Heritage Museums & Gardens is a 100-acre property in Sandwich that has much to offer visitors, from the museum’s collection of antique cars and Wampanoag history to art exhibits and special events throughout the year. Perhaps the most impressive feature of all, however, is the gardens themselves.
Text and Photographs by Marcy Ford
In New England, rhododendrons flower from late May into mid-June. The rhododendron collection at Heritage was started by textile magnate Charles Owen Dexter, who owned the property from 1921 to 1943. It was continued by J.C. Cowles, the Dexter estate superintendent, into the 1960s.
Dexter began collecting and hybridizing rhododendrons, striving to create new varieties with the heartiness to survive in New England. Some of his varietals showcase color, like ‘Dexter’s Avondale,’ which flowers in a deep red; others spotlight fragrance, like ‘Dexter’s Spice.’ There are over 150 varieties—‘True Treasure,’ ‘Peppermint,’ ‘Apple Blossom,’ ‘Scintillation,’ and ‘Honeydew’ are just a few—as well as unnamed cultivars.
You can walk the gardens and see thousands of rhododendrons. Some are over 100 years old and tower above you as tall as trees. It’s truly magical to walk the meandering pathways through a shifting palette of pink, white, peach, purple, and red.