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Gardens Worth Visiting: Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens

January 10, 2014

coastal maine1One of my favorite leisure activities, whether I’m close to home or away on vacation, is to visit gardens. For me, a garden is worth visiting if it is a beautiful place to be, if it introduces me to new plants, or if it provides me with inspiration for my own garden. If a garden does all three, it is worth visiting over and over again.

When I first visited the Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens in August 2008, a little over a year after the garden opened to the public, wind orchid1I was disappointed on all three counts. It is telling that I took only a dozen photos that day, and those were generally not of plants, but of the kinetic stainless steel sculptures by George Sherwood displayed in the garden. There simply weren’t many plants to look at, none of those were particularly interesting, and my memory is that many were not labeled.

In hindsight, I realize that that the garden I visited that year was in its infancy and not necessarily a good basis for judging how it would mature. So when several garden bloggers whose opinions I greatly respect posted rave reviews of this garden, I decided that it was time to revisit. The opportunity came in late June 2013, when friends invited me to accompany them on a visit to the Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens.

When I got there, I could hardly recognize it as the same garden I had visited five years earlier. Most of the beautifully developed plantings that wowed me on this visit didn’t yet exist in 2008, and the few parts of the garden that were familiar looked very different in their new context. Below, for example, you can see the front of the Visitor Center in 2008 as viewed through the sculpture “Wind Orchid” (left image); notice that there are no plants between the lawn and the building. On the right, is a photo of the same sculpture taken in 2013 from the vantage point of the Visitor Center. This time, the lawn is surrounded by lush borders.

wind orchid 2008 wind orchid 2013

peony do tellOne of my favorite parts of the garden on this visit was the Lerner Garden of the Five Senses (which opened in 2009, the year after my previous visit). One of my plans as I develop a new front garden is to plant a fragrant garden under my bedroom window; the Lerner Garden of the Five Senses was the perfect place to find fragrant inspiration. I was very smitten with this peony (‘Do Tell,’ a bit past its prime when we visited) and amazed by the wonderful fragrance of the double mock orange  (Philadelphus) ‘Snowbelle.’ These are both candidates for my new fragrant garden. I also paid special attention to the roses, another fragrant plant I hope to add to my garden.

coral roses parkland rose

Fragrant flowers were not my only sources of inspiration. Although I knew about the Amsonia hybrid ‘Blue Ice,’ this was the first time I saw it planted en mass. It was love at first sight, and I had added several of these plants to my own garden before the summer was over.

amsonia blue ice

water lily & irisOf course, there were many beautiful plantings in the Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens that are not candidates for my own garden. I don’t ever expect to have a pond where I could create this quiet scene of water lilies and irises.

Nor is my garden of the right scale and topography for this breathtaking hillside of mountain laurel (Kalmia).

mountain laurel hillside

native penstemon I had hopes for this native penstemon (Penstemon smallii), with which I was quite taken; but, alas, it is a USDA zone 6 plant – capable of surviving in the milder climate of the coast, but not in my inland location.

While plants are clearly the main attraction at the Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens, I also love the use of sculpture in the gardens. Two favorites were this porcupine and pinecone.

porcupine sculpture pinecone sculpture

Now that I know that the Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens are a place of beauty, can educate me about new plants, and are a great source of inspiration for my own garden, I will go back again and again. This is definitely a garden worth visiting.

The Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens are located in mid-coast Maine, about 10 miles from U.S. route 1 in Boothbay Harbor, Maine. The garden is not accessible by public transportation; visitors need to arrive by private car or as part of a bus tour. Once there, however, there are a number of mechanized forms of transport for those who don’t have the time or the stamina to see it all on foot. The grounds around the gardens include a number of walking tails. Amenities include picnic areas in the garden and a visitor center with both a shop and a café.

Although the garden is open year-round (and admission is free during the winter months), the growing season in Maine is short and the best floral displays will be found between June and September.

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17 Comments leave one →
  1. January 10, 2014 9:00 pm

    This garden is on my bucket list. Several of my master gardener friends have been and were highly complimentary. Beautiful photos.

    • January 15, 2014 10:56 pm

      Judy, This might be something for us to do together.

  2. January 11, 2014 12:59 pm

    This really is a treasure of a garden. We visited in 2011 and it still had the feel of a “garden becoming”. I have toured many old (and mature) gardens but it was fun to visit one where you could see the design unfolding. And I enjoyed seeing plants, especially trees, that I had planted too, and to see them at the same stage as my young saplings! I need to go back in 2014 — your post has jogged my interest to see how far it has come. Thanks!

    • January 15, 2014 10:58 pm

      Laurrie, I’m glad that I got back again to see the more mature garden. The first time I visited, I also had a sense that the CMBG hadn’t yet figured out what it’s mission is. This time, the focus on education and on native plants was much clearer.

  3. January 11, 2014 1:45 pm

    I remember they announced the botanical gardens the year we moved from Maine! Sure looks beautiful and I hope to visit one day. I love Amsonia, too! I have now have several varieties in my small garden. Thank you for this lovely tour Jean. I have been thinking about fragrance in the garden – that and moon suitable plantings. With such a short season we need it all – fragrance and day and night time enjoyment!

    • January 15, 2014 10:59 pm

      Kathy, I have this fantasy of wonderful fragrances wafting in through my bedroom windows on summer nights. I have several nocturnal daylilies that are very fragrant and will plant some of those in this garden along with lots of other night-blooming and fragrant plants as yet to be selected.

  4. January 11, 2014 4:47 pm

    Nicely done, Jean. I visited the gardens two summers ago and wrote a piece about them on my blog. I was amazed at how beautiful and extensive the gardens are and was particularly impressed with the balance of formal and informal spaces.

    • January 15, 2014 11:00 pm

      Patrice, Yours was probably one of the reviews of these gardens that convinced me that I needed to go back. Thanks.

  5. January 11, 2014 9:00 pm

    I admired this garden the first time I saw pictures of it – and all over again when I viewed your photos. I’d love to get there one day!

  6. January 11, 2014 10:15 pm

    I love that hillside of laurel. The different shades of pink mixed with ferns is lovely. Fantastic that there’s a local garden that you can visit and learn about new plants. It must have been exciting to see all the changes that occurred.

    • January 15, 2014 11:03 pm

      Marguerite, I love the hillside of laurel, too. This garden isn’t quite local (about 90 minutes drive from my house) — but local enough, especially for my more relaxed retirement years :-)

  7. January 19, 2014 6:47 pm

    Oh yes! Indeed a marvelous place! It would almost be worth living in & braving Maine winters in order to be able to visit it often. I was there last Sept. and was SO impressed and delighted!

  8. January 27, 2014 6:25 pm

    I am so glad that you revisited this wonderful garden. I have loved it both times that I have been there. Maybe we can go this coming summer.

  9. January 28, 2014 7:39 pm

    Jean what an exquisite garden. I really have to make a point to visit more gardens and I hope to start locally.

  10. January 30, 2014 12:34 pm

    I work in a wedding flower shop in Utah and I love plants, flowers, nature, etc. One of my favorite gardens to visit is a Japanese garden in Southern California. Thanks for the wonderful blog.

  11. February 1, 2014 11:37 am

    Wow. That is absolutely beautiful! I would love to go there some day. Thanks for sharing the pictures with us!

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