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Archive: Aug 2013

Fairies and Elves – a History (as read by Bill Cullina at the Fairy House Village Opening)

Wednesday, August 28th, 2013
Fairy House Village IMG_9387-Ronan, Maeve, Brooklyn - BFreeman
Fairy Hosue Village - Brooklyn - from Stephanie - 240w
 Fairy House Village - Teddy - From Stephanie - 240w
Fairy House Village Ronan IMG_9403 - 240 wi - BFreeman
Fairy House Village IMG_9409 - 240 w - BFreeman
1 IMG_9493 - Simon making magic - 72 dpi - BFreeman
Fairy House Village Garland IMG_9360 - BFreeman

After exhaustive research, Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens Executive Director William Cullina gleaned the following historical information from an academic paper by Dr. Wallace McBride, “Fairy Communities of the Central Maine Coast,” published in the American Journal of Fairy and Elven Studies, vol. 16:3, pp. 231-244. He read this document to the children and their grown-ups assembled for the opening celebration and garland cutting for the Gardens’ shoreland Fairy House Village on Saturday, August 24, 2013. 

It is thought that fairies first left Tir na nog, the land of external youth, about 65 million years ago, to help heal the earth from the devastating effects of the asteroid impact that plunged the world into darkness and chaos.  It is believed that the origin of the four fairy clans – air, water, fire and tree fairies – can be traced to this time.  As little as 10,000 years ago, fairies are said to have been living commonly and openly in the Irish and Welsh countryside, serving as healers and holding fairy court where accused violators of natural law could be heard and reprimanded.  These “fairy circles,” as they are called, evolved into community gathering places where important events such as the turning of the four seasons and the birth of the full moon are celebrated.

Just as happened elsewhere in the world, when humans arrived in Ireland, Wales and Scotland 10,000 years ago they feared these tiny magical creatures and worked to drive them away by destroying their houses and circles.  Though it is likely that many fairies returned to Tir na nog during Amanna dorcha (the dark times), as this period was called,  others retreated to the forests and the night, using magic and trickery to help keep humans from discovering them. To this day, much of what we call coincidence and luck is really this fairy magic and trickery. 

In 1989, the discovery of the Rockland Runes on a beach just south of the Samoset Resort marked a major turning point in our understanding of fairy history in this region.  This two-by-three-foot stone, with its intricately carved runic characters, tells the story of the great fairy crossing, or Turas. We now know that during the Amanna dorcha a small band of water fairies set sail from western Ireland in their shell-shaped wooden boats, destined for Tir na nog but were caught in a great storm that blew them far south  into the Sargasso Sea near Bermuda.  Their boats wrecked, they floated on great mats of Sargasso seaweed for two moons until by chance they caught a ride on on the backs of migrating silver eels, or elvers, as they swam northwest to the rivers along Maine’s midcoast.  Exhausted and lost, the weary band made landfall on Monhegan Island and established a small settlement. 

Over time the fairies flew to the closer islands and mainland around what is now Boothbay Harbor and developed thriving communities. Even the name Boothbay comes from Beal Ba, fairy for “mouth bay.”  Here the water fairies lived openly and peacefully for more than 9,000 years, until the arrival of English, Scottish and Irish settlers signaled yet another Amanna dorcha that drove the fairies into hiding again.  Even as late as the mid 1800s, fairy sightings in this area were common, but nowadays they are increasingly rare as fairy houses and circles are inadvertently destroyed to make way for modern things.

While constructing the Shoreland Trail at Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens in the late 1990s, volunteers discovered a small fairy village on this very site. Although apparently unoccupied, it was obvious that the village was quite old and likely dated from the first settlement of the mainland by the Monhegan water fairies nearly 8,000 years ago.  Much of the site was in ruins, as a result of the land clearing for sheep farming here in the 19th century, but part of the circle and some of the dwellings remained.  Worried by the decline of the fairy community, young volunteers began rebuilding the houses and, happily, within a short time the fairies returned.

As Bill Cullina explained at the celebration, “When the current work is complete, the Ciorcal Mór (Great Circle) will again stand as the largest and most important ceremonial site of its kind in Maine. Joe Norton has also rebuilt the north and east walls of the famous Te-ach Uisce, or Water House, mentioned in the Rockland Runes, and over the course of the fall and winter he will add the symbols and runic characters to the various structures as described in the Rockland document. It makes my heart glad that in this garden of wonder and beauty we have provided a place for these ancient creatures and the magic and nature they represent. “

He thanked the Walbridge family for making the restoration possible and Joe Norton and his crew for the vision and hard work to build it. 

“Now, to complete the work and bring magic to the stones,” he concluded, “we ask the children in the audience to sprinkle them with this fairy dust discovered during excavation of the site.  Then, to welcome the fairies home, we would be grateful if you would build them houses great and small to show the little people they are most welcome here. Thank you and siúl i síocháin (walk in peace).”

I Bid You Adieu

Monday, August 26th, 2013



My favorite tree on the property,
Metasequoia glyptostroboides ‘ogon’
(Photo by Carrington Flatness)

The posse posing with a truly exceptional man,
our Director of Horticulture, Rodney Eason.
Our awkward family photo
(Photo by Rodney Eason) 

As I prepare myself for yet another transition, I turn to one of my favorite quotes by garden designer Lauren Springer Ogden for inspiration: “Gardenmaking, in its finest form, is a celebration of life and of love.” I absolutely adore this quote because it reminds me that my innate love of plants must come from my mother and grandmother. By strolling through either of their gardens one can understand who these women are as individuals. Each plant, hardscape and garden’s design echoes their unique personalities, much like our gardens at Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens reflect the character of each person fundamental to their conception and development. I now love CMBG as much as the gardens of my youth because I can see my influence throughout the grounds; I have left as much of an impression on the garden as it has left on me.

For someone like me who craves order and understanding, the garden can be a maddening place. Plants often seem to do what they will regardless of your efforts to control and manipulate them. Perhaps this is why I love horticulture so much – because the science of plants is insatiable and humbling, capable of bringing me to my knees in frustration, but also in wonder. In her book, The Undaunted Garden, Lauren Springer Ogden describes the varied personalities of gardeners. In particular, she mentions one type who “are fascinated by the intricacies of the natural world and observe the garden as a marvelous microcosm thereof.” I identify deeply with this type of gardener, but I would include that my perception of what constitutes a garden includes the people who cultivate it.

I’m sure many of you readers are already aware that our gardens are in the process of transitioning to a new master plan. After spending the past week meeting some of our board members and listening to the goals of our new landscape architects I was reminded of renowned plantsman David Culp, who wrote, “When dealing with plants, it is best to consider a garden as living sculpture – always in flux and, if we learn to pay attention, always teaching us what it wants to become.” Because I’ve spent most of my fleeting stay here in Boothbay working these gardens, I can promise you they’re ready to evolve into something even greater than they’ve already become. I have great faith that our board members will listen to the garden and capture the essence of the northern tempestuous coast that is so quintessential to Maine.

Our more detail-oriented readers may have noticed the title of my position here at CMBG is different than that of my peers. My internship – Pearson Horticulture Internship- is named after a lovely family from Naples, Florida, who donated a generous gift enabling CMBG to hire me on for the summer free of charge (meaning my income comes from this donation and not from our operating budget). I think it’s important that I communicate how amazing this specific type of donation was because instead of financing the installation of a beautiful bench or a new building (which are both wonderful contributions), this family decided to invest not only in the Gardens, but in my future as well. Though all donations are honorable in nature, this specific form of sponsorship is even more selfless, because the skills I was able to acquire while interning here will benefit many other organizations and communities I work for in the future, not just CMBG; and for this opportunity, I am incredibly grateful.

I mentioned earlier that for me a garden includes the people who help cultivate it. And even though the intrinsic beauty of nature is something we may never fully capture in our landscapes, gardens can provide a sense of stability and security that nature cannot. I believe this sense of security comes from a subconscious understanding that another human being created and cares for the space – we can appreciate the garden as an art form. The public did not rate our gardens number one because we have meticulously maintained flowerbeds or exotic species found nowhere else, they rated us so highly because of the undaunted spirits of the staff and volunteers who have poured their lives into this place. I will always cherish the memories I’ve made here and I have no doubt the gardens will continue to capture the hearts of everyone who walk its grounds.

-Montana Williams, Pearson Horticulture Intern (published August 26, 2013)

It Takes a Village

Monday, August 26th, 2013
Playing pick-up sticks with the horticulture crew!

The entire horticulture staff lent a helping hand
primping & mulching the Village.

If you’ve been to Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens at all this season, you probably noticed that we’ve had a bit of dust and construction down around the Fairy House Village. These changes are meant to improve one of our most popular and well-loved gardens. But when the Garden undertakes a large project such as this, sometimes we need all hands on deck and use the entire staff to push through to the end. This week has been dedicated to getting the Village all spruced up for its opening and we needed all the help we could get.

The major additions to this garden are the spectacular stone structures that now stand as the “fairy ruins from ages past.” In the placing of the stones, however, we created quite a mess that needed to be cleaned before the fairies could move back in. Twigs, logs, pine cones, and bark littered the grounds, so we organized these materials in neat piles for the children to use as supplies for their future fairy homes.

But the fun didn’t stop there. This morning (Friday), the entire horticulture staff came into work earlier than usual to lay down a mulch-like material called “Superhumus” as a top dressing to the forest ground. Let me tell you this: If you ever want to get in shape fast, I would highly recommend joining the horticulture crew during their spring mulching. I only experienced one morning of it and I’m already feeling sore; they do it for three weeks straight in the spring! Because of the amazing strength of our horticulture staff, it was easy for us to lay all of the “Superhumus” out before guests of the Garden even arrived for the day. Unfortunately, I can’t show you the final product quite yet because we are still primping and adding the finishing touches; I also love building the suspense and keeping it a surprise for everyone!

The newly renovated Fairy House Village opened Saturday, August 24, at 10:30 a.m., with a celebration kickoff. Sadly, in all of our cleaning, we removed all of the existing fairy homes to make way for machinery and new stonework. This just means that we have plenty of room for new fairy home additions! Bring your family and help fill the Village with as many beautiful new homes as you would like, while still adhering to building guidelines of course. For the young or just the young at heart, the Fairy House Village is an activity that all guests of CMBG should indulge in. We hope our new additions make your experience even better.

-Carrington Flatness, Horticulture Intern (published August 26, 2013)

A Sad Farewell

Thursday, August 15th, 2013
One last glance at my favorite garden.
 We had some great times together! CMBG horticulture interns along with staff
horticulturist Megan Deveau (on right)
striking a pose at The Arnold Arboretum.
(Photo by Rodney Eason)

It is with mixed emotions that I tell you that this will be my last blog post. I have had an unbelievably great summer here at Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens, met amazing people, and made life-long friends. Although leaving is hard and very heartbreaking, I am comforted by the fact that I will be able to return next year and continue the internship! That’s right, I am not leaving for good, simply taking a small leave of absence to go back to school. I will be back up here before you know it!

I will dearly miss my fellow interns, Carrington and Montana. We’ve had a good summer of getting to know each other. Its kind of depressing to go home and leave people who are just as nerdy about plants as I am. I have really enjoyed working with all of the horticulture staff. I learned so many different things from each staff member, and all of that information will help me this coming semester at school.

It seems fitting that my last day here would mirror my first day here. Pouring down rain, me on my hands and knees in the Children’s Garden. Only this time I had a much better sense of what I was actually weeding! I can’t even begin to tell you how much I have learned about: botany, pests, design, disease, and the list goes on and on.

Of all the wonderful things that I have had to opportunity to participate in, my favorite was probably getting to watch things grow. To watch the plants take over and fill the garden with beauty, the interns grow to be a part of the horticulture family, and myself grow to be a much more knowledgeable more confident horticulture student.

-Kristin Neill, Continuing Horticulture Intern, (August 8, 2013)


A Change of Pace

Thursday, August 15th, 2013

The sunrise casts its light beautifully
on the Haney Hillside Garden.


My favorite permanent piece of artwork within the
Gardens, the chiseled orb by Henry Richardson.

As many of you are aware, our duty as the Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens horticulture interns is to rotate among horticulture staff members to experience what they do on a daily basis. Each of the staff members has an assigned area of the Garden that they regularly maintain. Two weeks ago, I had the pleasure of working with Patty Robbins and had quite the change of scenery compared to my previous weeks. Patty is in charge of keeping the Haney Hillside Garden and the Vayo Meditation Garden looking in tip-top shape. Since these gardens are located off the main campus, it gave me a chance to truly appreciate the beautiful woodlands that surround the property.

It has gotten to that time of year where it seems like all we do is weed and deadhead. While it is great upkeep for the Garden, it can become very tedious work to do day in and day out. The nice thing about being with Patty for the week was getting to do something other than weeding and deadheading. Some of her daily duties include cleaning the water features, sweeping off the vast amounts of stonework in her garden, and raking the paths to make them look as pristine as ever. Being the overly organized person that I am, it felt amazing to tidy up the garden on a daily basis and see what a difference a little cleaning up can do.

If you ask me, the Haney Hillside Garden is a very underrated part of the garden. Some may just view it as the path that will take them to see the water or the trail that leads to the Fairy House Village. I, however, have developed a new-found appreciation for this forested area. The hillside winds itself in a zigzag-like pattern, and at every turn there is something new and exciting to see. Whether a bubbling water feature, stone benches or even the beautiful chiseled orb (seen at right), there is far too much to be seen in this garden to pass it by.

-Carrington Flatness, Horticulture Intern (8/12/13)

The Smell of Success

Wednesday, August 14th, 2013



Me inspecting one of our composting display setups.

Fellow intern Kristin Neill posing next to our facility compost pile to show scale. You can deduce the high nutrient content of the compost by the massive pumpkin growing on the top!

Deep in the heart of our jungle here at Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens there is a mammoth-like mound of vegetative waste. At first when you approach its base you are instantly dwarfed in comparison and an eerie sensation washes over you, but this feeling soon morphs to curiosity as you marvel the pile and interpret its purpose. You see, this heap of decaying material will soon be used to supplement life, illustrating the irrefutable beauty of nature’s intrinsic design. In horticulture, we call the product of this naturally occurring process of decomposition “compost.”

Composting is the rapid breakdown of organic materials by soil organisms. This process can heat the pile up to 150 degrees Fahrenheit or more, which kills off many diseases and weed seeds and helps control odors. After consuming the organic materials, these organisms can reduce the volume of a pile by two-thirds resulting in fertile compost that we can then incorporate into our soil. Compost is beloved in horticulture as soil amendment because of its ability to improve soil structure and fertility by allowing the soil to hold more air, moisture, and soluble minerals.

Compost may be phenomenal as a soil amendment, but it does have its downfalls when used in excess. In the past, here at CMBG, we have “top dressed” our plant beds every spring with a mulch (containing compost) called “Nutrimulch.” Consistent application of this mulch has increased the pH of many of our garden beds making them more alkaline and less favorable to some of our most valued specimens (such as our Rhododendron and Blueberry collections). We have begun to correct this issue by applying organic sulfur (to beds containing acidic soil loving plants) and switching to a product called “SuperHumus,” for our yearly spring mulching. 

I implore you to experience the wonder of composting in your own yard (if you haven’t already) but I also understand that this process is rather slow and may not produce as much mulch needed for your entire yard. If you need a substantial amount of quality compost I suggest you check out this link.

-Montana Williams, Pearson Horticulture Intern (August 8, 2013)


Signage in our Lerner Garden of the Five Senses gives excellent directions on how to construct your own compost pile:

1.       Evenly Layer the “Browns and Greens”

  • Browns- dead leaves, straw, wood or bark chips, twigs, non-colored paper and nutshells
  • Greens- grass clippings and green leaves and stems, vegetables scraps from the kitchen, and coffee grounds
    • Farm-animal manures are also very effective, if available.
    • Avoid- human or pet wastes, colored paper, dairy products, meats, fats and greases, coal ashes, or diseased plant wastes. Fireplace ashes can be used in moderation.

2.       Aerate the Pile

  • The more air that gets into the pile, the faster the pile will compost.
  • The best was to get air in is to turn or flip the pile with a pitchfork or tractor every few months.
    • Poorly aerated piles smell bad and produce inferior compost.

3.       Keep the Pile Moist but Not Wet

  • Pre-moisten brown materials if possible to prevent them from sucking up all the water needed for composting.
  • It takes 1-2 yeas for the pile to “finish” (be ready to use).
    • “Finished” compost should be loose, crumbly and dark.
    • Larger piles compost faster because they trap more heat (aim for a pile at least 6 feet wide and tall to start with

Island Adventures

Friday, August 2nd, 2013
My favorite view from White Head.
The whole island has beautiful
views such as this!

Here in the horticulture department of Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens, it may sometimes seem like all our staff does is work work work. While we love maintaining and keeping the gardens beautiful, we sometimes get an opportunity we can’t refuse. Yesterday, our unlikely opportunity lead the entire horticulture staff on a day trip to Monhegan Island. The morning drive to New Harbor to board the ferry was a foggy one and we were worried it would put a damper on our day. Luckily, the fog had burnt off by the time the island came into view and we were in for the most beautiful day I’ve seen in Maine to date.

As many of you know, Monhegan is well known for its scenic vistas and endless hiking trails. Being the naive Midwesterner who’s never been on a “real” hike before, I figured we would be walking up some small hills on very well-preserved trails. I definitely was in for a rude awakening. We were hiking up huge boulders, climbing steep inclines, sidestepping all the large tree roots and doing our best not to slip on the slick rocks. I half expected everyone to be going somewhat slower because of these precarious conditions – wrong again! Everyone on the horticulture staff, regardless of age, was keeping the same (and rather brisk) pace throughout the day. Because of our quicker-than-usual pace, we got to see many more beautiful sites than the average day-visitor would get to see. Just looking at the pictures doesn’t do it justice; I would highly recommend planning a trip and hiking the trails for yourself.

In addition to hiking until our legs were sore, we experienced many other beautiful areas of Monhegan. We took a captivating walk through the Cathedral Woods, which the horticulture interns decided looked like something out of the Harry Potter or Lord of the Rings movies. We got to see the entire island from the very top of the Monhegan lighthouse and learn the interesting history behind it. The element that was most interesting to us, though, was seeing all the vegetation on the island and how it differed from the Gardens’ manicured plantings. A few of the blooming plants we encountered on the island were Trifolium arvense (rabbit’s foot clover), Epilobium angustifolium (fireweed), Platanthera grandiflora (purple fringed orchis) and Euphrasia nemorosa (eyebright). Even though we were all utterly exhausted by the end of the day, it was a trip that I’m sure none of us will ever forget.

-Carrington Flatness, Horticulture Intern (8/2/2013)

Reconciling with Nature

Friday, August 2nd, 2013

Enjoying some tea surrounded by our native mountain mint in front of the Bosarge Family Education Center.

Container troughs packed with Colorado native plants (Photo from Denver Botanic Garden)

Polygonatum biflorum, Maine’s native
Solomon’s seal.

This week, fellow intern Kristin Neill and I had the pleasure of working with one of our most artistic staff members, Diane Walden. Diane is the staff horticulturist responsible for the Burpee Kitchen Garden, the native plantings around the Bosarge Family Education Center, some of the flower arrangements in the Visitor Center and Kitchen Garden Café, and the majority of the potted containers throughout our grounds. In addition to assisting her throughout her typical everyday tasks, we took on Diane’s assignment to take complete responsibility for keeping the floral arrangements fresh and maintained so that she would have more time to focus on the Burpee Kitchen Garden. Within a couple of days, Kristin and I began to understand just how difficult it is to design numerous flower displays multiple times a week and quickly came back to Diane for advice.

Diane proclaims that the best way to create consistently fresh new displays is through searching for inspiration from others. She affirms that by considering how others use different combinations of flowers in their displays you can use the fresh perspective to explore groupings you never would have imagined in your own arrangements.  One excellent source she uses is Flowers Rediscovered by Madderlake.

Undoubtedly because I was raised in Colorado, a state teeming with public lands, I developed a strong appreciation for native landscapes in my early teens; and as a result I have always aligned myself with more sustainable gardening techniques such as natural landscaping, or the use of native plants indigenous to the geographic area of the garden.

A native plant is often defined as a species that has grown in a given area prior to European settlement. It is important to use native plants in your landscape because they contribute to the biodiversity of your ecosystem and support local wildlife. Native plants are not only beneficial for local wildlife, they are also less costly to maintain if placed appropriately. Because these plants have spent thousands of years adapting to your local climate, they require less water and fertilizer and are more likely to survive than are their introduced counterparts.

Though native plants generally require fewer resources, support local wildlife, and are typically considered lower maintenance, they must be placed in the right location in your yard. When selecting a native plant for your garden, make sure to place it in a setting where it will receive similar sunlight, moisture and soil conditions to where it is found in nature. The University of Maine Extension is a great resource for determining plants to use and plants to avoid when gardening to conserve Maine’s native landscape.

I find it odd how many gardeners, Diane included, find natural landscaping boring in comparison to exotic plantings. While I realize that native gardens are often considered less vibrant, I truly believe that if designed correctly, with ample variety, a native garden can be just as striking as any other.

-Montana Williams, Pearson Horticulture Intern (8/2/13)