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History of Asticou Azalea Garden

Beauty that evolves throughout the year. From a flowering cherry tree in mid-May; to the vibrant azaleas and rhododendrons in June; to the Japanese iris, smoke bush, and fragrant sweet azalea in July; to the blooming water lilies in August; to the blazing fall colors in September and October. 

The Asticou Azalea Garden was created in 1957 by Charles K. Savage using plants purchased from Beatrix Farrand’s Reef Point garden upon its closing. Although Savage brought much of the plant material from Reef Point to Thuya Garden, he thought that the large azalea collection would be better suited for display around the small pond in lower Asticou due to its location. At the Asticou Azalea Garden, as it came to be known, Savage’s vision of providing a good display area for the azaleas came to fruition as he arranged the azaleas along the shores of the pond to increase the effects of their beautiful blooms in the reflections of the water.


Savage had shown an interest in Japanese garden design for many years. His design ideas for the Asticou Azalea Garden show some resemblance to a Japanese stroll garden but one that was designed for a coastal Maine setting. The garden is meant to inspire serenity and reflection and creates an illusion of space – of lakes and mountains and distant horizons.


In a paper written in August 1957 Savage says:


“Very early in the approach to the problem the presence of water and of azaleas suggested that some research into the Japanese modes of treatment might be well.  It is a significant fact that many features of the natural scenery of Mount Desert have similarities to the Japanese, particularly in the parts of the island where bold ledges, rocks and pitch pines prevail.  From the outset it appeared that to the water and azaleas there ought to be added certain accents in the form of rocks.  It was but a further step to add pines.  Also, it soon became apparent that a simple path around the pond ought to be provided.  Since this had to cross the brook in order to encircle the pond, a plain piece of stone slab for a bridge was clearly the answer.  These elements are indigenous to Mount Desert.  That they also happen to be part and parcel of almost all the better Japanese work is perhaps accidental, but true.  Initially, the development of the design was a parallel rather than an imitative one.”


To utilize the hidden space at the back of the garden, which is not seem from the road, Savage wanted a surprise feature. He turned that somewhat flat area into a small sanded area that was an expression of a supplementary pool whose surface was covered with sand instead of water – something that is purely Japanese in its feeling.  The design for this sand garden (# 10 on map) was influenced by the well-known 16th century sand garden in Ryoanji Temple in Kyoto. Savage was first to point out, however, that his sand garden is but a suggestion of the original and is built on a curve to simulate the flowing stream. He did hope that it would somehow convey some of the same feeling of the original.



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