When I was 10 years old I read a novel about two student nurses spending a summer at an adventure camp in Maine. I read about the blue ocean water, the sun sparkling on the ripples lapping the craggy shoreline. I saw the bright blue skies with white puffy clouds floating overhead. I could smell the pine trees and hear the loons calling in the night. I don’t remember what happened to the girls at camp, but I remembered those images of a state so far away. Oh so many years later it was all as I pictured it when I arrived in Maine this summer. Maine has a magnificent color scheme of blue ocean, green trees, and white puffy clouds against an endless blue sky. Yet even with so much natural beauty all around, in 1991 a small group of residents came together to promote the idea of building a botanical garden for Maine. They believed a garden would “protect, preserve and enhance the botanical heritage and natural landscape of coastal Maine for people of all ages through horticulture, education and research.” (Mission statement, website)
The Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens, in Boothbay, opened on June 14, 2007 after 16 years of preparation in planning, building, and planting. Maine has shoreline, trees, and granite in great supply and this garden maximizes these features beautifully. The garden has a 20 year master plan for continuing improvements in the 270 acres. After only eight years of operation what they have is very, very good.
There is an outstanding visitor center with a cafe, classrooms, and gift shop. Exploring beyond you’ll find a kitchen garden with flowers, vegetables, herbs, a birch tree allee, a sensory garden, rose garden, a children’s garden, a bog garden, and a great lawn, an ideal setting for weddings. Rotating and permanent art exhibitions are regular attractions. These are expected elements of a well designed public garden.
Great signage introduces visitors to the unique elements of the location such as The Prairies of New England, where the ocean meets the tidal rivers dominated by grasses, “it provides a crucial separation between land and water, holding back the shore against the ocean’s onslaught and filtering sediments and pollutants from rain water.”
This is a garden with an entrance available by car and also by boat. Observance of the tide tables will allow visitors to anchor a boat as large as 35’ long by way of the Back River.
Yet what really makes this garden rock is granite. The use of rock, huge granite slabs, and standing stones creates a hardscape both bold and spiritual.
Paths of granite wind through the woods. Stairs of granite lead you down to the Vayo Meditation garden where a reflecting pool made from an enormous boulder of Ellsworth Schist is centerpiece.
Carved granite boulders create a spouting whale play fountain in the children’s garden.
Granite benches offer a spot to rest along the tree covered paths. Trees grow directly upon the rock. Shards of granite are shaped as a blossom on the forest floor. Alongside the road leading back to the entrance a standing slab with a keyhole creates a perfect frame for your photo.
Granite in gray, black, and white dominate and is the feature which defines the landscape of this new public garden. This native element is used to artistic perfection among the trees, fern and flowers of this region. It will weather the coming years well. Open all year long, the plant pallet holds interest in all seasons, one example is this row of weeping cypress.
In October 13,000 pounds of pumpkins march around the garden announcing the fall season and blend with the changing colors of the deciduous trees.
Holiday lighting adds to the festivities for December and January. Creating a new public garden is an enormous task and the inspired founders of this place deserve our gratitude. As the largest public garden in New England every visitor will have much to enjoy, and local residents have a destination that will draw them back again and again.
I have recharged my images of Maine’s beautiful blue skies, ocean, trees and loons but the most memorable element I will add is the magnificent granite.