Flowering Fairfield; a county guide to public gardens

Written by Jena A. Butterfield 

“In the spring, at the end of the day, you should smell like dirt.” 
— Margaret Atwood

May 12 is National Public Gardens Day. To celebrate, we set out to provide the most comprehensive list of public garden offerings around Fairfield County. Our guide includes kitchen gardens, wildflower meadows, arboretums, town squares, sculpture, secret and “model” gardens and even a cemetery:

AUDUBON GREENWICH: FAIRFILED WILDFLOWER SANCTUARY, GREENWICH

The Audubon in Greenwich is a special place for Fairfield County residents to experience nature. It is comprised of seven nature sanctuaries full of trails, nature programs and conservation-themed events and serves as the hub for bird-friendly communities in Connecticut. 

For this issue we are highlighting the Fairchild Wildflower Sanctuary, 135 acres with 8 miles of trails. It is not a formal garden but a natural area with wildflower species and wetland meadows boasting tussock sedges, cattails and pink lady slipper orchids. For more, visit greenwich.audubon.org.

BARTLETT ARBORETUM AND GARDENS, STAMFORD

This 93-acre property is the place to view rare and unusual plants and trees from around the world. Visit the tropical garden and annual beds or check out the seasonal displays, magnolia collection, rhododendron and azalea collections and the Theaceae collection, containing numerous species of the tea family. For more, visit bartlettarboretum.org.

BALLARD PARK, RIDGEFIELD

Five acres of formal gardens in a town green setting replete with a playground, a bandstand, 125-year-old beech trees, shrub borders, magnolias, lilacs, memorial and wall gardens and a greenhouse. For more, visit ridgefieldgardenclub.com.

BATES SCOFIELD, DARIEN

The site not only houses the Darien Historical Society but a Garden Club of America award-winning 18th-century herb garden that includes lavender and a collection of more than 20 species of historical roses. For more, visit darienhistorical.org

BOOTHE PARK WEDDING ROSE GARDEN, STRATFORD 

Set on 32 acres, this historic home boasts an award-winning rose/wedding garden. Other attractions include a blacksmith shop and miniature windmill. Having been built on the foundation of a 1663 house and occupied continuously, the former estate of the Boothe family is said to be the oldest homestead in America. Two Boothe brothers compiled their collection of buildings with a fortune made from their ventures in insurance, property and farm equipment. Shortly after their deaths in 1948 and 1949 respectively, the grounds were opened as a public park. Stroll, relax or attend outdoor concerts amid the blooms. For more, visit townofstratford.com

BURR HOMESTEAD GARDENS, FAIRFIELD 

The historic Burr mansion, built in 1779, is located on property that includes an arboretum, a teahouse garden, a reflecting pond and more than 4 acres of formal, manicured gardens. For more, visit fairfieldhistory.org

COLORBLENDS HOUSE AND SPRING GARDENS, BRIDGEPORT 

We are including this bulb-selling agriculture company for its inspiring spring display garden, a collaboration between Colorblends and Dutch designer Jacqueline van der Kloet that showcases more than 15,000 spring bulbs on about four-tenths of an acre. While the garden is open, the Colonial Revival home on the Colorblends property in the Stratfield Historic District will house a pop-up art gallery featuring several local artists. For more, visit colorblendsspringgarden.com. 

THE CORNISH SCULPTURE GARDEN, RIDGEFIELD 

Located on the grounds of The Aldrich Museum of Contemporary Art, this garden features modern sculptures dotting a 2-acre section of outdoor exhibit space, representing some of the most acclaimed sculptors in Connecticut and throughout America. For more, visit aldrichart.org.

EKLUND GARDEN, SHELTON

This wildflower garden, in the heart of the 500-acre Shelton Lakes Greenway, is stocked with perennials native to the greater Northeast. Hike and bike the extensive trail network through a butterfly garden, wild blue lupines, the sunflower species “sneezeweed,” both New England and stiff-leaved astors, pink and blue wood irises, wild ginger, wood poppies and much more. For more, visit sheltonconservation.org.

GARDEN OF IDEAS, RIDGEFIELD 

The Garden of Ideas is a labor of love created and designed by founders Joseph Keller and Ilsa Svendsen and continued with assistance from the nonprofit Friends of Garden of Ideas. The garden includes an arboretum-like collection of perennials, annuals, trees, shrubs and vegetables as well as sculptures set on 8 acres. A marsh is fed by overflow from Lake Mamanasco. Come see the annual crop of Zizania aquatica (wild rice). Stroll through woodlands, meadows and vegetable plots. Relax and birdwatch. There are also a lily pond, a sandbox and educational programs. Give yourself an hour to wander. Spend more time with children and enjoy self-guided adventure programs or the find-the-gnome hunt. For more, visit gardenofideas.com/gardenofIdeas/home.html.

GOODBODY GARDEN AT FORT STAMFORD, STAMFORD

Picnic, meander and relax in this quiet oasis nestled beside the remnants of a Revolutionary War outpost.  The grounds where the home of financier Marcus Goodbody once stood are beautifully maintained by the Stamford Garden Club. The majority of plants are perennials. Over the years, the club added about 30 native plants. View them as inspiration for your formal garden or just wander around the stone walls and pergola. Keep an eye out for the memorial to pet cat Ginger, who died in 1933. And an eye out for yourself: Some think the fort has a haunted history. For more, visit thestamfordgardenclub.org/the-goodbody-garden/.

KEELER TAVERN MUSEUM, RIDGEFIELD

During spring, visitors will see an assortment of tulips, white tufts, lavender clematis and New Dawn roses in this circa-1910 garden, which is described as a “Charleston Garden” and was designed by Cass Gilbert. A separate Colonial herb garden contains varieties of medicinal and household herbs used during the 18th century. For more, visit keelertavernmuseum.org.

KOUROS GALLERY SCULPTURE GARDEN, RIDGEFIELD 

Experience art interacting with nature. Stroll through sloping fields, patios and gardens to view sculptures by 50 artists, illustrating a variety of media and styles in the open fields, tucked away in intimate corners or naturally framed by trees and their branches. For more, visit kourosgallery.com.

MONTGOMERY PINETUM PARK, GREENWICH

May is the month to experience the Pinetum’s peony and primrose gardens. It is also the home of the Garden Education Center of Greenwich Inc., which will have its 56th annual May Gardeners Market on May 6, with the early-bird sale on May 4. For more, visit gecgreenwich.org.

OAK LAWN CEMETERY AND ARBORETUM, FAIRFIELD

This one is for those who like to stroll through cemeteries and absorb history as well as nature. Founded in 1865, the cemetery has been certified by the Morton Registry of Arboreta. It has a collection of mature trees, including dogwoods, many of which have been tagged with botanical information signage, their locations carefully marked on maps available at the front desk. The cemetery also offers walking tours. For more, visit oaklawnconnecticut.com.

OGDEN HOUSE AND GARDENS, FAIRFIELD 

A mid-18th century salt box farmhouse that has an 18th century-style kitchen garden, featuring raised beds, walkways of crushed seashells, plants, herbs and wildflowers. For more, visit fairfieldhistory.org/ogden-house/.

WEIR FARM NATIONAL HISTORIC SITE, WILTON

Weir Farm has inspired artists for more than 100 years. Small wonder: The 60-acre site was once the home of J. Alden Weir, a leading artist of the American Impressionist movement. The National Park Service now operates it. In that spirit, feel free to borrow art supplies from the visitor center porch, set up in a meadow and paint outdoors. Or take a self-guided tour and the 1.5-mile round trip to Weir Pond. For more, visit nps.gov/wefa/learn/historyculture/places-weirpond.htm.

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