Gardens Worth Visiting: Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens
One 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, I 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.
One 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.
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.
Of 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).
|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.
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.