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June 18, 2016

My Surprising Visit to the Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens


I have to be honest here - there are some very important plant destinations which are near me, and which I have never visited. Most embarrassingly, I have to admit that I have yet to visit the venerable Arnold's Arboretum in Boston, and the Mount Hope Cemetery - even Dan Hinkley when he was here a few weeks ago made sure to take in these must-see plant destinations, but then there is the Coastal Maine Botanical Garden, which I have heard terrific things about from many, many plant enthusiasts, but which I had yet to journey to.

Located in Boothbay, Maine, on small penninsula directly on Boothbay harbor is is (dare-I-say) picturesque (because after all, it is the coast of Maine. Not that far north of Portland, or Freeport, it is just a couple of exits up from the L.L. Bean flagship store in Freeport which we frequent. I really have no excuse for not visiting before. I think that is going to change now that I have spent a couple of stunning, June days here, because believe me when I say this - this is one botanical garden you must see. It is worth the drive.


I was blown away by this planting of Knophofia ovary 'First Sunrise'. I may need to remind you - THIS IS MAINE! Not South Africa. I was told by the horticultural staff that because of the gardens location, they are considered Zone 6b, but they do cover this kniphofia in the winter, so....I am going to try it. I am. I am.

It's rare to see kniphofia in New England, and especially in Maine, but with some protection and the selection of a more winter hardy variety, clearly, there is a future for Red Hot Pokers in some parts of the North East. The massive granite  slabs may help keep this part of the garden warmer in the winter, acting like a foundation.

I had been invited to speak and teach a class on how to plant an alpine garden a few months ago, and I accepted for many reasons, mostly because I had wanted to visit and see what everyone was talking about. As you will undoubtedly notice over the next few weeks, this Month will be very busy for me. Travels include this trip to Maine, then to Denver for the opening reception of the North American Rock Garden Society annual meeting at the Denver Botanic Garden later this week, and then off to a week of hiking, talks and meetings in Steamboat Springs, CO for NARGS as well. Following that, a brief vacation for Joe and I in Jackson Hole and Yellowstone, and then off to Salt Lake City. Accepting to create a new presentation and to sneak a couple of days in Maine really wasn't what I wanted to do right now - but, I am so glad that I did.


Alliums, planted this closely, helps hid the dry foliage, always a problem with the larger alliums.

As you can see from these pictures, the Coastal Maine Botanical Garden is spectacular, it offers something for everyone, a great children's garden, a garden for all of the senses, a water garden, an amazing collection of plants, both natives and interesting plantings - kudo's to the horticulture team here, it seemed to rival that offered by the Denver Botanic Garden. I too so many photos and left with so many ideas on what I could plant in my garden, that I sort-of wish that it was April again, so that I could order many of these plants this season.






I have deep roots in Maine. My family spent most every summer here in Kennebunkport while I was growing up, and I even went to college in Maine (Unity College for undergrad) so Maine has always remained close to me. I love the boreal forest, fir trees and the mix of the ocean and the mountains.  I hope that once you see these photos, that you might make a special trip up the coast of Maine to visit the rather impressive botanical garden.


Candelabra primroses have always been a showstopper for those who are fortunate to have a wet area, a stream or a pond. Their color blends are so tropical and sunny - even on an overcast day.
One thing that really makes Primula x bulleyana  so special is their ability to self seed and multiply on their own - which does make them 'easy' if you have the perfect site - like this pond. Planted in a typical perennial border, and they will sulk and eventually fade away. With their toes in water however, it's an entirely different story.


Mostly Primula x bulleyana, these candelabra types make me wish that I had a wet spot where they could thrive. So much nicer than Primula japonica, which we cannot grow either. Both like moisture.
I probably could have dedicated an entire post to the diversity in this population of Asiatic primula, but we must move on.


The primula were so captivating and photogenic, that I almost missed this.  It was growing aside them. Nearly 3 feet tall, this is a lady's slipper orchid one rarely sees in the wild, the Showy Lady's Slipper, or Cypripedium reginae.

This was the first time I had actually seen a live specimen of the Showy Ladyslipper, and reportedly, there is supposedly the even rarer all white form growing on the property here. yet it is native to New England. I really  wasn't surprised to see this treasur here however, as the Executive Director of the Central Maine Botanical Garden is William Cullina, a name many of you may recognize from his writings about wildflowers, or from his years at the New England Wild Flower Society.

The hairpin paths and rock work at the Coastal Maine Botanical Garden was both handicap accessible and pleasant to stroke about on. This reminded me of the small roads in the Italian Alps ( but without the buses and the bicyclists).
Even more Primula, in this time in shades of pink, violet and purple.


Late June blooming bulbs like these Alliums really were putting on a show.

A nice arch of piece, I think.


Allium christophii, or The Star of Persia looks super when planted in large groups. I haven't grown this for a few years, and sometimes, it takes a visit to a botanic garden to remind one that they should order these bulbs now, and in great numbers before they sell out (as they always do!), since a show like this is often not one is thinking about when planting bulbs in October.

There is definitely a very English look to many vistas in this garden. If you haven't noticed, there isn't much lawn here.






This could very well be Sissinghurst.
Dymphytum X uplandicum 'Axminster Gold' Comfrey needs to make an appearance in my garden, I think.



But it is definitely Maine.

And this is what we think of when we think about Maine.


Classic Maine woodlands are so nice. Bunchberry or Cornus canadensis the classic, woodland ground cover.
All of this, was happening in the parking lot near the horticulture buildings. A bit of natural Maine.

View from my room wasn't bad, either. Even the smell of the ocean reminded me of my youth. I was kind-of missing Maine.  The low chug and rumble of this lobster boat brought back memories.

Lastly, I smelled this native before I saw it. One rarely see's Calycanthus floridus, so floriferous, but this named selection 'Michael Lindsey' is rather noticeable. If not for the floral display, then at least for the scent - which was a bit like rotten bananas and pineapples, but in a nice way.





I was a little shocked when the inn keeper told me that instead of driving into town, that I could sail to the village of Boothbay from my hotel on Spruce Point, a posh resort on yet another peninsula near the botanic garden. Honestly, it wan not an unpleasant way to commute, especially as the sun was setting.



19 comments :

  1. First, I am quite surprised that this was your first visit, but that being said, I'm glad you finally got there. We have been going for five years, often twice a year and were just there on Thursday, so many of my photos are like yours.

    I wanted to mention that the boat ride is wonderful, and I recommend it on your next trip. The captain told us that the Gardens are going to make major changes. First, the parking will be completely different, a much larger lot to be closer to the gardens, and the visitors center to become a restaurant and a new visitors center to be located elsewhere. Since we've gone so many times, we've seen constant changes. If you are a member of Tower Hill, which I believe you are, then you hopefully got in for free!

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    1. Boat ride ! Yes!!! On my next visit.

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    2. The parking lot expansion will help, as it will at Tower Hill BG too (I am a trustee and VP there). Never thought about the 'getting in for free' part though - I always forget! I was speaking there so didnt need to worry this time.

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  2. Great pics, very inspiring! Really like that arch. Is that made with some kind of weeping spruce?

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    1. It is. Not my style, but it was photo worthy and I would imagine that most visitors would like it.

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  3. Maine is a special place. This post brought back memories of trips to Acadia. The gardens look amazing. Do they grow Meconopsis there? It seems like they would grow well for them. The Cypripedium! Swoon!

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    1. I didn't see any, but I was there too early I think. I would imagine that they could, or even have in the past. I have friends in New Hampshire and Vermont who have had some luck.

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  4. Anonymous3:04 PM

    beautiful!

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  5. Lovely plants and gorgeous photos! Thanks for sharing!

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  6. If my C regina does well in my pond/bog I may have to try the primulas. Can they take the heat on DC summers?

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    1. Hmm. I would think not, but then again, there are those who raise blue poppies in Rhode Island and not Zone 3!

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  7. Such an inspiring and beautiful place. I would love to visit one day. I recently saw that calycanthus in flower at the garden of Ninfa in Italy. I had never seen it before. Such a beauty. Thanks for sharing

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  8. I have been to this garden twice (a 3,000-ish mile commute for me !) and it is in my top 5 US gardens I've visited. If I lived in NE I would definitely be a member.It's beautifully designed and impeccably maintained.

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    1. I know, right? It's certainly worth the drive!

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  9. I loved working there! I often shared your blog with colleagues there too!! So glad you made it. And yes major changes are afoot.

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    1. Thans Amity! I just said to Joe that we need to go up there again. I mean, I spent most of my entire childhood on the coast of Maine (Kennebunkport). I miss it so.

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  10. You always showcase beautiful plant and gardens.Again you have spelled the magic of beautiful and bloomy flowers.

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  11. Anonymous11:30 PM

    Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens was okay when they started. Now they are horrible neighbors. They have clearcut 40 acres, are filling wetlands and vernal pools, constructing massive parking lots next to their 80 year old neighbors and discharging their septic into town drinking water. All is being appealed at the local level. They have no respect for the community and their promotional conservation ethic has been replaced with ambition, arrogance, and greed. Search on CMBG expansion and do some homework on their 30 million dollar expansion in a residential zone. Then please stay away until CMBG does the right thing. Thank you from a Boothbay peninsula resident.

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    1. I would imagine that this is a complaint presented by many neighbors of botanic gardens, as they often view such museums and public gardens as elitist for some reason. Probably because they are fancy, need to raise funds and have endowments. I would suggest first thinking about the alternatives. Would a condo complex or new series of homes be a better neighbor? What about a restaurant or a golf course? A resort? A hotel? The fact is that you live on the coast and as beautiful an area that it is, the land will eventually go private (especially if the government has its way - think about Federal land and reverves being sold for natural resources now). What if it became a casino as our coastal land here in Mass is turning into? Let me share what I have as neighbors in a 1 mile radius now - a section 8 housing project which opened our dead end road up to speeding traffic, an incinerator for garbage, a landfil and a solar array. Not to mention a new exit on the Mass pike. Progress? Perhaps, but I would give anything to have a world class botanic garden dedicated to preserving many of the wild species found not only in Maine but globally on my doorstep. Growth comes with parking needs, facilities and more. I would imagine that the garden is taking every step to properly address such issues with a minimum of impact.

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