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Category: News

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) 

Flowers Become Art

Wednesday, July 31st, 2013
 My first work of floral art!

Check the table behind the front
counter to see these vases!


Flowers serve no purpose in our lives. The natural world needs them and they are used to ensure the survival of their species, but they are of no use to us. Still we have managed to create a significance and a need for flowers. They symbolize not only beauty, but also a multitude of other meanings.

If you’ve been to the Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens, I’m sure you’ve noticed several of the arrangements in the Visitor Center. At the Gardens, we value our appearance and want to portray beauty throughout our whole premises. The floral arrangements are one way of doing that. Flowers brighten up any room; they bring life to a dull space and add a touch of art where there was none. You can create beautiful floral arrangements by putting cuttings in plain water or by using a product called oasis. Oasis is also called floral foam and can be either wet or dry. At the Gardens we use wet floral foam. It soaks up water like a sponge and has a structure that is similar to that of plants so that the plants are able to absorb the water from them.

I’ve always seen vases and floral arrangements, but I’ve never actually created one. Diane, one of the staff horticulturalists, revealed to fellow-intern Montana and me that we would be in charge of all the floral arrangements inside the building. Montana wasn’t as thrilled about this opportunity as I was. I was pretty excited. I’ve always been a pretty creative person and finally got the chance to see if I have what it takes. In choosing flowers and foliage, we must choose plants that have abundance or will not show thinning. Montana and I walked through the gardens and just cut random plants. We really had no plan when we were collecting, we just kind of saw something cool and cut a small amount to try it out. When cutting to better preserve the flower, it’s best to immediately put it in water and then sometime re-cut the stem under the water. 

After you collect the cuttings, you then arrange them in the most creative design possible. You will typically need some amount of height to offset the vase size. You can create a fuller effect by adding foliage as well as cut flowers. Some people like simple designs, while others like outrageous ones; the choice is all yours.

-Kristin Neill, Horticulture Intern (July 29, 2013)

To The City!

Wednesday, July 31st, 2013

CMBG horticulture interns along with staff
horticulturist Megan Deveau (on right)
striking a pose at The Arnold Arboretum.
(Photo by Rodney Eason)


One of the striking views within
Mount Auburn Cemetery.
(Photo by Montana Williams)

Yesterday, the Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens interns were able to go on a very special field trip. We left at the crack of dawn to drive down to Boston, Massachusetts, to visit some of the horticulture hot-spots of the area. After making our way through the crazy city traffic, we found our first stop at The Arnold Arboretum of Harvard University. This arboretum was established back in 1872; as you probably could have guessed, we ran into some pretty old trees, and I fell in love with all of them. My favorite tree we saw was a Metasequoia glyptostroboides (dawn redwood) in the arboretum parking lot. With the four of us (as seen on your right) connected by our hands, we could just BARELY wrap all of our arms around the entire trunk of the tree! It just so happens that this particular Metasequoia is one of the oldest living specimens in the country and the very tree that inspired Arnold Arboretum’s logo.

We met up with Michael Dosmann (Curator of Living Collections) and Andrew Gapinski (Supervisor of Horticulture) for a short, guided tour of the arboretum. In terms of acreage, Arnold is a bit bigger than CMBG – we have about 250 acres and they have 281. Just think of all of the history in those 281 acres! It seemed like we walked around a large portion of the arboretum, but we definitely didn’t get to see everything. I would say I’m not alone in wishing we had much more time to wander the grounds.

Our next stop was to travel to the other side of town to Mount Auburn Cemetery. At first, fellow horticulture intern Kristin Neill and I were skeptical about visiting a cemetery; it’s not a type of place we visit often. But after stepping inside the gates, we quickly changed our minds. Like Arnold, Mount Auburn has a vast collection of very old and large trees that are simply breathtaking. We were lucky enough to steal away President and CEO Dave Barnett for a while to get a guided tour of the cemetery. We even got to view the mausoleums of some very noteworthy people, such as Isabella Stewart Gardner and George Cabot Lodge. The rich history and beautiful plantings of Mount Auburn truly make it a one-of-a-kind spot in the city of Boston.

-Carrington Flatness, Horticulture Intern (July 26, 2013)

Beautiful for a Day

Thursday, July 25th, 2013



My first attempt at floral arranging.


Hemerocallis from my backyard.

Fellow intern Kristin and I sporting our CMBG pride with fairy wings (every Friday the garden hosts fairy-related activities for the kids. You can purchase your own wings at our gift shop!)

Everyone understands the delightful rush you get when you arise from your bed and realize that it’s Friday. I woke up this particular Friday eagerly anticipating the adventures I had planned for my weekend, only to arrive at work and discover that it was my turn for the dreaded “weekend duty.” My visions of a leisurely respite were quickly shattered.

To my surprise, and in contrast with my strenuous weekday shifts, weekend shifts are by no means arduous here at Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens. In fact, my weekend duties consisted of strolling through our beautiful grounds, watering, deadheading plants, and chatting with our guests – all perfectly enjoyable tasks. I was even urged to express my creative side by putting together floral arrangements for staff horticulturist Diane Walden, and let me tell you that was no easy job! If you’re like me -completely addlepated by creativity- and you need some inspiration to access your inner floral designer, check out this link.

While working this weekend, I deadheaded more Hemerocallis, or daylilies, than I can count, and I was often asked why we spend so much time on this tedious task. While our primary reason for devoting such a large portion of our time to deadheading is aesthetics, the practice may encourage many perennials (including the daylily) to produce more blooms over a greater amount of time. The word Hemerocallis translates from its Greek origins to “beautiful for a day” (hence the common name, daylily). Anyone who has ever grown daylilies understands why this name is fitting for the plant, as it requires daily deadheading in order to keep it looking flawless. Unfortunately for the CMBG horticulture staff, this requires that we are forever trapped in a deadheading frenzy for the sake of our delightful daylilies, so please come visit us and appreciate the rewards of our never-ending, but worthwhile toil!

-Montana Williams, Pearson Horticulture Intern (7/25/13)

The Scientific Side

Wednesday, July 24th, 2013
 The soil pH testing kit we used
 The samples and the pH value to compare them to.

As many of you know, at Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens we have a lot of planting to do each spring. Then the summer weeds spring up and the horticulture team jumps into action keeping them at bay. Much of the time its a simple matter of obtaining the plants and then exerting a little energy to get them into the ground. On occasion, though, we run into some problems. Plants are all unique and each requires something different from the soil its planted in. Some plants enjoy highly acidic soils, while others prefer more alkaline soils.

Not all of the beds that we have at the Gardens are the same pH; many have been altered to allow for a variety of plants. I was sent out to measure the pH of a bed that was almost barren. I was so excited when Justin Nichols, a staff horticulturalist, sent me off on a mission to do this. Although it was very simple, I enjoyed the opportunity to do something slightly more scientific than planting.  Using a Cornell pH testing kit, I found that the pH of the bed was around 6.7. Testing your own soil pH is very simple, you can obtain a soil pH test at your local hardware store or extension service. Once you have a kit, take a small sample of soil and put it into the container provided, then add the indicator. Our standard kit came with two indicators: Chlorphenol red (soil pH range 5.0 to 6.2) and Bromthymol blue (soil pH range 6.0 to 7.2). When you have your sample in their container, add several drops of each indicator to each sample. From my pictures you can see that I did both and found the Chlorphenol red indicated far above any of the given pH values. The Bromthymol blue tested sample was really the only one we needed, showing a result fairly close to 6.7. 

Rhododendrons thrive in slightly acidic soils with a pH between 4.5 and 5.5. To learn more about rhododendrons click here.  As stated before, the pH of the bed I tested was about 6.7. That is just too alkaline to plant the rhododendrons in, so we have to change the soil acidity. In order to do that we will use a product that you can get at almost any garden store in the country, Espoma Soil Acidifier. Using the directions we will mix in the product until the bed reads the pH of 5. This ensures that the rhododendrons will live happily ever after in that bed. I greatly enjoyed taking a break from the crazy world of weeding and deadheading to pull my inner scientist out and do some testing.

-Kristin Neill, Horticulture Intern (July 22, 2013)


“Martha Stewarting”

Friday, July 19th, 2013

Sharmon showing me how to use our surveying equipment


The surveying equipment we used


New Pines emerging from an old tree trunk in the Giles Rhododendron Garden

Looking for a way to escape the aberrant heat of this week’s weather and desiring to further my experience working with our collections management software, I was thankful when our Plant Collections Coordinator and Propagator, Sharmon Provan, asked me to help her map the new additions to the Perennial and Rose Garden. Last week I became more familiar with the BG-Base software, but I didn’t have the chance to use BG-Map (mapping software that links to the plant records stored in BG-BASE). To reiterate, “BG-Base is a database application designed to manage information on biological (primarily botanical) collections.”

In order to map collections and hardscape features in the gardens, we use a total station (an electronic/optical instrument used in surveying). One person feeds data into a Field PC from the head of the station and the other stands at the coordinate (or location of the plant) we are trying to determine with a prism pole. The station determines the coordinates of the pole by measuring the time it takes for a laser to reach the prism pole and reflect back to the station. Even though I was still in the sun, holding a pole is far less strenuous than pulling bindweed, so I was very grateful to be what the other staff members playfully refer to as “the prism princess” for Sharmon. 

It’s fair to say that my palette of skills in horticulture has expanded exponentially since I began my internship in June, but I would argue that just as valuable are the stories of my mentors, the CMBG horticulture staff. Though I’ve heard many excellent stories this week, here’s one of my favorite memories the staff has shared with me. I’m told that when the gardens were first being constructed the horticulture staff was assigned the tedious task of removing dead or severely damaged trees from the woods (or at least removing those trees visible to the public). They would spend days trekking across the grounds trying to make the wooded trails as pristine as possible. Because the staff felt slightly ridiculous cleaning the woods, they refer to this activity as “Martha Stewarting the woods.” After spending the past eight weeks taking in the beauty of our facility, I think even the queen of home décor would have to admit they did an excellent job making our trails look flawless!   

-Montana Williams, Pearson Horticulture Intern   (July 19, 2013) 


The Dreaded Deer Fence

Wednesday, July 17th, 2013
 A view of the deer fence.
Even with the heat, the woods
are truly gorgeous.

On July 15, staff horticulturalist Justin Nichols and I went on a trek through the Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens woods. Our hike was not simply for the fun of it; we were on a mission to check the deer fence. Now, you may have heard of the deer fence before in fellow horticulture intern Carrington’s blog post. The deer fence is the large black fence that surrounds the property. It is necessary to keep the gardens as beautiful as they are. We couldn’t have a bunch of rogue deer running around now, could we? Starting this adventure, I thought it would be simple because I had an experienced deer-fence walker with me, but I was wrong. I totally underestimated the physical demands this task would require. If you enjoy hiking, this walk would be a blast! Climbing over fallen trees and trekking through swamps was a large part of our adventure.

We started off the journey walking along the path next to the fence. The terrain became increasingly difficult once we were ten minutes in. In the heat today, it felt like we were climbing a mountain. The terrain was uphill and covered in rocks, stumps, and multiple trees that we had to push through. Due to my severe lack of coordination, I must say I was not much help in pointing out problems with the deer fence, as I was too busy making sure I didn’t fall. Luckily I was able to stay on my feet the whole trip ’round! When we did find a problem in the fence, such as its being too low, or ripped, Justin and I had some zip ties and U nails that we could hammer into the trees to help keep the fence up. We didn’t have all the tools necessary to keep the fence up, though, so we had to be innovative in a few areas. We were able to rig up sticks as posts and keep the fence a little higher and throw dead limbs and other objects in places where animals could get through the bottom. Since I had never been out on the walk, I had no idea that we found more problems than normal. We did our best to fix each one.

One of the craziest parts of this hike was that we saw a fawn inside the fence while we were walking. Again I was so busy looking at my feet that I was temporarily terrified when Justin screamed. I believe the deer must have been terrified, too, because it took off running. Poor thing ran straight into the fence in its terror! Although its horrible to say, it was quite entertaining to watch it try to escape us. Finally it decided to squeeze under the fence. It was incredible! The fence was maybe two inches off the ground and it managed to wriggle its way out. If you’ve ever seen a video of a cat going under a door, that is exactly what it reminded me of.

We made sure to hydrate before we left, but the heat was so intense that it didn’t last long. By the end of the journey I was definitely dehydrated, and when we got back to the horticulture building I took my place holding a chair down and eating frozen grapes. It was unbelievable how exhausting simply hiking around in the heat could be. It was hard journey, but fun even; and with Justin there is always something to talk about or laugh at! Even though I was so tired, it was a great learning experience and vital to the success of the garden to make sure we keep those pesky deer out!

-Kristin Neill, Horticulture Intern (July 16, 2013)

Public Enemy Number One

Tuesday, July 16th, 2013
A favorite spot of the Japanese beetles
Showing off the size of a single beetle

Being at Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens these past few weeks, I’ve been in awe of how beautiful and lush all our plants look. I might be a little biased, but many of the plants in the garden look better than I’ve seen anywhere else before. I must have been blinded by beauty and couldn’t see the problem that was looming in the near future: the Japanese beetles were about to emerge for the season. I’ve been bitten to pieces by mosquitoes and deer flies since working in Maine, but since the Japanese beetles are messing with my beloved plants, they are easily my biggest enemy in the pest world.

It seems impossible that I could forget about Japanese beetles being here because we have just as many flying around at home in Illinois. These beetles were accidentally introduced to North America in 1916 and have since been making their way across the country in a “wave-like” pattern. Montana Williams, another horticulture intern from Colorado, had actually never seen a Japanese beetle until just last week, since the bugs have not yet made it that far west. I have been hoping the wave would die out a bit and we would start getting fewer and fewer beetles. But alas, I will have to keep wishing.

So why do I hate Japanese beetles so much? It’s easy: They destroy beautiful plants for their feeding needs. We would try to get rid of the plants they think are the tastiest, but that’s much easier said than done. The beetles feed on more than 300 different plant species! One of the plants I’ve noticed they are very fond of are roses and they will tear them to unrecognizable shreds. Luckily, the beetles are very easy to spot with their iridescent bodies, so you will definitely know if you have a Japanese beetle problem.

Now here is the second reason I dislike these beetles so much: They are tricky to get rid of. I know of people who have tried different insecticides and sprays in the past, but they don’t seem to affect the Japanese beetles very much. As far as we know right now, they don’t have a predator that will get rid of them naturally either. This leads us to the best way to rid yourself of these nasty bugs: hand picking. Yes, grabbing live bugs is definitely not one of my favorite things to do but they cannot hurt you in any way.

We like to use the soapy water technique here since it is immediately effective. I’ll explain: Fill a bucket with soapy water and head to the most beetle-infested area of your garden. Grab the Japanese beetles and toss them right into the water. (Tip: If you see a big gathering of beetles, try to carefully tip the plant over top of the bucket and brush them off into it. I’ve noticed that if you touch the bugs and miss the first time, they will fall off the plant and get away. This way, the beetles will instead fall straight to their death.) I know this may seem like a tedious task, but it is really the most efficient way of ridding yourself of the beetles.

The purpose of this blog post is to tell you that you’re not alone. No, the beetles are not just attacking your plants out of spite; it’s happening to all of us. Unfortunately for everyone, Japanese beetles are here and it doesn’t seem like they’re going anywhere for a while. Here at the Gardens, we are doing our best to fight off this plague of awful beetles to save as many of our plants as we can. Even if it means killing Japanese beetles one by one every day, one beetle can make all the difference. 

-Carrington Flatness, Horticulture Intern (July 14, 2013)