This blog won’t reveal secrets of state, weight loss, or celebrity scandal. Hopefully, it will reveal quite the opposite, giving you a respite from the ceaseless noise of the outside world.
Bear with me for a moment while I explain where this is coming from. In August, our staff and board members met with the newly selected design firm of Nelson Byrd Woltz Landscape Architects, continuing the process of getting to know each other and feeling our way forward to a new master plan for the Gardens. When asked by the design team what people enjoy most about our gardens and other gardens visited, a quite captive audience suggested favorite garden styles and features, but also mixed in were several voices echoing the sentiment of discovering, sometimes quite by accident, a place for quiet reflection. A space they felt they had all to themselves, or maybe to share with a friend or family member. For some of us, it may even be more desirable to come upon a place unexpectedly and be rewarded with a bit of peace. A serendipitous breather, or moment to yourself, so to speak.
Now, I love this idea of tranquility. I feel this often when I work in the Fern Garden, with the lady’s slippers, or grow new plants in the greenhouse. As an employee of the Gardens, I know that I am one of the lucky ones; not everyone works in the woods of coastal Maine, abundantly diverse in plants and wildlife. But they do have the opportunity to visit us here. And we are more than willing to share.
From the meeting, I came away with a vivid idea of what I needed to do next. With potentially 248 acres at the Gardens accessible, there will be a lot of room for people to spread out. While we wait for the design team to reveal the new master plan, why not work with what we already have available. Another staff member, Patty, and I made it a goal to seek out and revitalize some of the long-forgotten or neglected areas of the property that were better known to earlier visitors and volunteers. Hopefully, people would stumble upon them and take that moment for themselves.
Some of the lesser known areas, especially those along the Shoreland Trail, have taken a back seat for some time to the rapidly expanding Main Campus area and Education Center. There are many opportunities along this path for revitalization, with basic cleanups, mossification, and simple plantings. Mossification is our term for transferring mosses, native ferns, and other groundcovers to add beauty, softness, and the feel of age to a new or existing structure or setting. Quite often, we simply encourage a process that has already begun naturally.
You may have already discovered the following places on your own, but hopefully I can entice you to find your way again and stay awhile…
One restored place of reflection is known, unofficially, as “Maggie’s Couch” (or “Maggie’s Bench), a large, stone sofa-esque seating area with a sunset view over the Sheepscot’s Back River. Maggie Rogers, one of the Gardens’ founders and an active member from the beginning, selected this place to honor the memory of her family. Passionate about gardens, filled with exuberance and an endearing wit, Maggie once voiced her opinion at an annual meeting that the Horticulture Department should be uniformed in lavender jumpsuits so they would stand out to the visitors as they did at a Caribbean botanical garden she recently visited. You can imagine the reaction to this scheme from the Horticulture crew, made up of Dick, Bruce, and myself, at the time. Affectionately, I remember Maggie as our “Lavender Princess.” Humor aside, I think she would be pleased to see people sharing this peaceful space again.
Another recently rediscovered setting, hidden in plain sight, due to its location next to the “Pinecone” sculpture, is the “Boat Bench.” Three large, uniquely placed stones invite passersby to rest between the bow and the stern. When the bench was originally installed, our crew thoughtfully planted mosses and lichens so the contrast in colors and textures would represent the frothy spray and waves dancing around a boat as it made its journey down the river to the open sea. Well, yes, there may have been some imagination required by the observer. As the original plantings did not hold up over time, Patty and I made the “Boat Bench” the next recipient of our revival gardening efforts, adding mosses, ferns, and a few selected plants. Even before we completed our project, small groups of people were drawn in to sit or recline along the length of the bench. Giggling, they lifted their feet as we tucked in mosses and bunchberry, a familiar action evoking images of my brother and me as children, lined up with our feet in the air while my grandmother ran the vacuum along the front of the sofa before receiving visitors.
Many of you may be familiar with Steve Tobin’s sculpture, “Pinecone,” appreciated for its industrial beauty and inspiration as a man-made creation depicting nature from recycled/ repurposed metal materials. From a different perspective, it can be considered the “real thing,” a cool drink of water, and not a mirage, after crossing the desert, as for many tired guests “Pinecone” is the symbol on their map that means the end of their walk and a shuttle ride is within reach. What you may not know about this sculpture is that it can also be music to your ears. During Tobin’s full sculpture exhibition at the Gardens, I was working early in the morning in the Fern Garden, feeling very closed off from the rest of the world by a thick blanket of fog. Slowly, the musical chimes of stone and metal on metal made by a family gathered at another Tobin piece, “Sunflower,” drifted down from the Birch Allée and out over the water. The effect the sounds had on me at the time was magical. On your next visit, try experimenting with different objects (sticks, stones, keys, rings, etc.) and create magical harmonies of your own that will resonate throughout the Shoreland.
These are only the first of the not-so-secret places for you to discover or re-discover. There will be more to come. Remember, in the din and chaos of everyday life or an overscheduled vacation, you are always welcome to visit us here and take a breather.
– Sharmon Provan, Plant Records Coordinator & Plant Propagator (10/12/2013)