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From coastal to urban to historic, these 8 public gardens offer stunning views, vibrant color, and peaceful tranquility in a variety of settings. Here are the winners for best public gardens in Yankee Magazine’s 2014 Home & Garden Awards.
Boston Public Garden
69 Beacon St., Boston, MA. 617-635-4505; cityofboston.gov
Filled with iconic New England attractions, including the Swan Boats, the Make Way for Ducklings sculpture, and an imposing George Washington statue, this garden is also a serious botanical masterpiece, featuring stunning seasonal displays of tulips and roses, and more than 600 trees (including 100 species). Best of all, it’s a truly public retreat—right in the middle of the city, open to anyone, with no entrance fee required.
Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens
132 Botanical Gardens Drive, Boothbay, ME. 207-633-4333; mainegardens.org
This 250-acre masterpiece is living proof that the coast can be a great place to garden, despite the wind and salt air. Staffers harness a truly rugged environment and demonstrate what can be done with ledge, hillside, woodland, and waterfront. Don’t miss the second-to-none children’s garden—universal fun for all ages.
New England Wild Flower Society at Garden in the Woods
180 Hemenway Road, Framingham, MA. 508-877-7630; newenglandwild.org
Combine a gambol in the woods with a lesson on native plants, multiply it by a few hundred trilliums, and you have Garden in the Woods. Tucked smack-dab into the middle of suburbia, this 45-acre gem is a safe haven for native wildflowers, as well as a lovely location for a weekend hike. Along the way, you’ll learn just how diverse our woodlands can be, if protected.
6000 Shelburne Road, Shelburne, VT. 802-985-3346; shelburnemuseum.org
Witness vibrant displays of how New Englanders lived and created over the centuries at this quirky and remarkable collection of historic buildings, folk and decorative art, carriages and horse-drawn vehicles, and, yes, gardens, near the shore of Lake Champlain. Among the collections of peonies and daylilies are a 1790s Vermont flax and kitchen garden, an 1820s heirloom kitchen garden, and a fragrant 19th-century cutting garden.
1561 Asylum Ave., West Hartford, CT. 860-231-9443; elizabethparkct.org
Elizabeth Park is a heady 2.1-acre paradise of wall-to-wall roses, with arches muffled in climbers and Technicolor beds of unfurling buds in every shade of white, red, pink, yellow, and orange—more than 800 varieties in all. (For more on the park, see “In Search of Foolproof Roses,” p. 94 in this issue.) It’s no wonder that brides line up on weekends to snap photos under the blooms.
SHOWS & SPECIAL PROGRAMS
Tower Hill Botanic Garden
11 French Drive, Boylston, MA. 508-869-6111; towerhillbg.org
By all means, go to Tower Hill for the stunning views framed by glorious gardens, and don’t miss the orangerie. But consider synchronizing your visit with one of the many shows celebrating the daffodil, orchid, cacti and succulents, begonia, rose, and vegetables (to name just a few).
125 Arborway, Boston, MA. 617-524-1718; arboretum.harvard.edu
Nothing can quite match the fragrance and beauty of the lilac display—nearly 400 plants (176 varieties) in all—blanketing Bussey Hill in this 280-acre expanse. Exploding in pinks, lavenders, blues, and whites each May, they’ve been a Boston mainstay for more than 100 years, and even have their own holiday: Lilac Sunday (May 11 this year).
Mount Desert Land & Garden Preserve
92 Cooksey Drive, Seal Harbor, ME. 207-276-3727; gardenpreserve.org
The Land & Garden Preserve maintains the coastal Asticou Azalea Garden (a Japanese-inspired oasis) and Thuya Garden (a semiformal mix of English border gardens and native Maine woodlands) on Mount Desert Island, just south of Acadia National Park. Both are worthy year-round destinations, but in fall they simply explode with color. Leaves on the many tree species take on vibrant shades of yellow, orange, red, and even purple, reflected in ponds and pools.