Meandering Mytoi

It’s like walking through a painting.


The little island of Chappaquiddick has one tar road, one store (summer only), one farm, and one Japanese-style garden. Owned and cultivated by The Trustees of Reservations, Mytoi garden, near the end of Dike Road that leads to East Beach, is one of Chappaquiddick’s unexpected delights. It’s hard to believe that the island’s sandy soil can support the variety of trees, bushes, and flowers that grow so artfully along the paths and across the gently sloping hillsides above the tranquil pond where turtles, frogs, and goldfish enjoy their peaceful existence.

Any time of year, from sunrise to sunset, is a good time to visit Mytoi, but now through the end of June is the time to appreciate the many hues of rhododendron and azaleas, planted throughout the years since Hugh Jones started the garden over 50 years ago.

In the tradition of Japanese gardens, Mytoi invites a quiet, contemplative stroll through the various “rooms” – the gate area, the birch walk, the fountain area, primrose path, bird thicket, and stone garden, to name a few. A bench along the path or in the hilltop teahouse affords a view across the pond, with its zigzagging bridge, or into a quiet shady corner. “Along the paths grow plants that beg you to touch them,” said Linsay Allison, volunteer gardener for over 40 years — and you can touch them.

Humans aren’t the only ones finding peace in the garden. “Some years, ducks have nested under the bridge, and once a muskrat had six babies there,” Allison said. Recently, a snapping turtle buried its eggs in the slope above the pond, where they’ll hatch in about six weeks.

On Friday mornings through September, Mytoi’s new gardener and arborist, Marc Fournier, will lead a guided meander and talk about the garden’s local and natural history from 11 am to 12 pm (for a small fee, children free). He will also direct volunteers who want to help at Mytoi, on Friday mornings from 9 am to noon.

The annual goldfish release is Friday, July 5, from 3 to 6 pm. This free event includes arts and crafts, kids’ activities, snacks, and, of course, the goldfish release. A free Trustees shuttle will run on the hour between the ferry and the garden. Trustees educator Shannon Hurley offers other ways to experience the garden, including kids’ exploration backpacks with guided science and outdoor activities and, new this year, plein air kits with art materials, and how-to information for beginning artists of all ages. She is planning a three-part garden workshop series this fall.

After Hurricane Bob flattened much of Mytoi in 1991, the garden was redesigned by Julie Moir Masservy, who collaborated with Japanese garden master Kinsaku Nakane in creating the awardwinning garden at the Boston Museum of Fine Arts. Masservy designed Mytoi’s entry area, the paths, and the different rooms. Don Sibley, Mytoi’s gardener for 25 years, brought the plan to fruition, along with Allison and others. Sibley, who has his own Japanese-style garden in West Tisbury and still consults for Mytoi, built the gate and the teahouse, which Fournier recently renovated.

Sibley and Allison both come from a painting background rather than a horticultural one. Over the years, they’ve chosen plants based on how they look and how they affect views in the garden. While sitting on a bench, for example, you might see a framed view with fore, mid, and backgrounds, like you would in a painting. Often you see settings from different perspectives as you walk through the garden. “You can see a low evergreen by a path, and then see it again from a bench in the far corner, looking back toward it,” Allison said. The frame might also offer small bits of red, “like at the end of the painting when you add just a couple of dots of red to make a line,” Allison said.

In Japan, people drive on the left side of the road, and at Mytoi, the paths are laid out so that by making left turns, you’re guided through the garden and back to the entry point. A couple of side trails lead to benches with a view over the pond or picnic tables.

The garden is a naturalistic landscape, with its stream and pond, gently waving ferns, stones placed just so, and the many forms of trees and bushes gracing the hillsides and shading the paths. A closer look reveals the role of pruning in creating the stillness of the Japanese garden that makes it so easy to appreciate. Cloud pruning shapes the branches of trees and bushes into puffy, cloud-like forms, which “make the tree open so that a bird can fly through,” Allison said. Another pruning method called “candling” nips off the growing tips of pine trees and shrubs to control growth and shape the plant. These are methods of niwaki pruning, a Japanese word for sculpted trees, which “is basically bonsai pruning for big trees,” according to Fournier.

As a horticulturist and certified arborist, Fournier brings a new perspective to the garden. He has already tested the soils to see what amendments are needed, and taken samples of diseased plants to figure out what they have and how to treat them. Fournier wants to develop a plant database and maps of the garden.

The next big project for Mytoi is dredging the pond beyond the bridge, which has gotten too shallow and weedy — but that won’t happen until late fall. Meanwhile, the garden is open to all, and full of quiet surprises and opportunities to enjoy peaceful moments in nature.

Mytoi garden is open every day from sunrise to sunset. Friday guided walks with Marc Fournier continue every week through September from 11 am to 12 pm. On Friday, July 5, the annual goldfish release is from 3 to 6 pm.