Archive for Asian gardens

Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Garden Part One

Posted in garden to visit, landscape design, Maine with tags , , , , , , , , , , on October 25, 2016 by Carolyn @ Carolyns Shade Gardens



The gravel path from the parking lot leads to the formal entrance to the Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Garden, but the grandeur of this amazing site in the Maine woods already surrounds you.

In July, my husband Michael and I spent four very full days on Mt. Desert Island, Maine, USA, visiting public and private gardens and Acadia National Park, which is celebrating its 100th anniversary.  To see the beautiful photos in my Acadia post, Scenes from Mt. Desert Island and Acadia National Park, click here.  For photos of Asticou Azalea Garden and the Thuya Garden, both in Northeast Harbor, click here.  Today’s post covers our visit to the woodland of the Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Garden.  The next post will cover the perennial gardens.

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The formal gardens are enclosed by rose-hued walls topped by gold tiles, building materials reserved for the use of Chinese emperors.  Many of the tiles were actually salvaged from the Forbidden City in Beijing.

The Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Garden is a private garden in Seal Harbor on Mt. Desert Island, Maine.  It is owned by David Rockefeller and was originally created between 1926 and 1930 by the well known garden designer Beatrix Farrand (for more information on Farrand, click here) and Abby Aldrich Rockefeller, David’s mother and the wife of John D. Rockefeller, Jr. 

We visited the garden because our Mt. Desert host, friend, and customer, Charlotte F., said it was a must and encouraged us to book reservations as soon as they became available on May 31.  The garden is only open one day a week (Thursday this year) in late July, August, and early September and advance reservations are required, and their availability is intentionally very limited.  By the time we visited in the third week of July all reservations were sold out.



Looking back at the entrance from inside what Abby Rockefeller called the Chinese Garden.  The rams are 14th to 15th century Yi Dynasty, Korea.

We had a lot of plans for our Acadia visit and didn’t research the Rockefeller Garden in advance so were very surprised by what we found—an ancient Chinese-inspired garden filled with statuary dating as far back as the 5th century in the middle of the Maine woods!  As explained by Patrick Chasse in a lecture at the New York Botanical Gardens, the Rockefellers visited Asia for three months in 1921.  They were entranced by the architecture of the Forbidden City in Beijing and decided to build a garden at their Seal Harbor home incorporating ancient Chinese design elements, including building materials, walls, gates, a north-south axis, and statuary, among others.



The Spirit Path runs the length of the woodland section of the garden on a north-south axis parallel to the walls surrounding the flower garden. Spirit Paths were a  traditional feature of imperial Chinese tombs.  The path is lined with pairs of imposing granite statues from 14th and 15th century Korea, which the Rockefellers purchased from a dealer in antiquities in Japan.



A close up of one of the granite statues along the Spirit Path.



A man made granite pool along the Spirit Path topped by a “snow” lantern, traditionally made from snow and lit from within.  This one is granite from 17th to 18th century Korea.


The native woodland plants surrounding the carefully placed antiquities, walls, paths, and rocks are beautiful.
A narrow rill carefully outlined in moss
This path leads to a 17th century seated monk from the Edo period in Japan and carved from volcanic rock.
The walled flower garden appears like a parallel universe visible through several gates giving access to it from various parts of the woodland.
The moon gate looks into the northern end of the flower garden.

The bottle gate at the southern end of the gardens was the gate through which Abby Aldrich Rockefeller liked to take her guests.   We will enter it in the next post!




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Carolyn’s Shade Gardens is a local retail nursery in Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania, U.S., zone 6b/7a. The only plants that we mail order are snowdrops and miniature hostas and only within the US.

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