Sunday, March 09, 2014

Wild Gardens of Acadia | Acadia National Park, Maine

If you don’t have the time or the ability to visit all of the various ecological zones of Acadia National Park, but still want to get an idea of the various types of plants throughout the park, then stop by The Wild Gardens of Acadia. These gardens are host to native flora of Acadia, from the ocean to the tops of the mountains.

While I’m sure that not everyone wants to learn about all of the plants in Acadia, the Wild Gardens should interest just about everyone, if only to get an idea of the variety in flora that the park supports. Not only that, but the gardens themselves are quite nice too look at and depending upon the time of the year you arrive, may have quite a number of plants in flower.

Getting There 

The Wild Gardens of Acadia are located adjacent to the Sieur de Monts Spring area.

The Sieur de Monts Spring area is off of the park’s main loop drive and is also accessible from Route 3 where it crosses the loop drive nearby. Both the spring and the Wild Garden area are well signed, both on the loop drive and on Route 3. There is parking provided along the roadway to the site, but during busier times it does tend to fill up and parking is allowed along the side of the roadways. For the thinnest crowds, try to hit the area early in the morning or later in the afternoon, as the parking and the crowds tend to be lighter, especially on weekends.

The vast majority of the people visiting the Sieur de Monts area are visiting the nature center, the spring and the Abbe Museum, which leaves the Wild Gardens a bit quieter and a nice place to take some time to walk around and explore.

What do you get when you visit? 

Upon entering the garden, a small brochure is available that describes the various habitats and the plants that are found in each of those habitats. The garden is broken up into 12 different habitat ‘zones’ that represent each of the major habitats found in Acadia National Park. The zones include:

Mixed Woods
Brookside/Damp Thicket
Bird Thicket
Coniferous Woods

Small paths travel throughout the garden and serve as delineators, separating the various habitats from one another.

For those without much botanical background, I think the most interesting aspect of the gardens is the way that they show the diversity of the park. You go from the plants that grow right along the seaside to the plants at the tops of the bare rock summits and everything else in between.

Kids will likely enjoy the Bog habitat where they can find the native insectivorous plants. The sundew, bladderwort and pitcher plant are all there and if you can find yourself a fly or a mosquito, you can feed it to the plant.

For those with stronger botanical backgrounds, it’s interesting to see all the various plants and habitats brought together in a relatively small area, whereas in nature they are generally not found together. It can also be fun to try to identify as much as you can without cheating and looking at the labels that are on representatives of most of the plants in the garden.

There are benches scattered throughout the gardens so people can sit and rest or just take in the surrounding gardens.

An interesting thing to note is the clarity of the water in the stream that travels along the western and northern edge of the gardens. It’s the outlet of the Sieur de Monts Spring and is crystal clear.

Is it worth a stop? 

I have been to the Wild Gardens, once in the early spring before the majority of the plants were growing and then once again with my partner in the early fall. Both times, we spent a good amount of time walking around the garden, looking at the individual plants and the habitats in general. When I was there in the fall, my partner and I spent almost an hour wandering through the garden, mostly because he wanted to be able to identify as many plants as possible, which turned out to be quite a challenge since not everything is labeled and my plant identification skills have rusted up a bit since college. However, we both had a really good time and the gardens were a great place to just wander and enjoy each other’s company.

The gardens are free to visit with your park pass. However, should you want the brochure, a small donation is suggested to help defray the costs of production since the brochure is put together and published by the Garden Club of Mt. Desert, who also maintain the gardens.

Final Thoughts 

A trip to the Wild Gardens of Acadia makes a great stop on your tour of Acadia National Park. You can spend as much time as you want wandering through the gardens, exploring the various habitats and native plants of the park, all in one spot.

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