Looking for a break from urbanity? Wander through paradise at Elizabeth Park in Hartford, Connecticut.
Photo Credit : Aimee Tucker
TRAVEL NOTE: Operating seasons and hours—as well as peak bloom times—will vary by location.
From the seaside Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens to showstopping roses at Elizabeth Park in Connecticut, these eight New England public gardens offer stunning views, vibrant color, and peaceful tranquility in a variety of settings. Here are our picks for the best public gardens in New England.
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.
This 250-acre masterpiece in Boothbay, Maine, 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.
Elizabeth Park’s 102 verdant acres are most celebrated for housing America’s oldest municipally operated rose garden, which dates back to 1904. Spanning 2.5 acres, it currently contains about 15,000 bushes of 800 rose varieties, including ramblers, climbers, and shrubs. Elsewhere find specialty gardens devoted to perennials, annuals, tulips, and shade-loving plants.
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 (held each May).
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.
Wandering the grounds of a 1906 Roman Renaissance mansion, you may feel you’re on a movie set rather than in a state park. Adding to the allure are formal gardens shaped in part by landscape designer Beatrix Jones Farrand and, in summer, filled with the scent of heliotrope (former owner Mary Harkness’s favorite flower), propagated on the estate for more than 100 years.
A fountain-dotted oasis on the banks of the Piscataqua River, Prescott Park is the legacy of two wealthy sisters who in the 1930s bought up land in this formerly run-down area and began planting. Today you’ll find a formal garden with crab apples, maples, gingkos, and magnolias, as well as a springtime wealth of flowering bulbs, plus dozens of trial gardens filled with the best annuals for the New England climate.
At the only national park devoted to conservation history, you’re invited to immerse yourself in nature’s beauty, not only via the walking trails crisscrossing the 550-acre property but also in the formal plantings around the 1805 mansion that speak to four generations of stewardship.
Where are your picks for the best public gardens in New England?
This post was first published in 2014 and has been updated. An abridged version also appeared in the March/April 2021 issue.