The Viles Arboretum, nestled in the State Capitol of Augusta, is both pleasant and picturesque; it will please the most persnickety of green thumbs, horticulturists, botanists and landscape designers. Its 224 acres display more than just trees; it’s also a botanical garden with five miles of hiking trails, farmland and a fruitful plant collection. The Collections boast of over 300 species of trees and shrubs; plus, the forested portion of the Arboretum is a certified Tree Farm Demonstration Area, and contains multiple native trees. Viles is a perfect place for a respite from the populous city of Augusta, and its endearing atmosphere makes it serene and tranquil enough to hold a family picnic, reception, or even to relax with a good book. You’ll be surrounded not by honking horns, ringing phones and people buzzing away, but only by nature-made sounds… willow trees blowing in the breeze, small birds chit-chatting away, and water dribble-dropping down river.
In the heart of Augusta, the Viles Arboretum celebrates trees… and everything that lives in, on, under and around them. In the winter and Fall, you’ll see wildlife like coyotes, deer, fishers, rabbits and fox on the grounds. With the winding Kennebec River twisting its way through the Arboretum’s groves, Viles is not short on different habitats either. It includes areas such as fields, forests, ponds and wetlands on what was once a State Hospital farm. It also includes some 20 tree and other plant collections, and is home to a wide array of wildlife (in addition to the wildlife already mentioned), birds, insects, amphibians and other animals. You may even see some wild turkey there! To help identify the tracks you see, pick up a copy of the “Pocket Guide to Maine Animal Tracks.” The Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife publishes this handy little card that fits easily into coat pocket and the arboretum always has a supply on hand.
The Arboretum’s two dozen plant and tree collections provide endless opportunity for education, habitat exploration and appreciation, and aesthetic pleasure. Its lands are in no shortage either and are used in all seasons: biking in the summer, hiking in the spring and fall, and in the winter, they’re frequented by guests who love to run the terrain in snowshoes or cross-country skis! Also, during all seasons, guests can take weekly bird walks to photograph or identify the hundreds of migratory birds that make their way through the state each season.
Committed to advancing the cause of environmental literacy and getting people outside for the purposes of education, recreation and inspiration, the Arboretum depends heavily on volunteers to achieve its goals and objectives. It also puts heavy emphasis on education. Classes and workshops are offered throughout the year and include curriculum on water, wildlife, plants, tree identification, geocaching and more. Currently in a redevelopment phase, ongoing activities include the revision of the Master Plan, implementation of a five-year Strategic Plan, field trips, tours, educational programs, tree planting, rock garden development, University of Maine research, and maintenance of the grounds. Many volunteers contribute much time to see to these projects and more at the Arboretum.
Should you be visiting Viles or Augusta anytime soon, and whether you have a whole weekend or just a Saturday afternoon, take along the following Top Ten Fan Favorites list. You can use it as a “to-do” or “to-see” list of sorts, and as an adjunct to any maps, brochures or information you receive upon entry. Don’t miss the following ten features whatever you do!
1. Forestry Demo Area
The Arboretum’s largest collection consists of over six dozen specimens chosen for their durability as street and park trees in urban settings. The collection includes some of the earliest Arboretum plantings, and features some of its best views. The collection is of special interest to municipal tree stewards, tree wardens, tree boards, park managers, and recreation superintendants.
2. Hosta Garden
Winding through the shade of a white birch grove, this collection of green, leafy Hosta varieties, one of the largest in Maine, was donated by the Case Estate of the Arnold Arboretum in Massachusetts. The Hosta Garden is one of the most frequently visited and reviewed places on the grounds; great for a family picnic and for photography.
3. Daughters of the American Revolution Historical Gardens
Chosen for aesthetic, medicinal, culinary and home-use qualities, these flowers, herbs and shrubs would have been found in gardens around the time of the American Revolution.
4. Conifer Collection
North American varieties were chosen to plant here for interesting characteristics like the weeping white pine, and other species from around the world.
5. Chestnut Collection
The Collection features a display of the American chestnut and its close relatives. With help from The American Chestnut Foundation, the Arboretum is developing a Chestnut Plantation with seedlings representing all of Maine’s surviving American Chestnuts.
6. DAR Historical Garden
The DAR Historical Garden has undergone significant changes since its inception some 25 years ago. Originally containing a variety of medicinal herbs and plants commonly associated with wide-spread use in early New England, the collection now features woody shrubs mentioned in period writings. A single American Chestnut is included in teh southwest corner of the collections. This area also features several memorial benches.
7. Lilac Collection
Blooming white, pink and purple in May, this collection of lilac varieties is a treat for the eye and nose. It is slated for renovation designed to place the plants on 18-foot squares to allow for weed control and more complete plant growth.
8. Governor’s Grove
This collection includes more than 60 stately eastern white pines, each planted in honor of one of Maine’s governors and labeled with his name and dates in office. Maine became a state in 1820 as part of the Missouri Compromise. It was part of Massachusetts politically from the 1690s to 1820. No Massachusetts governors are represented in the collection.
9. Native Plant Garden
The newest garden, the Native Plant Garden has been incorporated into the landscaping for the brand new Education Wing of the Viles Visitors Center. It features native plants that are readily available from Maine garden centers and nurseries and encourages visitors to consider using more plants that are native in home landscapes, while avoiding the use of non-native plants, which could “escape into the wild.”
10. Quarry Ledge Rock Garden
Originally established in 1983, the Rock Garden came to be when the owner of Day Star Nurseries created it on an eastern ledge. She provided an array of different plants, and thus, the collection has continued to grow over the years. In 1997, a massive ice storm nearly destroyed the Garden. A team of Master Gardeners associated with the University of Maine Cooperative Extension Program took it over afterwards and restored it lovingly. These Gardeners continue to care for it. The Rock Garden is now known locally as a place of peace and inspiration, a place to visit and rest, and a display of natural area. It features a ledge with a collection of rock garden-appropriate plants set on a hillside.
The Viles Arboretum is surrounded by some of the most beautiful natural scenery near the northeastern seaboard. It’s a charming and ideal setting and backdrop for your outdoor wedding, any type of reception, Mother’s Day fete or birthday soiree. So whether you have a whole day to lull in the luscious natural areas, have planned an event there, or are simply seeking a brief reprieve for your lunch hour, stop by Viles. The physical address is 153 Hospital Street Augusta, Maine. For specific details on seasonal events and exhibits, special bookings for weddings or birthdays, or if you need further information on group tours, call (207) 626-7989.
153 Hospital Street
Augusta, Maine 04330