If you read a little bit about Connecticut tourism, it’s easy to assume that our attractions are divided by location: cities are for art and culture, suburbs for shopping, small towns for Norman Rockwell-esque scenes, and so on. But the reality isn’t that simple. Some suburbs maintain fascinating historic sites; rural areas can be home to top-notch restaurants; and our urban areas conceal a surprising variety of serene outdoor spaces ideal for those moments when you want to escape city life and withdraw into nature. One of my favorite such spots is the Connecticut College Arboretum in New London. It’s deceptively small on a map, but once you step into this diversely wooded world, you feel entirely removed from the urban environment beyond.
The Arboretum technically includes the entire Connecticut College campus (check the maps on the their website, below, to get oriented) but when most people say they’re going to the Arboretum, they’re referring to the extensive Native Plant Collection off Williams Street. Walk through the iron gates and you’ll find hundreds of acres of green space, laced with trails that feel less like trails than naturally occurring paths. Pick a direction and follow a path, because they all lead to points of interest: a pond, a bog, a tree-lined corridor, a circular clearing, a colorful display of flowers, a stand of trees so tall you have to lean backwards to see their tops. Though the landscape is carefully managed, human touches – like stone walls, gazebos, and identifying tags on the trees – are few. The Arboretum is open year round, every day, from dawn to dusk, and it’s different – and captivating – in every season.
That said, the semi-hidden highlight of the Arboretum just might be the smaller Caroline Black Garden, on the other side of campus off Route 32. Picture a series of connected rooms with grass for floors, leafy corridors for hallways, and blooming bushes and ivy-covered trees for decorations. Relax beside the little waterfall that flows over rocky ground behind a small wooden gate, wander the narrow walkways between collections of flowers, or sit on a bench beside a cherry tree. It will be very hard to convince yourself that the noise and activity of the city is just minutes away.
The Connecticut College Arboretum is comprised of various sections, and has different parking areas. To visit the Native Plant Collection and natural areas beyond, street parking is available on Williams Street. Parking for the Caroline Black Garden is available behind the small stone building adjacent to the garden gate. See the maps on the Connecticut College website for directions, additional parking information, and self-guided tour maps. I recommend printing out a map before you go; maps are provided at Arboretum entrances, but the boxes are often empty.
Connecticut College offers frequent guided tours and other programming at the Arboretum. See their website for details.