Olive W. and George S. Lee Memorial Garden
Lee Memorial Garden is a wonderful little gem, tucked away in the woodland setting of New Canaan, Connecticut. Its narrow meandering paths are edged with spring blooming bulbs, ephemerals, ferns, herbaceous plants, an extensive collection of specimen azaleas and rhododendrons, and mature trees which provide dappled shade. Boulder drifts, rocky ledges and a seasonal stream add natural structure to the densely planted terrain.
Listen to the NewCanaanite Podcast 0684-RadiO where Mike Dinan interviews Faith Kerchoff about the history, botany, and charm of Lee Memorial Garden.
History of Lee Garden
George S. Lee’s 2.7 acre garden had its beginnings in 1940 in the form of a dozen Gable azalea hybrids, a house-warming gift from George’s brother Frederic P. Lee. Frederic was the other garden-minded member of the family and wrote “The Azalea Book” and you can find the Frederic P. Lee Azalea Garden at the Arboretum in Washington DC. George S. Lee set out in 1940 to create a “peaceful place where plants can reveal their characteristic beauty in a natural setting.” Lee wrote that his extensive plant collection “has been the fruit of a chronic curiosity to learn what plants would be willing to make their home in New England woods which in this area offer shade, granite rocks and thin, acid, soil.” His property displays a wonderful alternative to clear cutting and planting a lawn in the rocky Connecticut woods. George Lee devoted nearly 40 years of his life to plant collecting. He was eager to share his ideas and plants with fellow gardeners, and made his garden “open at all times for whatever benefit may be derived from it by others.” Upon his death in 1978, he bequeathed his masterpiece to the Garden Center of New Canaan - now the New Canaan Beautification League. Under the Beautification League's stewardship, The Olive W. and George S. Lee Memorial Garden has been maintained largely by volunteers since 1978. The garden remains open every day to plant lovers and all who enjoy the serenity of nature.
Description of the Garden's Plant Collections
The sheer number and variety of plants in the garden present a wonderful learning opportunity for those interested in horticulture and gardening. George Lee, an amateur horticulturist, planted the Garden with every hybrid azalea introduced by Joseph B. Gable, as well as, hybrids of the Gartrell, Knaphill, Exbury, Kaempferi and Ilam types. The rhododendron plantings included hybrids developed by Shamarelle, Gable, Dexter, and Nearing, as well as, native species. The rhododendrons and azaleas bloom under a high canopy of oaks, maples and tulip trees and an intermediate canopy of dogwood and are under planted with wildflowers, groundcovers and bulbs. Portions of the rhododendron paths are edged with luxuriant masses of epimedium. The Garden’s collection of wildflowers and spring ephemerals include : Bloodroot, Oconee Bells, Trout Lily, Twinleaf, Primrose, Wood Anemone, Virginia Bluebells, Blue-eyed Mary, Trillium, Wood Poppy, May Apple, Bleeding Heart, Lily of the Valley and Marsh Marigold. Bulbs in the Garden include Snowdrops, Winter Aconite, Iris Reticulata, Glory-of-the-Snow, Squill, Narcissus, Grape Hyacinth, Leucojum and Spanish Bluebells.
When to Visit
The Garden is most often visited in the spring, commencing with the appearance of the early spring bulbs and ephemerals in March and April and continuing through the display of azaleas and rhododendrons in May and June. The peak of the azalea bloom typically occurs in early May around Mothers’ Day and the peak of the rhododendron bloom follows later in May. Because of the diversity of the azalea and rhododendron collections, some specimens may be observed in bloom from early April into July. There is always something of interest in the Garden for those interested in plants and nature. Listed below are some of the things to see throughout the year. (Yearly variations in weather may speed or delay the peak display by as much as two weeks.)
January • Winter walk in the rock garden
February • Witch Hazel in bloom
March • Early Spring Bulbs and Ephemerals including Snowdrops, Aconite, Iris Reticulata, Hellebores etc.
April • Bulbs, Spring Ephemerals and Ground Covers including: Bloodroot, Oconee Bells, Primroses, Grape Hyacinths, Myrtle Bloom, Pulmonaria, Hellebores, Trout Lily, Squill, Blue-Eyed Mary, Twinleaf, Narcissus, Bleeding Heart, Marsh Marigold, Trillium, Anemone, Epimedium, Kerria, early Azalea and Rhododendron bloom
May • Azalea and Rhododendron bloom, Spanish Bluebells, Columbine, Canada Mayflower, May Apple, Vancouveria, Trillium, Primroses, Wild Geranium, Bleeding Heart, Lily of the Valley, emerging Ferns, Viburnum, Silverbell Trees in bloom
June • Rhododendron and native Azalea bloom, Mountain Laurel Bloom, Cimicifuga, Wild Strawberry, Hosta, Foxglove, Ferns
July • Native Rhododendron, Stewartia bloom, Aesculus, Hosta, Jewelweed, wild Leeks
August • Ferns
September • Rose of Sharon, Gentian, Chelone, New England Aster
October • Fall color in Azalea leaves, Viburnum, berries on Beautyberry
November • Berries on Winterberry, Viburnum, Dogwood etc.
December • Winter walk in the rock garden
Hours and Guided Walks
Lee Garden is open to the public from dawn to dusk every day of the year.
Admission is free. Please note the walking paths are covered with wood chips, and some are rocky and somewhat steep. Because of the terrain and its woodland setting the Garden is not handicap accessible. There is also no restroom or available drinking water.
Guided walking tours for groups of 6-10 can be arranged from early April through June. The tours focus on what's in flower each week during the spring blooming season. There is no set tour fee, but the NCBL asks that groups make a small donation to help with the upkeep of the garden. Groups of 8 or more are asked to schedule their visit whether or not they have arranged for a guided tour, as this will ensure that there are not too many large groups visiting at once.
To schedule a tour of the Garden and for information about volunteer opportunities in the Garden please click HERE to contact us.
How to Get to The Garden
The Lee Memorial Garden is located at 89 Chichester Road, New Canaan, Connecticut.
The Garden may be reached via the Merritt Parkway, exit 36. Proceed north on Route 106 toward New Canaan for 0.3 mile. Bear left on Weed Street (before the railroad underpass). Continue north on Weed Street for about 2.1 miles to Wahackme Road. Turn left on Wahackme Road and continue for 0.6 mile to Chichester Road. Turn right into Chichester Road. The Garden is on the right about 0.2 mile. There is limited parking at the entrance to the Garden.
New Canaan is served by the MetroNorth railway and is the last stop on the New Canaan branch of the New Haven line. There is taxi service from the train station. The Garden is about 2 miles from the train station.