There is much to admire about the Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens in Boothbay, not far from Freeport. First is its location, which is at the end of a peninsula surrounded by salt water. Secondly, it’s not one of those botanical gardens that is run like an institution but instead a “People’s garden” driven by volunteers. It has loads of personality and is just a fun place to be in. There are also quiet, contemplative perches.
I visited the garden late in the season knowing the perennial beds would not be at their peak. But I had heard a little about the history of the garden and it intrigued me. It all started in 1991 when a small group got together because they believed Maine needed a botanical garden for there were only three American states without one. They formed a grassroots organization and eventually found the land but were without any money for the down payment. So 10 members of the group put up the deed of their own home as collateral.
Quickly they launched a public awareness campaign and by the next year there were more than 500 charter members. That same year, volunteers were out cutting the first trails using their own tools. You’ve got to admire these people! Before they knew it, the garden was twice the size because of a generous donation of adjacent land. So from the start this was a garden that was conceived and driven by volunteers.
Traditional botanic gardens, such as Kew in London, England, focus on plant science and conservation. The Maine garden seems to be more contemporary with a broader scope, although their stated philosophy is to stay true to its Maine roots.
Even in the middle of September the garden groupings were ample and often bold. Everywhere there is a mix of natives and ornamentals with a few annuals thrown in. The stonework ties the whole garden together. And touches such as the entrance arch of weeping larch or the stone bench looking out over the water ground it to its place.
The children’s garden, inspired by children’s books by Maine authors, is obviously a highlight. It is two acres in size, filled with crazy flowers and plants, a butterfly meadow, living roofs, and many touches of whimsy. Children of all ages would love it.
The Lerner Garden of the Five Senses is divided into five sections, one for each sense. “Sound” was the most challenging sense to achieve and they did this with sound stones—chiseled pillars of granite with cylindrical holes carved in them. If you put your face in one of the holes and hum then you will hear an incredible sound. In another section there is the circular reflexology labyrinth where you walk barefoot on rounded stones that become smaller as you approach the center.
There is the “Great Lawn” where the Maine Fairy House Festival is held each August and the Shortland Trail where the fairies live. And along with the perennials and roses there are swaths of Maine blueberries, a bog pool, a water view of the tides of Maine, and woodland gardens. And everywhere there are large blocks of granite carved into benches, steps and paving.
After 16 years of planning, planting and building, the garden opened in June 2007. The full history of this remarkable achievement can be found in Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens: A People’s Garden (Down East, 2012), that is sold in their very good gift shop.
By Sylvia Fanjoy
Photo credits Sylvia Fanjoy
© Riding the buses 2012