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Category: Gardens Aglow

Outdoor Lighting Tips

Friday, November 9th, 2018

Since getting outdoor lights evenly spaced—with all bulbs facing (more or less) in the same direction—during a Maine autumn is challenging to say the least, we thought we’d share some of our key designer, Anna Leavitt’s favorite tips.

1. Start small—choose key focal points, and begin by lighting just two or three items. Step back and see how that looks before adding new displays. Designer Anna Leavitt says, “The more intimate and secluded an area, try to keep it limited to only a few colors to avoid overwhelming the senses.”

2. Protect your trees— Avoid compacting the soil around trees with ladders and heavy boots, and avoid wrapping trunks and branches too tightly. If you damage your tree, especially in the winter, it’s much more susceptible to disease. Avoid nails, staples, screws or hooks. If your lights need securing, try electrical tape or clips like parapet clips instead, which are especially designed to mount holiday lights.

3. “Think about each area separately,” Leavitt continues. “I choose a different color theme for each area and within each there are certain ways to think about color. For example, the Children’s Garden is a little crazy and has lots of colors, whereas the Woodland Garden is kept to two or three main cohesive colors to create a more intimate space. Last year we tried red, orange, and yellow with accents of other colors. This year we’re going for blue, aqua, and purple.”

4. Imagine what you can see when standing in different spots in your yard. “In the winter with no trees on the leaves, and also at night with bright LEDs, you can see A LOT and FAR. The colors within a garden not only have to look good together, but they have to blend with the surrounding gardens, and each garden hopefully transitions nicely into the next. Think about the ground plane, foreground and background, height. Add dimension—think about both the horizontal and the vertical and consider ground covers like stake lighting or outlining paths and driveways.”

5. Avoid the temptation of overload—not only can you overload your circuits (unless, of course, you use LED lights), but you can overload your senses. Start small (see item 1) and go from there. Maybe even sleep on your display before adding to it. “And be sure to check it out after dark,” Leavitt advises. “That’s the best way to see if you have holes in your design.”

6. Think inside the box—besides trees, there are oodles of lighting options for the gardener. Have a window box? You can coil light strands on top of the soil, then plant small, hardy shrubs or insert branches (paint them white, gold, or silver for extra holiday oomph). In addition to window boxes, you can try the same trick with planters on your property. Cone trees—either store-bought or homemade—are also a good alternative to wrapping living trees and shrubs. Or if you have a birdbath in your yard, you can pile battery-lit globes or spheres in and around it for a variety of visuals. Alternatively, try twisting rope lighting into various shapes and hanging them from trees or your porch, creating snowflake-like shapes. Disguise the cord with ribbon, if you’d like.

7. When choosing trees to illuminate, deciduous trees are the easiest choice, since they’re easily accessible and the trunks and branches offer a striking silhouette. Opt for interesting trees, but also be sure to choose trees that are strong enough to withstand the weight of the lights in addition to the harsh weather conditions of winter. It might be needless to say, but don’t choose trees that come in contact with power lines.

8. Remember your budget—think about the circumference of a tree and how many times you’d need to wrap it. Plan and budget for every tree, shrub, or stone wall you want to wrap or drape.

9. Other materials—you need more than lights to create a magical (and safe) holiday display. You’ll want a sturdy ladder (and someone to spot you), gloves, lights, and clips (remember a staple gun and/or nails can damage a trunk). If you’re wrapping a tree with rugged bark, you probably won’t need anything to fasten the lights to the tree.

10. When wrapping, start from the base, and make sure it’s the visible base. That is, if your tree’s base is hidden by shrubs or stonework, begin at the visible line. Then, start wrapping and space your lines evenly. One easy way to ensure even spacing is to use four fingers between strands as you wrap. When wrapping branches, leave twice that much space so when you double-back, the spacing will stay consistent.

11. It probably could go without saying, but we’ll say it anyway—test your lights and the connections between your strands of lights.

12. Keep track: “I keep track of everything in an Excel spreadsheet, and it’s been updated over the years, so we know how many strands go on each tree or structure and we can keep track of what colors have been done in the past. I also note whether it can be done from the ground, a short ladder or a tall one, or the lift so that I know who—and how many—I need for each task,” Leavitt says.

Color Palettes & Combinations

Wednesday, November 7th, 2018

Since it sets the tone for the overall feel of your design, your color palette may be the most important decision you make when you begin your holiday lighting adventures. Color combinations involving red, white, and green typically feel more classic, while unexpected colors like teal or pink feel more whimsical. When selecting your color scheme, think about the scope of your area and try for cohesion, rather than an overwhelming display of color.

Schemes we use in the Gardens:
• All white (very simple and evocative of winter)
• Multicolor strands (cheerful and childlike)
• Purple and yellow (unexpected and enlivening)
• Two shades of the same color (i.e. we used two shades of pink on the big sugar maple last year)
• Red, orange, and yellow (a fiery burst of color in the midst of winter)
• Pink, warm white, aquamarine, and purple (quirky and frosty)
• White and green (an elegant statement on the season)
• Red and blue (fire and ice)
• Blue, purple, white, and aqua (joyous and reminiscent of brightly wrapped packages)

When it comes to wrapping your trees, your house, or setting up path lighting, you can choose from a variety of approaches.
Here are some we’ve tried in the Gardens:
• For an ombre effect, try stringing lights from dark to light, vertically.
• Choose your favorite color, and make that the dominant hue. Then, choose a complimentary color for your highlights.
• Try the 60-30-10 rule: 60% dominant color, 30% secondary, 10% accent if you’re covering a large amount of space.
• Or try the rule of three: limit your palette to just three colors for an organized, well-balanced design.

Crafting with Greenery

Friday, October 26th, 2018

Winter décor and evergreens seem to go hand in hand. Ever thought to wonder why? Besides the fact that evergreens are often the only sign of life in an otherwise cold, dormant world, they have long been a symbol of life and health. Filling our homes with fragrant pine boughs follows in the footsteps of ancient cultures—all over the world for thousands of years, green plants have been used in solstice celebrations.

Traditionally, the oil and resin of fir trees have been used for their antiseptic properties, and bringing boughs into the home can help freshen and disinfect the air, protecting against respiratory illness—an added bonus in the months when we find ourselves gathered in warm, close spaces. Winding evergreens into circlets or wreaths not only brings this breath of fresh air inside where it will be most appreciated, but the shape represents the circle of life—a potent symbol at the solstice celebrating the returning of the light.

Tempted to craft your own winter décor?

We mined CMBG horticulturist Diane Walden’s 30+ years’ experience for some tips for decorating with evergreens. Walden advises gathering what you can from your own backyard as well as from wild, public spaces. Living as we do in the Pine Tree State, this is a relatively easy task and ensures that the wreaths we make are sustainable and very local.

(photo by Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Portland Press Herald via Getty Images)

If this is a project you’d like to take on, start now, says Walden—the earlier the better. Look around your property before the snow comes and pick up any windfalls. Pine cones, branches, rosehips, dried flower heads, seed pods, lichen, moss and berries all make wonderful additions to your wreath. If you gather them now and hang them to dry, they’ll be ready for holiday crafting.

“You can definitely start scoping out potential cuts. For example, hydrangea is perfect to cut early—but it’s best to cut evergreens only after we’ve had three nights of below-freezing temperatures,” advises Walden.

(Photo by Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Portland Press Herald via Getty Images)

To make your wreath:

  • For easy assembly, build your wreath on a wire frame. A well-cared for frame can last you many years. You’ll also need floral wire for attaching your greens to the frame.
  • Gather roughly eight pounds of greenery, cut 6-8” in length.
  • Take three to five pieces of your plant material, securing them in what’s called a hand—think of it as a mini pine bouquet. “This is the building block of wreath-making,” says Walden. “The larger the wreath, the larger the hand. I typically do oversized hands that make for a shaggier, more wild, more natural wreath.”
  • Attach a hand to the frame by wrapping the lower 1/2-1/3 of the individual bundle three times with your wire and pull tight. After you tie one hand to the frame, tie the next one 2-3” from the last. Keep going, overlapping your hands, until your frame is full.
  • Walden suggests alternating hands of different greens or using hands made up of mixed greens—experiment to see what feels right.
  • Once your frame is full (and don’t worry about so-called “perfection” here), you can weave in your add-ons. Mix up your vegetation (rosemary makes a wonderful wreath addition, as does juniper, cedar, or holly). This is the time to add your dried branches, flowers, seed heads, nuts, berries, seashells, or even a favorite ornament or two. One addition, however, that Walden advises against? “Bittersweet—it’s invasive and I hate to promote an invasive plant like that.”
  • To make your wreath last all season, hang it in a cooler section of your house and mist it occasionally with water to avoid drying and dropped needles.
  • You can make your wreath one- or two-sided. “Rarely does one have to make a two-sided wreath,” notes Walden. “It’s all about where it’s going—is it going to hang on a wall or solid door? Then one-sided is all you need. If it’s hanging from a glass storm door by a hanger, and if you’re planning to leave the interior door open to view the wreath from both sides, only then would you really want a two-sided wreath.”
  • Want to tackle a two-sider? Then every time you tie a hand to your frame, flip your ring over and tie another to the back.

Further Ideas

If you’ve gathered an enormous amount of greenery (or you just want to keep crafting), try filling a decorative basket with evergreen boughs and some of your add-ins. Prop the basket on a table or hang it on your door or above the mantel. For a smaller-scale creation, try bouquets of greenery—glass or ceramic wall vases make perfect vehicles for your leftover boughs.

Still have some extras? Think outside the box(wood)—in lieu of a bow, greenery also makes great gift toppers.
And after the holidays? “Whip on some suet blocks and hang your wreath outside for the birds. When the greens become unsightly, unwind the floral wire to disassemble your wreath,” Walden advises. Greens can be composted or tossed into the woods to decompose naturally.
Happy crafting!

Squirrels and Lights

Thursday, October 18th, 2018

Squirrels are no strangers to us here at the Gardens. At any given moment, you can hear them chattering from the nearby woods or dashing across your path. We couldn’t give you an exact count, but our horticulturists estimate their numbers to be in the billions.
Okay. That might be an exaggeration.

Of course, few predators coupled with plenty of water, trees, acorns, and in the spring, tulip bulbs make CMBG the perfect place for squirrels to take up residence.

So why, with all this natural abundance, do they feel the need to feast on the lights we’ve so painstakingly hung for Gardens Aglow?

What we do know is that we’re not the only light show with this issue. Boston faces the perennial problem of squirrels causing outages in the holiday lights strung on the Boston Common, ditto Toronto and the light show mounted at Mel Lastman Square. The Cincinnati Zoo and Botanical Garden, when faced with outages during their annual Festival of Lights, doused strands with hot sauce, hoping to repel the insatiable rodents from destroying the two million lights strung for the festival.

But according to a reporter for the Cincinnati Enquirer, the plan made little difference. “It seems,” he wrote, “the squirrels may like their cords with a little hot sauce.”

So why the interest in our lights? For one, squirrels are naturally curious and, apparently, they like the taste of copper. Another theory is that they like the taste of the soy-based plastics covering the wires. Of course, the connectors we use between strands look vaguely like acorns, and this is the time of year squirrels are programmed to collect as much food as possible.

True, too, that a rodent’s teeth grow continuously, and they love chewing wires, indulging their instinct to gnaw, keeping their teeth trimmed. In fact, according to the website, CyberSquirrel1, which monitors such things, squirrels have knocked out the power grid in various parts of the world over 850 times since 1987.

Regardless, any homeowner will tell you not only how ubiquitous, but how very determined squirrels are. We’ll never beat them, but perhaps we can deter them. Some experts advise applying chemical repellants like cayenne, mustard oil, soap, citrus peel, garlic, or predator urine. Some people report motion-activated sprinkler systems are the answer, although a Maine winter is probably not the best time to try that strategy.

The only solution seeming to have any lasting effect is humane relocation of problematic squirrel populations. Of course, with a population numbering a billion (or so), that option might keep us too busy to do anything else. Our horticulturists, instead, will try a spicy bouquet of natural deterrents and see how we go. Perhaps our squirrels have milder tastes than those city squirrels from Cincinnati…

Shhh! Plants are sleeping in these beds!

Friday, December 18th, 2015

When spring finally comes to the gardens, 35,000 tulips will pop through the soil of beds all over Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens, giving us an incredible display of color as the world comes out of its winter sleep. But before we see our incredible rainbow of flowers, these plants need to have things just right…

SM Tulips near Event Lawn

The sun’s rays act as a messaging system for plants. All summer long, the sun’s light tells tiny structures inside of green plant cells to create sugars that the plant will use as food. Those sugars are stored in a root or bulb under the soil, where it can be used even when the plant is done making food just as animals fatten up before hibernation. As the days get shorter, the sun’s message to make food is cut off, and the plant begins to rest, pulling its food from roots beneath the soil.

During the fall, some plants are getting their buds ready to burst the next spring. Cells whose only job is to help the plant to grow line up at the tips of the branches and bulbs of plants like tulips and peonies, where they wait for springtime to pop into action. Without these cells, these plants’ growth may be stunted, making short, misshapen plants, or worse—no plants at all.

tulip bulbs DSC_2197

If the soil is stepped on or crushed too tight around the bulbs, they won’t be able to get the water they need to make new cells, or the space to grow new roots to hold them in place in spring rainstorms.

Dan planting tulips

These big patches of soil in the gardens aren’t places where we’ve forgotten to plant. They are the place where all the action is happening! The tiny buds of peonies and food-filled bulbs of tulips are working hard to get ready to put on their spring show.

Keep your eyes out for places where the soil is bare, and help these plants survive the winter by staying on pathways or grassy areas. We can’t wait to see you—and our 35000 tulips!—this spring!

– Jo Gammans, volunteer and guest services coordinator

Dancing with the Lights

Thursday, November 12th, 2015

Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens is reopening this November 21 for an event called Gardens Aglow. The gardens will be decorated with thousands of different colored lights, some of which even interact with music. These special lights are called Lumenplay lights and, once programmed with the play list, are stunning to watch dance to the music. These lights are featured in the Lerner Garden of the Five Senses to create a full sensory experience that you don’t want to miss!
Gardens Aglow Blog Pic
Lumenplay lights are connected with an app that lets you sync music to the lights. This app will process the song and program the lights to dance along. They create this illusion using RGB LED lights which can produce millions of different colors that twinkle and flash at a range of speeds. We will have almost 2000 of these lights, covering 6 different trees! These magnificent trees are known as the “Dancing Maples” and are a sight to see!

The Lumenplay lights will be accompanied with seasonal classics featuring artists such as George Winston. Thanks to our 100 watt Soundcast speaker, people will be able to enjoy this music from essentially every point of the Lerner Garden. This speaker is so powerful that it can produce about ten times the sound of an everyday, old fashioned boom box. The Lumenplay lights will just be the icing on the cake. The entire garden is going to be full of amazing displays during the event, and we hope to see you during Gardens Aglow.
– Lisa Pawlowski