Difficulty: Easy. Ecotat Gardens and Arboretum features a small network of intersecting forest paths that total about 1.5 miles. These trails surround and connect to an open lawn space, where visitors can visit dozens of gardens. Several benches are located throughout this area, offering comfortable places to sit and rest.
Information: Ecotat Gardens and Arboretum is a 91-acre property in Hermon that’s owned and managed by the nonprofit Ecotat Trust, which was formed in 1995. The property is home to 55 gardens, and the forest surrounding the gardens features a network of intersecting trails.
It’s a great place to enjoy and learn about a wide variety of plants, both native and nonnative. According to the trust, there are 280 types of trees on the property, and more than 1,500 varieties of perennials. This floral diversity attracts an abundance of insects, birds and other wild animals.
The Ecotat Trust asks visitors to register by signing a log book, which can be found in a cubby in a kiosk near the parking area. The kiosk also features trail maps, guides and announcements.
Beside the kiosk is an educational display about the Ecotat Native Tree Trail, which is a route that follows a number of trails on the property to form a 0.75-mile loop. This route is marked with wooden posts that sport a brown “Tree Trail” sign. All along this trail are matching brown signs identifying various native trees. These signs also offer a wealth of information in one succinct bundle, such as how people use the tree and how it helps wildlife.
The trails in the network are all named. For example, starting to the right of the kiosk is the Carr Trail (which is also a part of the Tree Trail route), which soon leads to the Moose Trial, Jewett Trail and Deer Trail. At trail intersections, wooden signs display the trail names.
Some natural features visited by the trails include a cedar marsh and a stand of tall white pines. An abundance of understory plants can also be found, including a variety of ferns, berry bushes and wildflowers. Also — of special interest to children — a landmark called “Medusa’s Chair” can be found on the Serpent Trail. It’s a simple seat that’s been created in the arms of a large white pine tree.
From the trail network, there are many access points to the open green space that contains the gardens, which are tended by volunteers. This lawn filled with gardens includes a peony bed, a bird and butterfly garden, arbors, some interesting non-native and native trees, an herb garden, an English-style garden, benches, bird houses and much more.
The property is open year round, sunrise to sunset. Dogs are not permitted. Access is free, though donations are welcome and Ecotat Trust is always looking for more volunteers to help tend the gardens and maintain the trails.
Events on the property are currently on hold due to the COVID-19 pandemic. However, during a normal year, the Ecotat Trust usually hosts multiple events involving local bands, free to the public. The organization also allows small private gatherings such as weddings and birthday parties for a small fee.
Clockwise from left: The Oval is just one of many gardens located at the Ecotat Gardens and Arboretum; A monarch rests on a flower; A large signs marks the parking area. Credit: Aislinn Sarnacki / BDN
Personal note: A small group of children and adults were meandering through the gardens on Tuesday, when I drove into the parking lot. In an effort to give them space, I headed straight into the woods to explore the trails first, saving the gardens for later. Tracing the Carr Trail, I soon came to a trail intersection, then another. Right away, I was happy that I’d snapped a photo of the maps available at the kiosk. I would be referring to them a lot as I explored the property.
Seeing all the educational signs labeling trees on the property, I instantly thought of people who homeschool their children or are looking for activities to enhance remote learning. This property would be a great place for children to learn while enjoying plenty of space and fresh air. But it’s also a great opportunity for adults to learn. I certainly don’t know my native trees as well as I’d like to.
Also, based on the variety of trees in the forest, I imagine it’d be a great place to enjoy the colorful fall foliage in a few weeks.
I walked slowly, scanning the understory for caterpillars, which I’ve been especially interested in lately. And eventually I came across a few tussock caterpillars crawling through a bed of ferns. With long black and white hairs sticking out in all directions, they were especially easy to pick out against the green. And while I photographed them, I didn’t touch them. I hear the hairs of tussock caterpillars can cause a rash.
Clockwise from left: A caterpillar crawls across a fern in Ecotat Gardens and Arboretum in Hermon; A landmark called “Medusa’s Chair” is located in the woods of Ecotat on the Serpent Trail. The simple seat is in the arms of a white pine tree; A caterpillar crawls across a fern; Educational signs are posted beside certain native tree species. Credit: Aislinn Sarnacki / BDN
While I crouched in the ferns, two women walked up the trail behind me. They paused for a moment to ask what I was doing. I pointed out the caterpillars, then promptly became distracted by an even more exciting discovery: a jumping spider. Perched near the tip of a fern frond, the googly-eyed spider appeared to be looking right at me, so I knelt down to take a few photos. The tiny creature turned its head this way and that, as if inspecting me in return, then leapt from the plant, disappearing into the foliage.
It was certainly a bug-filled trip. Later, when roaming around the gardens, a monarch butterfly flew right in front of me. I followed it. Yes, I chased the butterfly. I’m sure I looked ridiculous. But my efforts did result in a nice photo of the monarch clinging to a spike of flowers.
I then ended my visit by finding and sitting in Medusa’s Chair, just to see what it feels like to be in the arms of a great white pine.
How to get there: Take Interstate 95 Exit 180 for Coldbrook Road in Hermon. Follow Coldbrook Road north for 2 miles until it ends at Route 2. Turn left onto Route 2 and drive 2.5 miles, then turn right onto Annis Road. In a few hundred feet, a large parking lot for the gardens and arboretum, marked with a large sign, will be on your right.
Aislinn Sarnacki can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter: @1minhikegirl, and Instagram: @actoutdoors. Her guidebooks “Family Friendly Hikes in Maine,” “Maine Hikes Off the Beaten Path” and “Dog-Friendly Hikes in Maine” are available at local bookstores and wherever books are sold.