New botanical gardens give the flavor of Maine

One of the newest botanical gardens in the US has a rare waterfront location.

By , Associated Press Writer

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    A FIRST: Maine's only botanical garden, located in Boothbay, is a peaceful spot.
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BOOTHBAY, Maine (AP) — The coast of Maine is probably better known for lobsters and windjammers than rose gardens and flowering dogwood trees.
But at one of America’s newest gardens, the Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens, you’ll find nearly 1,300 varieties of plants, world-class sculptures and a restaurant that uses herbs grown on the grounds.

The garden also has trails that offer classic Maine scenery, from evergreen trees to lobster boats.

The Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens, in their second year of operation, are located on a peaceful 248-acre plot on the edge of the Back River, a tidal waterway that flows into the Sheepscot River and the Atlantic Ocean.

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Visitors have 10 ornamental gardens to choose from, along with over two miles of trails through forests of towering spruce, pine and fir trees.

A shoreland trail meanders along half a mile of the river, giving a view of islands, lobster buoys and a fishing cooperative on the opposite shore where lobstermen sell their catches.

Here you’ll get a full flavor of Maine, from the coastal scenery to granite ledges and outcroppings on the garden grounds that were formed by glaciers thousands of years ago.

The visitor center has Maine-made furniture and the restaurant features breads, produce, cheeses, mustards ,and other foods — even root beer — grown or manufactured in Maine.

“We always say you can see all of Maine here,” said Executive Director Maureen Heffernan.

The Boothbay Harbor peninsula along rocky midcoast Maine is itself a summer tourist destination with a quintessential harbor, gift shops and seafood shacks and restaurants.

Excursion boats take people on whale-watching tours and day trips to Monhegan, an island with an active arts community.

The entrance is a winding dirt road through the woods leading to a high-ceilinged visitor center designed by Quinn Evans Architects, a Washington architectural firm that specializes in traditional design.

The building has a gift shop, a classroom/library, and a restaurant where people can eat inside or at tables on an outdoor garden terrace.

Outside, each ornamental garden has a distinctive theme: There’s the rose garden, the pond garden, the meditation garden, and the rhododendron and perennial garden, which has a waterfall, more than 10,000 flowering bulbs and 120-plus different types of rhododendrons.

If trees are to your liking, the Kousa dogwoods put on a show throughout the summer with their white, yellow and pink flowers. Hundreds of white-barked birch trees line a dirt road through the woods, forming the picturesque “Birch Allee,” or birch alley.

The Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens is one of the newest gardens nationally.

There are more than 600 public gardens across the country, about a quarter of which could be categorized as “botanical gardens,” which focus not just on displaying plants, but on research and education as well.

What sets the Boothbay gardens apart is the waterfront location, said Dan Stark, executive director of the American Public Gardens Association. He knows of only one other botanical garden — the Mendocino Coast Botanical Garden in Mendocino, Calif. — with coastal property.

The setting in Maine left an impression on Susan Hilditch of St. Andrews, New Brunswick, who has been to four other botanical gardens across Canada. “This is right up at the top,” said Hilditch, who was visiting with a friend in late June.

The land in Boothbay at one time was destined to be developed into a subdivision. But instead, in 1996, it was purchased by a group of local residents intent on creating Maine’s first botanical garden.

Supporters over the years have raised $12 million to turn their dream into reality. After years in the making, the garden opened in June 2007 with a goal of 25,000 people passing through. More than 40,000 showed up, and Heffernan hopes for 45,000 to 50,000 this year.

Besides the gardens, the site has permanent and visiting art exhibits, both inside the visitor center and on the grounds.

The feature art this spring and summer is stainless steel kinetic sculptures by Massachusetts sculptor George Sherwood that seem to come alive in the wind.

Some of the sculptures take on the appearance of birds flying or flower petals swaying in the breeze. The largest sculpture, 30 feet tall, looks like giant tendrils reaching for the sky.

The gardens also host musical performances, including the Portland Symphony Orchestra, a string quartet and a steel drum band this summer.

If You Go...

COASTAL MAINE BOTANICAL GARDENS, Barters Island Road, Boothbay, Maine; http://www.mainegardens.org or 207-633-4333. Open year-round, daily except Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s Day, 9 a.m.-5 p.m. Adults, $10; seniors $8; children 5-17, $5; children under 5, free; Family (two adults and two children), $25. Free admission January through March.

BOOTHBAY HARBOR PENINSULA: The Boothbay Harbor region is a tourist destination with quaint village streets, rocky shores, lighthouses and harbors filled with lobster boats, windjammers and pleasure boats; http://www.boothbayharbor.com.

TIPS: The gardens are in fullest bloom in the summer, but each season has distinctive horticultural attractions. In winter, the grounds are open to cross-country skiers and snowshoers.

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