Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Garden – designed by Beatrix Farrand

April 17, 2024

Near the top of my list of gardens is this Beatrix Farrand garden in Maine. There is something extremely special about this space. I first visited the Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Garden in Seal Harbor, Maine on Mount Desert Island in 1997. It was love at first sight. Carrie (my then-fiancee, now wife) and I vacationed on Mount Desert Island to see one of her good friends from college. Our friend had gotten exclusive tickets to a “Rockefeller Garden” that was, at that time, only open for one week during the summer.

A narrow trench cuts through a moss-covered forest floor, surrounded by tall trees with a mixture of green and brown foliage.
A pathway lined with ancient stone statues through a lush forest leading to a distant building.
The Spirit Path is lined with Korean tombstone figures and its edges softened by native shrubs and ground covers.

As we drove to the garden, we thought we were lost; as a matter of fact, I think we did get lost. We somehow managed to find our way to the obscure parking area.

There were volunteers to help us park in a makeshift parking lot carved out of the woods. As we exited our cars, we were still under the eternal canopy of a Maine forest.

A serene forest pathway leading to a mist-covered lake, framed by dense green pine trees on either side.
Bronze buddha statue seated in lotus position under a small, traditional asian-style pavilion amidst lush greenery.

Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Garden

The Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Garden is a private garden in Seal Harbor, Maine that was built by Abby Aldrich Rockefeller and her husband, John D. Rockefeller, Jr. in the 1920’s. The garden was designed by Beatrix Farrand and blends Eastern and Western landscape traditions in a summer season display.

A narrow, moss-covered trench meanders through a dense forest, surrounded by trees with smooth, gray trunks.

The signs pointed us to the garden. Following them, we eventually came to a wall with a tiled cap. The wall was tall enough not to see over it but not too tall to feel out of scale. The signs and the pathway continued along the wall until it proceeded through an opening. The closer we got to the opening, the more detailed the landscape. The forest floor was immaculately cared for. All of the moss looked neatly tended. The pine needles seemed as though they were perfectly arranged. All was in order.

A pool of lawn is the center of the sunken garden. This green island is bordered by lavish beds of perennial flowers.
A lush garden with a variety of plants and flowers in front of an aged, pink wall with a lattice design at the top.

We proceeded through the opening in the wall and walked over stepping stones and tree roots towards an opening in the woods off in the distance. The closer we got, the brighter the light. Eventually, we entered the clearing in the forest.

There, in the void, was one of the most beautiful gardens that I had ever seen. It was not too big, not too small. Just the right size with an ample amount of lush turf arranged as a rectangle in the middle of immaculately tended gardens.

These gardens were only open for one week out of the summer, and the staff pulls out all the stops to make the garden look absolutely perfect. Surrounding the turf were enormous delphiniums, foxgloves, see-through verbena, and other assorted cottage perennials and annuals.

A circular stone portal in a weathered red wall, framing a view of a lush green garden with a stone path leading to a lawn dotted with people and umbrellas.
Framed by a pink-washed stucco wall topped with glazed tiles from China, the garden features a circular moon gate and woodland walk flanked by Oriental tomb figures. 
Bronze buddha statue seated in lotus position under a small, traditional asian-style pavilion amidst lush greenery.
A serene garden path lined with gravel and flanked by lush greenery, leading to a pink wall with a lattice top under a canopy of flowering bushes.
Gilded buddha statue seated in meditation amidst lush greenery with a traditional east asian roof visible in the background.

The unforgettable borders and evocative walk lined with Korean scholars and soldiers carved from stone. The garden itself is small, yet perfect. I have been back to this garden at least a half dozen times, and each time, I see something new. A detail in how the moss is trimmed along a narrow rill here, a noteworthy plant combination there.

Old moss-covered stone pagoda in a lush green garden with a wooden bench, surrounded by trees and a potted plant.
There is the juxtaposition between English border and surrounding Asian inspired woods.
A serene japanese garden with moss-covered grounds, a stone lantern, and a small clear pond surrounded by trees.
A large stone bowl filled with lush green moss and small plants, placed on a gravel surface next to a fern.
A gravel pathway flanked by moss-covered stone pillars, leading through a lush green forest to a statue in the distance.

When I told Carrie I was putting this series together for PITH + VIGOR on some of my favorite gardens, she started to guess which ones I would include. The Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Garden was top on her list.

It is a wonderful garden, and I would encourage anyone who loves gardens and garden design to visit this space. It, along with Dumbarton Oaks in Georgetown, will allow you to see the genius of Beatrix Farrand, the designer.


A vibrant garden path lined with assorted colorful flowers and lush greenery under a cloudy sky.
The Keyhole Gate image from rockgardenmaine.

Visiting the Garden:

The garden is generally open one day a week in late July, August, and early September to allow garden enthusiasts a chance to enjoy its beauty.

While the Rockefeller Garden is among Beatrix Farrand’s finest work, she is best known for designing the Dumbarton Oaks gardens in Washington, D.C., as well as the East and West gardens at the White House, and the rose garden at the New York Botanical Garden.

Photos: All images from JR P except where noted.

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  1. Art says:

    the moss lined brook is simply incredible. quiet, soothing, and sublime

  2. Rodney Eason says:

    Art, it is sublime. If you’ve never been, do go.

  3. Eddie Cummings says:


  4. Mark McKnight says:

    I love looking through the photos on your site. You always make a good choice when illustrating your posts. They fit really well.

  5. commonweeder says:

    I have heard about this beautiful garden for years and plan to make a trip to Maine to visit it, and the Botanic Garden where Bill Cullina is now working. I am familiar with the PEGGY Rockefeller Rose Garden at the NYBG which is now one of the biggest sustainable rose gardens.

  6. commonweeder says:

    I think I forgot to say that the NYBG garden is fabulous!

  7. That rill is magnificent. There’s an interesting article on the important role of Farrand and other early women landscape designers in designing with nature here:

  8. Rodney Eason says:

    Thanks, Cindy! I will read this article.

  9. Jeffrey Dibble says:

    I had only one word to describe your photos. Stunning.

    Looking forward my trip to Maine next year. I need to experience this.

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