The Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens is a system of gardens working together to make one enormous woodland garden that rocks (appropriately with rocks) on the rocky, amazingly beautiful coast of Maine. My guy and I were there only last week and the ideas I got from these gardens are still whirling in my head–massive stone installations being just the start. A girl can dream.
Rocks for paths, as benches, for bridges and just for being there
Perched on a hillside that slopes down to a wild, stony beach, the gardens’ coastal woodland setting has been seamlessly incorporated into the garden designs. Besides the mixed boreal forest that frames the entire garden system, rock stars at every turn of a pathway proving once again that if you’ve got lemons, make lemonade.
Once you reach the bottom of the slope, you find this beautiful vista and are struck by how creatively the gardens have reflected the natural setting of rock, water and forest.
Splashes of colour added to enhance rather than distract
Ornamental perennials and annuals are sprinkled everywhere in these gardens but not in massive plantings. Instead, they seem to be used like a cook uses spices. Flowers work to enhance the overall setting of each garden like Japanese primroses used to add a touch of bright colour at the edge of a green pond.
Native plants and non-natives working together
The gardens are filled with natives as well. In fact, you get the impression that there are more indigenous plants per square foot than there are ornamentals because the plant choices fit so well into the woodland garden settings. Although lupins seem to pop up everywhere in this part of the world, they’re given a special spot to showcase their beauty. Some ferns are shown off to their best advantage, too. I love the idea of planting a stump with ferns and moss. And wild orchids are sprinkled throughout the most naturalistic parts of the gardens. The vibrant colours of Pink Lady’s Slippers (Cypripedium acaule) caught my eye as well as everyone else walking along the same path.
A dilly of a rhodo dell
If you can only see a portion of this very large system of gardens and you happen to be in Maine in June, head straight for the Rhododendron garden. The photos directly below can only hint at how this garden looks and enthrals. Gazillions of rhododendrons aside, the sheer lushness of the plantings is spectacular. This is a wonderful melding of native and non-native woodland plants in a steep dell with a waterfall and pond.
The water feature in the Rhododendron Garden is another example of how the gardens use rock to reflect the natural surroundings while taking the garden one step further into the spectacular.
And now for the un-natural part of the tour
The CMBG isn’t without whimsy. The buildings and features in the children’s gardens are pint-sized but big on fun.
The Fairy Garden, hidden within a forested section of the gardens, isn’t like anything I’d ever seen before. I was prepared for mini flower beds filled with tiny toy figurines. But the CMBG fairies must have decided they wanted something much bigger and, frankly, a little weird. Kids are invited to gather up pieces of wood and stone and design their own fairy hiding places. Each ephemeral structure adds to the mystery. Who said enchantment had to be jolly and bright?
An immersive experience in more ways than one
Part of the CMBG mission is to foster meaningful connections between people, plants and nature. As much as a lot of gardens tend to declare this intention, the CMBG actually does it. The setting and the use of native materials permeating each garden work very well to give you a really good sense of what the real coastal Maine is all about and what it could be with creativity and sustainable practices. In some cases, plants literally embrace you. I’ve seen weeping evergreens trained to create a living fence but I’ve never seen them used to create an archway. I couldn’t help but smile as I walked under it. The soft branches create a wonderful fringe you have to run your fingers through.
Art that moves. In some cases, literally.
Throughout the gardens you’ll find sculptures, many made not surprisingly from stone. All do a nice job of enhancing rather than stealing the view with one exception. The stainless steel kinetic sculpture called Wind Orchid by George Sherwood had me enthralled on that dull, rainy day. Powered only by the mild June breeze, it seemed to unfold and dance. I immediately forgot about the surrounding garden and whipped out my cell phone to take a video of it. You’ll find it in my previous post.
I shot this wild field of lupins as we were driving down a winding country lane the day after visiting the Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens. (Full disclosure: My guy was driving, not me.) The countryside that surrounds the CMBG is pretty spectacular in its own right, especially in June.
If you want ideas for creating your own woodland garden, you won’t go wrong if you start with some rocks, a lot of green perennials and evergreens, a smudge of colourful flowers, and a trip to the coast of Maine.