As some of you may know from previous blogs or knowing me personally, I just love visiting gardens. I also love working in a garden and growing things. Whether for visiting or growing something fun or useful, gardens are one of the best things ever. When researching online for the best gardens to visit during our travels, the Coastal Maine Gardens in Boothbay, Maine consistently came up on lists as one of the best in the U.S. So, I knew I had to plan a trip to see this place. Above is a picture of a type of Sundrop or primrose flower that was blooming enmasse and really caught my eye with an explosion of yellow.
When we arrived, I have to admit that at first I was not very impressed. The part of the gardens near the entrance are not developed and when walking in looked rather barren. The map provided didn’t seem to show many different sections of the gardens. I questioned if there would be much to see and approached our visit with less optimism than at previous gardens. But as I began exploring, I came to realize that this place was indeed remarkable and equal to any I have seen in our travels. One of the newer exhibits was a butterfly greenhouse. In addition to the butterflies, there were lots of colorful caterpillars, something I have not seen before. The caterpillars pictured above will eventually become monarch butterflies.
This is a fairly new garden that opened in 2007. In 1991, a group of Maine residents founded an organization that believed Maine and Northern New England needed a botanical garden. After searching, they purchased 128 acres of land including shoreline frontage near the town of Boothbay. I read that the founders actually used their own homes as collateral! From this natural area of forest and water, they developed magnificent gardens that are a delight to see. There are many beautiful forest trails to wander like the one above. The gardens are a mixture of both natural forest setting and planned garden areas. In the picture below I am standing in an area of lush plantings next to a rock waterfall. Rock is used throughout not only for waterfalls but to also create pools, steps, benches and sculptures.
Maine is loaded with ferns since there are so many forests and waterways. I was intrigued with this exhibit of Ostrich ferns which produce fiddleheads (the furled fronds of a young fern) in the spring. I was interested to read how popular fiddleheads are both historically and in modern times. Each year thousands of ”Mainers” go out along the streams and rivers to pick this prized wild crop. A popular dish is to boil them and serve with butter and vinegar.
When we went to the local farmer’s market in the town of Bath I couldn’t resist picking up a jar of pickled fiddleheads since I love trying interesting local specialties. I found them to be actually quite good and enjoyed eating them with my salads. Haven’t seen them since leaving Maine, so don’t know if they are enjoyed in other states as well!
One of the main sections of the gardens is the “Lerner Garden of the Five Senses” which is supposed to delight all the senses in some way. There were beautiful flower and tree plantings to see, water features and the croaking of frogs to listen to, herbs to taste, roses to smell and a reflexology labyrinth for touch. Visitors are encouraged to take off their shoes and feel the smooth river stones under their feet. This practice is based on ancient Eastern wisdom that walking on stones massages various points of the feet promoting health and well-being. In addition, the labyrinth is a great meditation tool while walking. I had to give this a try and when my feet got used to being on the stones I found it rather soothing! Mark wasn’t around at the time to take a picture of me doing it (probably on a bench some where with a Diet Coke?) so the photo below is of a young family. I actually think they were better subjects!
The Garden has a children’s section that I imagined I would quickly walk through. I was so entranced that I ended up spending much more time than I thought. It was a fun place to walk around with a pond, bridges, playhouses topped with grass and little flower gardens surrounded by white picket fences. This was the most clever children’s garden I have ever visited. The main feature is eight different stations that are based on stories from prominent Maine children’s authors like Robert McCloskey who wrote “Blueberries For Sal” and E. B. White who wrote “Charlotte’s Web.” I wrote earlier about how rock figures prominently in the gardens and at the children’s entrance are several large rocks carved into whale shapes with spouts of water coming from them. These are from the book, “Down to the Sea with Mr. Magee.” Can you see the whale smiling as he spouts in the picture below?
I love children’s books but was not familiar with the book, “Rosebud and Red Flannel.” At this station kids can use an old fashioned washboard and hang to dry clothes including Red Flannel, the well worn long johns and Rosebud, the delicate nightgown who in the story develop a relationship one cold, stormy day.
At the pond area kids can don a yellow raincoat and try out the colorful docked rowboat from the book, “Burt Dow, Deep Water Man” written by Robert McCloskey. In another area they can play on the big “Stone Dragon” and of course there is the bear with a bucket to check out from “Blueberries For Sal.” There is an actual thriving vegetable garden to explore with a “Peter Rabbit” display from McGregor’s Garden that includes oversized veggies, watering can and scarecrow (below).
What amazed me the most though was the colorfully decorated playroom/library that had shelves filled with hard back books that looked like they were new. I would have never expected this at a botanical garden. Adults and kids could take a break and sit down on one of the many chairs or seats available and read books together. There were also child sized tables with games and puzzles.
I was again amazed at the Therapeutic Horticulture area where people with physical or developmental challenges can garden. How neat is this! Instead of having to get up and down, gardeners can wheel their chairs up to raised beds with vegetable and flower plantings. There are also railings around the beds for those than can stand with some assistance. Some of the beds in wooden boxes are standing vertical so one can roll right up and touch the plants without leaning over at all. Ergonomically designed garden tools are kept in an accessible area near a small building. Different groups in the area come here to garden and provisions have even been made for those that are visually impaired so they can identify the plants they are working with. Below is a picture of one of the lovely raised beds with railing.
It was a great day exploring the Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens. Thanks for reading – stay tuned, more exploring in Maine to come!