Lea Wait, here, admitting that before the Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens opened in Boothbay in 2007 I’d thought Botanical Gardens were basically habitats created for city people to visit so they could escape the fumes and narrow streets and inhale scents and see flowers and plants they couldn’t experience in their everyday life. I’d loved the cactus gardens in Arizona, which were almost a living museum of cacti, and the indoor gardens in Washington. D.C. And the Bronx Botanical Garden, of course, where Edgar Allan Poe once lived. I’d visited several arboretums.
But I’d never seen anything like the dream that has become a reality on 248 acres (including almost a mile of tidal shore frontage) in Boothbay, Maine: the largest botanical garden in New England. Built with donations of land and money, including people using their own homes as collateral, each year the Gardens have grown dramatically. In 2012 Phase I of their Long Term Plan was completed: a dozen special gardens, a visitor center, an education center, and a horticulture building. The visitor center includes a kitchen and gift shop; there are art exhibits year round, and sculpture throughout the gardens. Plans for the Second Phase of the Gardens are now underway; they will include more uses for the waterfront area, including dockage.
Most important, the Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens are magical. They’re full of waterfalls and benches set in corners, calling you to sit and meditate, or think, or perhaps write a poem. Or just breathe. Every garden is a “secret garden”. All are planned so well they are their own worlds. You can easily spend an hour there, or a day. There is always more to see. And, as the Maine landscape changes from geographic area to geographic area, so the Gardens change, from wild flowers to more formal settings, to woods, to shore, from lawns and spaces to darker paths through quiet forested areas.
garden; or even perhaps the Burpee Kitchen Garden. The Shoreland Trail is one of my favorites, and includes meditation areas, and is certainly typical of Maine. As is the section of the Gardens devoted to Fairy Houses … small houses built by visitors, entirely of natural materials, for local fairies. Long a practice of Maine children, the making of fairy houses is now celebrated in books and magazines … and at the Gardens.
Another of my favorite Gardens is the Lerner Garden of the Five Senses. On a recent visit there with my oldest granddaughter, several of the ponds were humming with large dragonflies as we traced mazes with our fingers (eyes closed! just feel!) and then walked other pebbled mazes barefoot. Especially fragrant flowers are found in the Garden of the Five Senses, and there are “humming stones” at several heights; you can put your head inside and hear the sound of the granite. There are also waterfalls you can put your hands (or feet) under to feel the flow. The flowers and plants are beautiful .. but here there is so much more.
Whether or not I happen to have a child with me, my other favorite garden to visit is the Bibby and Harold Alfond Children’s Garden. It’s built around children’s books centered around nature and Maine, and includes a maze, spouting whale rocks, more fairy houses, a pirate’s den, a small house full of picture books to read, real chickens to visit, old-fashioned pumps so children can pump their own water to use to play in sand or to wash clothes with the scrub board, and a real garden where local school classes grow vegetables. And so much more …
The Gardens are open year round, and offer educational programs for adults and children in all 12
months of the year. Everything from summer camps to gardening symposiums to lectures on historic landscaping to environmental issues to natural foods to nature in art to “The Botany of Beer,” one recent subject, draw people not only from local communities, but from all over New England, and, in summer and fall, from all over the United States and the world.
My husband and I are members. We can visit the Gardens any time throughout the year. We live in a beautiful part of a beautiful state. But, even living here, taking a walk in the Gardens is an instant tension reliever. Bringing a book or a pad of paper to the Gardens for a few hours of quiet is a special treat.