by Jen Dunlap
As I write this, the rain pours down outside. It is a warm, slightly scented, spring rain that gleans the faintest hint of Magnolia x loebneri. There are a few not far from here and I am grateful. For this smell, this rain, and for this day, I am grateful. Our connection to nature sustains us. Just before the rain began we finished a planting of Hosta, Pulmonaria, and Astillbe around the Horse Chestnut in our yard. I can’t stop gardening! The sticky buds of the Aesculus plump and ripe, hang in a protective embrace around the new transplants. The heroic Anne Frank wrote about the Horse Chestnut in her diary from February 23, 1944, the following:
Greetings all! As we spring forward into this season of new beginnings, change is certainly afoot at Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens. The snow cannot melt fast enough as we all, here at CMBG, patiently await the first signs of plant life to emerge from the thawing tundra below. Anticipation over the forthcoming bulb display is thick and we remember well those grueling planting days of fall with our calloused hands and sore knees. We planted more than 23,000 bulbs last fall, and this spring looks to provide another jaw-dropping color extravaganza.
Help! My desk is covered with catalogues from every seed and plant company that I ever bought anything from!!! New tools, new vegetables, new flowers, new ideas to take the cold out of winter and get me thinking about the “way life ought to be”…the reasons why I came to Maine in the first place. Winter is planning time here in the Horticulture Department at Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens…planning to make our dreams and your expectations come true. We all need to create a vision for what we see as the perfect garden.the one that will inspire and energize those who see it to want to do something similar. My vision, my dream for our visitors and especially for those who have homes or properties nearby is that they are inspired to plant more flowers and vegetables.
Are we having fun yet? This season is shaping up to be a “good old-fashioned Maine winter.” We’ve been spoiled the past several years with relatively mild conditions. I was born and raised in Aroostook County; so I’ve felt like the stereotypical old-timer with my “back when I was a boy” stories about “real Maine winters”. (You know the ones: 25 below zero, three feet of snow, and walked four miles to school-uphill–both ways.)
Please channel your best Ethel Merman and help me sing out the old year….
There’s no business like grow business,
Like no business I know.
Everything about it is appealing,
Everything the good earth will allow.
Nowhere could you have that happy feeling
When you’re not wielding that muddy trowel.
It is here, with frost glistening on the autumn grasses, that I still find peace in the early mornings at Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens. The air is chilled and the squirrels have just begun to stir. I stand in the Meditation Garden, looking down over the stones, cold and bare, reflecting on the season that has come to an end.
We had our first taste of winter at the Gardens yesterday. The forecast of a few snow flurries in the early morning turned into over an inch of the cold white stuff. Mother Nature gave us a little preview of things to come and a reminder that she is still in charge of the ultimate gardening schedule.
Let me catch y’all up on what we’ve been doing since mid-October. We gave away or composted all of the pumpkins we had on display. Just by doing a visual estimate, we’re guessing that more than half the pumpkins we had on display went to new homes for Halloween. If you came out and took a pumpkin, or two, or three, Thank You! If you enjoyed the pumpkins and gourds and would like to see us do more next year, please let us know, as we have even more ideas in the works.
|Photos by Dick Zieg|
This has been a banner year at Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens in many ways. With the number of guests approaching 96,000 for the year so far, there have been days where staff has had to help visitors find available parking places … not a bad problem to have! An exceptionally rainy and long spring has made our plants very happy to provide an incredible flower and fruit display. Therein lies the catalyst for a population explosion of another sort that the Horticulture Department has also had to deal with this summer and fall. The red squirrels are multiplying like rabbits and so are the rabbits!
Early in the summer, the rabbits (really snowshoe hares) found that grazing on lilies, hollyhocks, and newly planted annuals provided quite a varied and yummy menu and much frustration for us as we tried our best to keep our gardens in top shape for our guests. In the last couple of weeks my nemesis in the Cleaver Event Lawn Garden has been the red squirrels doing their best to ruin the Benthamidia japonica (Japanese dogwood) trees. For several mornings in a row I have found two or three branches dangling from the tree that had given way to the combined weight of the fruit and squirrels, leaving long scars on the tree where the branch was ripped off (see photo #1).
Having experienced this sort of damage caused in past years by raccoons looking for a meal, I had propped up the branches of the Benthamidia japonica ‘Big Apple’ as one would on an apple tree, hoping to prevent a reccurrence. (photo #2). So far, this tactic has worked on ‘Big Apple’ because it has a more horizontal branching structure. However, Benthamidia japonica ‘Autumn Rose’ and my favorite B. japonica ‘Moonbeam’ haven’t fared as well. Tying branches together with twine was my only option with the more upright form of these trees (photo #3).
Preventive measures having failed meant I had to go on the offensive and set some traps (photo #4) to catch the offending culprits (photo #5). In the last two days I have caught and “relocated” seven red squirrels. The squirrels seem to be fond of the peanut butter-coated fruit from the tree that I used as bait to lure them into the traps.
Crowds of guests we love and appreciate, but hungry herds of hares and squirrels? … not so much!
– Dick Zieg, Horticulturist (October 16, 2013)
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)