SIGHTSEEING can be more relaxing if you remember to clear your palate frequently. A visit to the Helen Avalynne Tawes Garden is the ideal refresher during a day of sampling Annapolis.
Your eyes are soothed by greenery with just a splash of color. You find yourself absorbed into the tranquility of a summer's day, close to the fragrant earth, as you explore six acres of plantings among ponds, a waterfall and a brook.
The garden, which honors a former first lady of Maryland, Mrs. J. Millard Tawes, invites visitors to touch as well as look as they tour "Maryland in miniature." In this setting you won't need seven-league boots to:
* Ramble through the oaks, rhododendrons and ferns of a mountain forest in Western Maryland.
* Be a nature sleuth. Try to find some greenstone, an igneous rock that is about 850 million years old. See if you can solve the mystery of what the white paint-like substance on this rock really is.
* Birdwatch beside the cattails in a Chesapeake Bay marsh. "A great blue heron and the smaller green heron come to visit occasionally," says Don Meyers, the garden coordinator.
* Unwind on a bench overlooking a pond of the Piedmont, featuring delicate pink, white and yellow water lilies.
* Taste, touch and smell herbs that might be found in the kitchen garden of any colonial tidewater plantation -- rosemary, rue and lemon balm. Be sure not to miss the apple- rose-scented geraniums.
* Search for Maryland's state flower, black-eyed Susans that add gold to a hillside plant mural as lavish in crimson, magenta and hot pink as Gauguin's Tahitian paintings.
* Discover the drama of papa bluegills guarding the eggs of their offspring in underwater nests. (Look for circles in the gravel bed of a pond at Station Two on the self-guided tour path.)
* Have a picnic at a redwood table on the patio directly behind the Natural Resources Building. You can relish at leisure the panoramic view of the entire garden.
* Feed the fish and the mallards with your leftover breadcrusts if you exit via a tiny bridge over to the Eastern Shore peninsula.
GARDEN SPOT -- The Helen Avalynne Tawes Garden is on the grounds of the Tawes State Office Building on Taylor Avenue at Rowe Boulevard in Annapolis. The garden is open daily, sunup to sundown. During weekday office hours you can enter the garden by going through the Natural Resorces Building. On weekends follow the path to the right, around the District Court Building. Free parking is available at the lot in front of the Tawes complex on Taylor Avenue.
Group tours can be arranged in advance by calling Marta Dreier weekdays, 8:30 a.m. to 4 p.m., 301/269-3656. You can obtain a descriptive, full-color brochure of the garden by sending your request and a self-addressed, stamped, business-size evelope to: The Helen Avalynne Tawes Garden, Maryland Department of Natural Resources, Tawes State Office Building, Annapolis, MD 21401.
GETTING THERE -- From State House Circle, take North Street northeast to College Avenue. Left on College Avenue 11/2 blocks to Bladen Street. Right on Bladen Street, which becomes Roscoe C. Rowe Boulevard, to Taylor Avenue. Left on Taylor Avenue to the parking lot on your immediate left. Additional parking is available at the Navy/Marine Corps Stadium to the right on Taylor Avenue.