MOUNT DESERT — When it came to restoring the Sand Garden at the Asticou Azalea Garden in Northeast Harbor, not just any old sand would do.
“The sand cannot be so fine that it is lost to wind and rain, nor so large that it is difficult to clean of seeds, leaves and catkins from overhanging trees,” gardener Jacob Wartell wrote in the fall online newsletter of the Land and Garden Preserve.
“It needs to be translucent so that light does not reflect directly off it, but rather makes it glow. Most importantly, the color must be just so: white, not gray and not beige, appearing cool to the eye, almost blue in its pure whiteness.”
When the restoration project began, Wartell had no idea it would be so hard to find that perfect sand. He said he spent the early months of 2020 trying to track down matching sand to replace the thinning surface of the Sand Garden, which was created, along with the rest of the azalea garden, by Charles Savage in 1957.
“After almost 70 years it is barely an inch deep in some places,” Wartell said. “This causes the rake to skip and wobble when it catches undulations in the (underlying surface). In places, there is not enough material to leave tall, beautiful peaks”
He said the garden is cleaned and raked weekly, and sand is screened to remove debris. Sand that comes out in the screening process is saved and reused. But still, the sand in the garden is gradually disappearing.
The design of the Sand Garden, like the rest of the azalea garden, was inspired by classic Japanese gardens. That means simplicity, serenity, perfection.
“The Sand Garden…only works if the sand is just right,” Wartell said.
The grains need “subangular edges in order to hang together, and there needs to be a wide enough size gradient to hold sharp peaks while raking.”
“I contacted over 50 different sand producing enterprises and had received so many samples I was running out of storage space,” Wartell said.
Finally, he talked to someone who put him in touch with a supplier in Florida who still had a source for the increasingly scarce type of material called “sugar sand.” The supplier sent him some samples, and he found it was exactly what he had been looking for. He ordered 21 tons of it.
“That should be enough to last another 70 years, at least, maybe 170 more,” Wartell said. “With this we can move toward a complete restoration of Charles Savage’s incomparable Sand Garden.”
Mary Roper, head gardener at the Asticou Azalea Garden for the past 30 years, has been overseeing the restoration of the Sand Garden.