Garden Visit – Coastal Maine Botanical Garden

This place is simply amazing.  A botanical garden that has the imagination to pair pincushion flower (Scabiosa) with vertical grasses might do anything. And they do. So you have to go visit and see for yourself!

The Coastal Maine Botanical Garden is located in the mid-coast area of Maine, near Boothbay Harbor, 1 – 1.5 hours’ drive north of Portland.  We were on our way from Portland to Rockland, stopped at Boothbay Harbor for lunch, then happily spent the rest of the afternoon wandering around this garden.  It was established 11 years ago and has gotten so popular that they have just built a new visitor center and expanded the parking, and they area also getting ready to expand their planting areas as well.

The garden is noted for the interesting sculptures that you find throughout the landscape.  Right at the entrance are these colorful glass fish and leaves.

At the far end of the garden, in the woodland section, you come across this imposing orb.

To help make the experience feel more coherent, the garden is organized into sub-gardens.  The first one you come across is the Sensory Garden, a set of winding paths that feature plants with fantastic visual impact, aromas, touch, sound, and taste.  Some samples of the plantings here:

  Blue gentians (Gentianopsis crinita) arising from a planting of sedum

  Walls of fuzzy plants that are easy for visually-impaired guest to touch

  The sound of a fountain, and more sculpture

There is a 2-acre section called the Kids’ Garden, with lots of fun plantings like the “Big Leaf Garden” and a vegetable patch, sedums and gourds in planters, a small pond.  Some of the sections are designed around favorite children’s books, and feature statues, like the bear in “Strawberries for Sal”.

We arrived just before they finish their butterfly and moth shelter for the season.  Activity levels were low, but we were able to catch glimpses, such as this caterpillar on a pussy willow (Salix discolor) shrub (look on the middle right of the shrub for a black caterpillar).

For me, though, the highlight of the visit was seeing all the imaginative plant uses and pairings.  Planting design fascinates me, but there are so many possibilities I can easily get overwhelmed.  So it’s wonderful to see how really good designers create great combinations.  For instance, little blue stem (Schizachyrium scoparium “Little Blues’) paired with short-toothed mountain mint (Pycnanthemum muticum):

And planting one of the late-blooming bugbane (Actaea) cultivars en masse:

Really nice contrast between the coral bells (Heuchera) and the ferns:

And getting some textural interest by underplanting the winterberry (Ilex verticillata) with cranesbills (Geranium):

Whoever got to design these plantings surely had a lot of fun!  This is just a small sample of the inspiration available at the Coastal Maine Botanical Garden.  They are open from April 15 through October 31 daily, so plan your visit at now!