In many ways, Boothbay, Maine is a time warp. Long ago, my grandparents managed a resort there and I frequently traveled to Boothbay Harbor as a child. I now bring my family there each summer. As a visitor, it appears little has changed over the last few decades. Except one thing: the Botanical Gardens.
I am an avid gardener and a huge fan of botanical gardens. The Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens in Boothbay is one of the best I’ve been to. I go there every opportunity I get. The Garden is situated in its place—the dramatic granite coastline of Midcoast Maine—in a way that is unlike any other garden I have been to. It’s an exciting place for the plant nerd and the landscape architect alike. One of its many inviting features is its Children’s Garden, a topic highly relevant to the KidsGardening network. Erika Huber, Youth and Family Program Coordinator for the Garden, shares a little more about its founding and design below.
By Erika Huber
This year Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens in Boothbay, Maine celebrates its tenth anniversary open to the public. What started as a conversation between friends in 1991 and the willingness of ten founders a few years later to use their homes as collateral for the initial land purchase has become a botanical destination with nearly 190,000 guests visiting the 295 acre site last year. Situated on 3,600 feet of tidal shore frontage, this unique property encompasses miles of hiking trails and more than 12 acres of cultivated gardens, including a five senses garden, a perennial garden and a rhododendron garden to name a few.
Among these themed gardens is the much loved Bibby and Harold Alfond Children’s Garden. Designed by landscape architect Herb Schaal, who specializes in designing educational gardens for children, this two acre garden opened in July 2010. Its interactive features are inspired by children’s books by Maine authors. A Story Barn at the center of this garden contains these Maine titles, as well as more than 400 children’s books related to gardening, natural history, “green living,” and Maine cultural history. Children can get wet in the spouting whales from Down to the Sea with Mr. Magee by Chris Van Dusen, talk to a friend through a dragon’s nostril (The Stone Wall Dragon by Rochelle Draper) or hop in Burt Dow’s colorful skiff, the Tidely Idley, from Burt Dow, Deep Water Man by Robert McCloskey. Looking across the frog pond, children can pose for a picture with Sal’s bear from Blueberries for Sal, another McCloskey classic. A treehouse, bear cave, kitchen cottage and fairy village offer additional spaces to explore.
The Children’s Garden is full of colorful and curious-looking plantings like the Chinese Rhubarb in the Big Leaf garden or the weeping spruce, both of which look like something out of a Dr. Seuss book. The Rainbow Terrace is popping with thousands of tulips in May and becomes a magical landscape of brilliant colors and textures every summer. Learning happens in fun and creative ways with activities such as Garden Puppet Theater, Garden Quests and field trip tours that explore such topics as life cycles, pollinators, birds, the five senses, pond life and compost critters. Young artists hone their skills depicting plant and animal life in our Nature Illustration Camp.
Children participating in our Little Diggers program and Garden Explorers Camps get their hands dirty and learn about gardening as they dig, plant and harvest in our Learning Garden. There is even a little greenhouse nearby where flowers and vegetables are started each spring. Standards such as peas, green beans and tomatoes are grown here, along with some less common veggies. Pretzel beans, rainbow carrots, Magic Molly iridescent purple potatoes, Candy Striped popcorn, Tromboncino squash, mouse melons, Pineapple Crush alpine strawberries and Walking Stick kale spark the interest of kids and adults alike.
A mixture of flowers are also grown in the Learning Garden to highlight the importance of having a variety of shapes, colors and scents to attract a diversity of pollinators. Some of my favorite pollinator flowers are Mexican sunflowers (Tithonia) and Benary’s Giant zinnias for bumble bees, butterflies and hummingbirds; Frosty Knight sweet alyssum for bees and flower flies; and Blue Spice basil for honey bees. Speaking of herbs, an educational garden would not be complete without a variety of these odiferous plants. Our Learning Garden contains a mixture of Italian herbs, chamomile, chives, sage, dill, mint (in pots) and lavender planted nearby, which come in handy for on-the-spot five senses investigations and additions to snacks prepared by gardening campers. Who doesn’t love washing down a delicious snack of herbed popcorn with lavender lemonade!
Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens opens for the season May 1. Visit www.MaineGardens.org for more information about our programs for children and families.
Photos provided by: Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens