprawling (224-acres) Viles Arboretum is also home to extensive plant collections, the state’s largest outdoor display of art and the state’s second-longest wetland boardwalk (perfect for birdwatching). Six miles of trails are open to hiking, biking and horseback riding, with trail maps available on site. The arboretum is open from dawn to dusk, and there’s no admission fee. (207–626–7989; vilesarboretum.org)
Season starts in May
Maine Historical Society, 489 Congress St., Portland
An urban oasis, Longfellow Garden is tucked behind the historic Wadsworth-Longfellow House. In 1924, the poet’s niece, Anne Longfellow Pierce, relied on her memories of the garden to guide the Longfellow Garden Club in restoring the garden to its Colonial Revival-style glory. After the 2007 expansion of the Maine Historical Society, the gardens were restored to the original landscape design, including a lilac bush dating back to Pierce’s time. The garden is open to visitors for free from May to October from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. There’s a garden map and plant identification guide online at longfellowgardenclub.org.
CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story included a listing for Open Doors of York on June 21 and 22. That event has been cancelled. The Facebook page for the group says it was unable to secure enough homes within walking distance of each other.
Amy Paradysz is a writer, editor and photographer who lives in Scarborough.