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Dig It! Garden Blog

Snow Is A Good Thing

Wednesday, January 22nd, 2014

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.)

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Year’s End (with a tip of the trowel to Irving Berlin)

Monday, December 30th, 2013

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.

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Savoring the Moments

Thursday, December 5th, 2013

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.

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Light at the End of the Tunnel

Wednesday, November 27th, 2013

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.

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Wednesday, November 13th, 2013

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.

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Crowd Control at the Gardens

Wednesday, October 16th, 2013
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1 Photo #3 (2)
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1 photo #5
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)

Secrets Revealed!

Saturday, October 12th, 2013
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“Maggie’s Couch”
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“Boat Bench”
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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)



Fall Is Upon Us

Monday, September 30th, 2013
(photo by Bill Cullina)
 (photo by Rodney Eason)

As Rodney noted in last week’s blog post, the air has changed, the light has diminished, and summer has faded. Here at Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens the plants are beginning their slow march to winter dormancy. But before reaching their destination, they give us one more flush of color and interest. The leaves on the trees and shrubs reveal the pigments hidden by summer’s chlorophyll. The flowers shed their bright petals to show off interesting seed heads. And the grasses, in their autumn splendor, dance gracefully in the breeze. (How’s that for waxing poetic?) Fall is a wonderful time for anyone who loves plants and the outdoors to be at the Gardens.

Those of us on the horticulture staff get to enjoy this time of year as we go about our duties of cutting back, cleaning up, and making ready for next spring. And yes, we are already thinking about next year. This is the time of year when we can evaluate our plantings and think about changes, big and small, to improve the gardens for next year. The real fun will come in a couple months when all the 2014 nursery catalogs arrive and we get to peruse new and exciting plants.

On another note, all the guests that I have spoken with are quite taken with the pumpkin displays. Kids of all ages are taking advantage of photo opportunities with the displays that are scattered around the main campus. This is a far larger fall display than we have done in the past, and we are very interested in our guests’ feedback.

Here’s the bottom line, folks. The gardens are gorgeous. The fall displays are awesome. The weather is perfect. With that combination, you cannot go wrong. You should come visit with us this fall.

 – Will Bridges, Horticulturist (September 30, 2013)




The End

Thursday, September 19th, 2013

The Pinus densiflora ‘Burke’s
Red Varigated’ I planted my first day,
looking as healthy as ever.


Part of the team that has made
this such a memorable summer.


I’m sure to miss the Maine woodlands.
(Photo by Brian Richers)

As many of you may have realized by now, I’m the last Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens horticulture intern left in the department for this year. I’ll admit it has been lonely without my sidekicks around for the past month, but it’s given me time to enjoy everything the beautiful fall season has to offer. Unfortunately, it’s now my time to bid you blog followers all a fond farewell. While I’m very sad to be leaving the Gardens, I’d prefer to look at all of the happiness and satisfaction that this garden has brought me over the summer.

There are so many moments that come to mind when I think about the crazy summer I had: the first time driving the equipment; all of the exciting field trips we took; watching each garden change throughout the seasons; completely revamping planting beds to make them look brand new; countless non-horticulture projects; learning to map the gardens; and even my first cookie from the Kitchen Garden Cafe (trust me, it’s life changing). There were also various challenges mixed in with the fun, such as the infamous “intern B&B pine planting disaster,” detailed in one of the first blogs of the summer. While embarrassing at the time, challenges like this helped me learn to accept my mistakes and ultimately grow as a horticulture professional.

I believe the thing I’ll miss most about working at the Gardens is the horticulture staff. These wacky individuals have truly swept me away with their hardworking, passionate, sometimes silly demeanor. They have always cheered on my success and have inspired me to become a more well-rounded professional. I’ve spent early mornings and late nights with them, and while sometimes it was hard work, we always found time to laugh. 

Sometimes their advice was a little questionable, such as, “You have to eat ice cream after lunch! It’s good for you!” However, those group ice cream sessions created some of the best bonding time for our team. Above all, though, these people have encouraged me to strive to keep learning as long as I can and to never give up on something I believe in. To my fellow horticulturists, who are now my dear friends: Thank you for being everything I could have ever asked for in a team. You’re going to be a tough crowd to beat.

I know I took it for granted while working here this summer, but Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens is truly a magical place. There is always something to see or do here, no matter the season. I wish I had taken advantage of every sight and smell when I had the chance, but it still is a summer that I’ll never forget. I know I will carry this experience with me for years to come.

-Carrington Flatness, Horticulture Intern (September 19, 2013)

A Well-Deserved “Thank You”

Friday, September 13th, 2013

A group of volunteers hard at work, deadheading
in the Bibby and Harold Alfond Children’s Garden.


A view of the beautiful sunrise over the
various Echinacea on the Great Lawn.

As if you didn’t already know, the experiences you may encounter here at Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens are completely unique and unbeatable. Much like our Lerner Garden of the Five Senses, the entire garden seems to stimulate all of your senses when you come by for a visit. The smell of the cool sea breeze coming off the water, the taste of lettuce from the Burpee Kitchen Garden, listening to the children playing in the Bibby and Harold Alfond Children’s Garden, the sight of a fresh bouquet of flowers either indoors or out, or the cool feeling of water spraying from the whale rocks are just a few examples of what you may experience here. One of the things you may not experience directly in your visit is something completely different: passion.

When it comes to CMBG, you’ll find many supportive faces across the state, whether it be from the Board of Directors or even local citizens. However, I’ve never met a group of people more passionate than the volunteers that spend their time in our garden. Being on the horticulture staff, I mostly deal with the horticulture volunteers and work with them daily in the garden. These people don’t care if it’s raining cats and dogs or if the sun’s beating down on them; they start and finish their work with a smile on their face and continue coming back week after week. This doesn’t just apply to the horticulture volunteers, though; this is true for the garden docents, the shuttle drivers, the tour guides, and everyone in between. I want to thank all of you.

I think I speak for everyone when I say that Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens wouldn’t be as spectacular as it is today without the constant devotion of our volunteers. You have all taught me so much this summer about what it means to be selfless and give back to a cause that is greater than myself, and for that I owe you all. You are what helps this garden keep getting better and continuously helps us to grow. Thank you for all your hard work, your smiles, your stories, and your undeniable love for this garden.

-Carrington Flatness, Horticulture Intern (September 6, 2013)