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Maine’s Magical Oasis

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A George Sherwood sculpture rises from the greenery around this pool that gently spills over a stone wall and on to the walkway at the Coastal Maine Botanical Garden in Boothbay, Maine. Photo: Erin Little.

By Gail Ravgiala

A walk through a garden in the waning days of summer can turn one to melancholy. Blooms fade as the days grow shorter, the sun casts deeper shadows, and the nights hint of chill air to come.

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No so at the Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens where there is plenty of time left in the year to relish the glories of its exquisite landscape. We heard rave reviews of this marvel of horticulture before we headed up to Boothbay, Maine, but the verbal descriptions didn’t come close to the visual realities.


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In the Garden of the Five Senses, vertical gardening techniques are used to create walls lush with scented herbs and flowering plants. Photo: Erin Little.


The images Maine photographer Erin Little provided for a story on the gardens that is in the works for our March/April 2016 issue motivated us to experience the place for ourselves. So did the profile on Ipswich, Massachusetts, sculptor George Sherwood that appeared in our July/August 2015 issue. His magical kinetic pieces are on exhibit in Wind, Waves & Light at the gardens until October 12. If ever there was a marriage made in heaven, the installation of Sherwood’s silvery pieces in this man-made paradise is it. Still photography doesn’t begin to capture the enchantment his art conveys as the slightest zephyr sends them rippling, turning, and shimmering in the sunlight.


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A cool plateau along the woodland trail offers a view through the trees of the Back River. The garden property includes a mile of waterfront along the river. Photo: Erin Little.


There is nothing hurried in this garden. The winding paths invite a slow pace revealing some new amazement at every turn. It might be a dinner-plate-size dahlia or the tranquil little Slater Forest Pond teaming with lily pads and tiny green frogs that captures attention, but there always seems to be a convenient place to sit and enjoy the moment. There are two labyrinths, one by the fountain pool into which the pond drains where unshod guests follow the circular path, massaging their feet on the smooth stones. The other is in the Bibby and Harold Alfond’s Children’s Garden where kids find their way as parents watch from old-fashioned garden swings at its perimeter.


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Oversize watering cans stuffed with tools mark the entrance to The Learning Garden in the Bibby and Harold Alfond’s Children’s Garden. Photo: Erin Little.


The Children’s Garden is straight from a storybook writ large and in 3-D. At its entrance are the Three Whales, giant boulders each rigged so that when a kid finds the secret button to push, water shoots into the air (to the delight of squealing children) through the “whale” spout. There is a tree house, a playhouse, and fairy houses in the woods. (Fairies are a recurring theme here, and Fairy Fridays find the gardens filled with young folk sporting wings.)


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The labyrinth in the children’s garden offers shaded garden swings for parents and grandparents to sit and watch their charges meander on the stone pathways. Photo: Erin Little.


Aside from the formal gardens, there are miles of trails through the woods and along the Back River, where as in the main gardens, there are plenty of places to stop, sit, and absorb the sights and sounds. And if you get hungry, the Kitchen Garden Café offers lunch served by wait staff in its dining room or patio or at its take-out window so you can picnic in the garden.


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The Three Whales welcome visitors to the children’s garden by spewing water through their magic spouts. Photo: Erin Little.


The garden is open until October 31 when it will officially close for the season. Then, according to promotional material for its Gardens Aglow festivities, “the staff will put on their elf ears, sprinkle magic dust, and magically transform the central gardens from a garden paradise to a winter wonderland.” With tens of thousands of lights strung throughout its 14 acres of main gardens, the night will come alive with the largest light display in Maine. Gardens Aglow runs Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday, 4-8 p.m., November 21 through December 31 (closed Thanksgiving Day and Christmas Eve). We might have to make another road trip.

Great design is always at your fingertips! Read Design New England’s September/October issue online!