Where I went: Fuller Gardens, 10 Willow Avenue, North Hampton, fullergardens.org, 603-964-5414
What it is: Fuller Gardens is a nonprofit public botanical garden in North Hampton open for visits from 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. daily. They’re open from mid-May through October and admission is $9 for adults, $8 for seniors, $6 for students, $4 for children under the age of 12 and free for members. They also host several special events every year, two of which will be happening this August: Reggae n’ Roses on Friday, Aug. 2, and Yoga in the Garden on Tuesday, Aug. 13.
What I did: I drove up to Fuller Gardens on a day that was far from ideal for a garden walk. It was a rainy, sluggish Tuesday morning, and the whole world seemed to be moving in slow motion. Still, I was excited to see some cool nature sights and experience first-hand what sounded like a local hidden gem.
As I got close to Fuller Gardens, I had a hard time finding the entrance. Not far from the beaches in Rye and North Hampton, I spotted an abundance of bushes and hedges as I drove down back streets. Google Maps said I was already there, but I kept driving, not seeing any signs. But I soon found an open gate with a gravel parking lot and thought that this had to be the place. I still couldn’t really see any of the garden and wondered how much garden could truly fit in this little corner of North Hampton. I soon found out it was much more than I ever could have imagined.
I went up to the admissions hut and was greeted by a very kind woman who walked me to what was formerly a hay barn. Today, it’s where the grounds crew keeps much of their equipment and where Garden Director Jamie Colen lives (on the second and third floors). The admissions desk worker walked me through the garden as she attempted to locate Jamie, and although she couldn’t find him, I got my first taste of the garden.
Overflowing with life, colors and growth around every corner, the garden was full of serenity and nature. A Koi pond here, a profusion of blooming flowers there, attentively-cut grass patterns everywhere. It was truly brimming with life.
Working my way through the garden, I couldn’t help being reminded of my grandfather Carlos’ backyard garden. Carlos is in his 80s and spent the first half of his life in his native Portugal, and now living in a small town in Massachusetts Carlos boasts a surprisingly massive backyard garden chock-full of different plants, flowers and vegetables. Fuller Gardens made me feel oddly at home, like I was back in my ovó’s backyard. This nostalgia mixed with the garden’s variety of unique growth was quite an experience.
Soon, Jamie drove up in a truck apologizing for having to deal with a rain situation. I told him it was no problem at all, and that I enjoyed my tranquil traipse through the quiet, rainy garden. Jamie hopped out of his truck, shook my hand and began breaking down the history of Fuller Gardens and explaining the features and layout of the place.
He told me that Fuller Gardens began in the late 1920s or early 1930s when Alvan T. Fuller decided to turn the back of his summer estate into a garden. While it originally got its start as a private cutting garden, Fuller soon hired the Olmstead brothers to design the garden’s layout and turn it into a more expansive spectacle. The current layout of Fuller Gardens today is nearly identical to the Olmsteads’ garden design with only a few changes having taken place over the years. Alvan T. Fuller often allowed the public to walk through this garden and especially enjoyed looking out his window and seeing passersby enjoying the views and nature. After Fuller’s death in 1958, Fuller Gardens was officially made open to the public.
Jamie broke down all this history for me as we carried on with our peaceful jaunt. We walked through the Japanese garden and made our way to the front garden. Jamie pointed out to me that the front garden facing the road was intentionally designed with a wider front that narrows as it goes inland and smaller statues the further inland it goes. This was done in order to create an illusion of sorts that makes the garden look bigger than it is. Once he pointed this out to me, I couldn’t unsee it; the garden looked hugely impressive from the front entrance, and much smaller from the back. This was a very cool feature, and something I wouldn’t have noticed had he not pointed it out.
As we continued our walk, Jamie told me he has been the garden director for 20 years. He also broke down some specifics of the care he and his 14-person crew give the garden, which really impressed me. The garden is all-natural, with no pesticides used. They cut the lawn three times a week and employ strict, consistent, hands-on care of the garden to keep it in tip-top shape. Viewing the garden, it’s impossible not to notice all the care they put into it; it’s immaculately kept, and everything is done to a tee.
As my time at Fuller Gardens came to a close, I thanked Jamie and took one more solo walk through. What really stood out to me was how much magic was behind every corner. Between all the bursting blooms, there seemed to be an exponential amount of flowers hiding behind every turn. While it seems small upon first glance, Fuller Gardens is much bigger than meets the eye, and turned out to be an amazing experience despite the weather.
Who should try this: Anyone who enjoys nature and taking a peaceful time-out from their day to enjoy flowers and Mother Nature. Admission is cheap, and the amazing thing about Fuller Gardens is its idyllic nature juxtaposed with the hustle and bustle of Hampton and Rye’s beaches. It truly is a hidden gem, and I’d recommend it to anyone who is even remotely interested in nature. I’m no garden or flower expert by any means, and I found myself captivated by Fuller Gardens’ natural beauty.