The Granite State in Bloom
Flowers, flowers everywhere.
When we think of New Hampshire gardens, it’s the beautiful Colonial flower beds of Portsmouth’s historic homes that usually come to mind. But the rest of the state is in bloom in June, too, and this month’s route connects some memorable gardens at their best season.
Begin in Concord at I-93 Exit 17, following Route 132 north and turning right through
Canterbury Center. Continue straight, following signs left to Canterbury Shaker Village. Gardens here include flowers and herbs, along with vegetables. It was the innovative Shakers who came up with the idea of packaging small envelopes of garden seeds for sale.
Continue on to Belmont, turning left on Route 140 to Tilton. Follow Route 3 through Tilton (Tilton House of Pizza, in the center of town, makes scrumptious meatball subs) and Franklin, following 3 left after crossing the Merrimack River. Turn left on Route 127, and follow the signs for Daniel Webster’s Birthplace to Tarbin Gardens, about two miles beyond on the right. Carved out of the woods by an energetic English gardener, Tarbin blends a hedge-walled formal garden room, a landscape park, a water garden and wild elements with an exuberant profusion of flowers. Reserve ahead to enjoy afternoon tea in a fragrant bower.
In about three miles, Route 127 crosses Route 4 in the hilltop town of Salisbury. Turn right and follow Route 4 through Andover, going left on Route 11 and right on Route 114 through New London. If you didn’t stop for tea at Tarbin Gardens, by now you might be interested in a roast beef sandwich at
Ellie’s Café and Deli. They roast the beef right there for the best flavor (and without preservatives).
Bear left onto Newport Road at the Y, following signs to George’s Mills and watch for parking space on the right, at the entrance to the Philbrick-Cricenti Bog. Not your ordinary spring flowers, the ones you’ll find here are insectivorous Pitcher Plants and Venus Fly Traps, along with delicate blossoms that thrive on this quaking bog that forms a thin mat over a pond of glacial meltwater. Pay attention to the signs and stay on the trail. Beneath those nice green grassy places lie the remains of horses and cows that couldn’t read.
Return to Route 114 and follow it to Springfield, turning right to West Springfield to join Route 4A, where you turn left. In about 10 miles, the road borders Mascoma Lake before reaching the Lower Shaker Village, where the lavender and sage may be in full bloom in what the Shakers called The Chosen Vale. Towering over the herb gardens is the 1841 granite Shaker Dwelling House, the largest of these ever built, housing the Shaker museum and shop.
Continue on Route 4A, turning left on Route 4 through Lebanon to West Lebanon, then left on Route 12A, heading south. In Plainfield is one of the state’s most beautiful gardens, at Aspet, the home and studio of the sculptor Augustus Saint-Gaudens. The formal terraced gardens are filled with flowers popular in the early 1900s, and cutting beds provide floral arrangements that fill the home and studio. Works by Saint-Gaudens are located throughout the gardens.
South of Plainfield, turn left on Rte. 103 through Claremont and Newport to Guild. Stay on 103 as it bears to the right, to Newbury. A left onto Route 103A leads to The Fells. This distinguished summer estate, also from the early 20th century, overlooks Lake Sunapee from sloping gardens that include a 100-foot-long perennial border, at its height in June. A terrace of roses frame views of the lake, and a Japanese lily pool highlights a rock garden filled with native plants and alpine exotics. Look for the walled secret garden.
Return to 103 and turn left to Bradford, bearing right onto Route 114 to Henniker. There a left onto Route 9/202 leads back to Concord.