The Garden Spotter

Field Trip: Winter at Viles Arboretum

Feb
25


It might surprise you to learn that the state of Maine – known as the Pine Tree State – did not have an arboretum, a “place of trees,” until 1981.That was the year the Maine Forest Service began to develop 224 acres on the eastern outskirts of the capital Augusta, near what was once a large piggery. The Pine Tree State Arboretum, as it was originally called, started with 120 conifers and a design by George Hannum, then landscape architect for the Maine Department of Parks and Recreation.

Over the years, the arboretum grew and developed into eight major collections of trees and plants: the Conifer Collection; the Governor’s Grove consisting of Eastern White Pines, one for each of Maine’s governors; the Chestnut Collection, which seeks to reestablish the endangered American Chestnut; the Daughters of American Revolution Garden, featuring flowers and plants dating back to the Revolutionary War in Maine; the Lilac Collection, which reflects the region’s historical roots to the flowering shrub; the Ellis Island Sycamores, a group of trees grown from seeds from Ellis Island in New York; the Rock Garden, with plants selected for their beauty, hardiness and ability to attract pollinators; and the Hosta Collection, a gift from the nation’s oldest arboretum, the Arnold Arboretum in Boston, established in 1872.

With donations and guidance from the late Maine philanthropists William and Elsie Viles, an education center and retreat was eventually built, and in 2010, the arboretum was renamed the Viles Arboretum in their honor. The family of William Payson Viles had managed logging and timber businesses in Maine for more than 200 years.

With six miles of trails, the Viles Arboretum bears surprises for visitors any time of year, even in the dead of winter.

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