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Dig It! Garden Blog

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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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)

Design Appreciation

Wednesday, September 4th, 2013

Director of Horticulture Rodney Eason taking his
class out to explore the garden.


No photo editing here! What a striking color on
these beautiful hydrangeas!

A glance at the sweeping meadow in Elsie’s garden.

While working at  Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens this summer, I’ve realized that there are many benefits to being on the horticulture staff. Whether it’s getting to enter the garden early in the morning to soak in the tranquility of the grounds or watching your own plantings grow and be complimented daily, you can’t get these experiences any other way. One of the best benefits to my job, however, was the undeniable encouragement by the entire staff to continue learning. The Gardens holds various educational classes, lectures and workshops that are open to the public; and I was lucky enough to attend a handful of them this summer.

The most recent workshop I attended was entitled “Garden Planting & Design” and was taught by none other than my boss, Director of Horticulture Rodney Eason. Fellow intern Montana and I were very excited to attend this class because we both had a similar predicament: We didn’t take many design courses in our undergraduate studies and wanted to expand our horticultural knowledge even further.

The beginning of the program allowed us to travel through time and get a glimpse of garden design throughout history. We explored different countries’ views on design and examined how garden design progressed drastically through the centuries. It was interesting to see how we have evolved the landscape to where it is today and how many different design elements we combine.

The other half of this class was hands-on: We were to make our own ideas come to life and be the designers. Being the right-brained person I am, I was skeptical about being creative on paper; but it turned out to be easier than I thought. My drawings may have looked a little messy, but the key design concepts were there and I was undeniably proud of it. This class taught me a huge lesson that can be applied to more than just designing: Look at the big picture first and work out the little details later.

In addition to the class that Montana and I attended, we had our final internship field trip this week. This one was a little closer to home; we visited Elsie Freeman’s personal garden at her home on Barter’s Island. To be completely honest with you, I’ve never seen a home garden look quite like this. Some of the sights we encountered were a frog pond, a Japanese garden, a forest trail, and huge planting beds that were filled to the brim with colorful plants. If you looked closely enough, you could find paths leading to secret hideaways within the garden, which allowed for a whole new experience. Overall, being in Elsie’s garden was an awe-inducing experience for all of us. It was perfect timing to have Rodney’s design class the day prior to this field trip, helping us truly appreciate the hard work and thought process behind the spectacular designs we saw in Elsie’s backyard.

-Carrington Flatness, Horticulture Intern (August 30, 2013)

Fairies and Elves – a History (as read by Bill Cullina at the Fairy House Village Opening)

Wednesday, August 28th, 2013
Fairy House Village IMG_9387-Ronan, Maeve, Brooklyn - BFreeman
Fairy Hosue Village - Brooklyn - from Stephanie - 240w
 Fairy House Village - Teddy - From Stephanie - 240w
Fairy House Village Ronan IMG_9403 - 240 wi - BFreeman
Fairy House Village IMG_9409 - 240 w - BFreeman
1 IMG_9493 - Simon making magic - 72 dpi - BFreeman
Fairy House Village Garland IMG_9360 - BFreeman

After exhaustive research, Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens Executive Director William Cullina gleaned the following historical information from an academic paper by Dr. Wallace McBride, “Fairy Communities of the Central Maine Coast,” published in the American Journal of Fairy and Elven Studies, vol. 16:3, pp. 231-244. He read this document to the children and their grown-ups assembled for the opening celebration and garland cutting for the Gardens’ shoreland Fairy House Village on Saturday, August 24, 2013. 

It is thought that fairies first left Tir na nog, the land of external youth, about 65 million years ago, to help heal the earth from the devastating effects of the asteroid impact that plunged the world into darkness and chaos.  It is believed that the origin of the four fairy clans – air, water, fire and tree fairies – can be traced to this time.  As little as 10,000 years ago, fairies are said to have been living commonly and openly in the Irish and Welsh countryside, serving as healers and holding fairy court where accused violators of natural law could be heard and reprimanded.  These “fairy circles,” as they are called, evolved into community gathering places where important events such as the turning of the four seasons and the birth of the full moon are celebrated.

Just as happened elsewhere in the world, when humans arrived in Ireland, Wales and Scotland 10,000 years ago they feared these tiny magical creatures and worked to drive them away by destroying their houses and circles.  Though it is likely that many fairies returned to Tir na nog during Amanna dorcha (the dark times), as this period was called,  others retreated to the forests and the night, using magic and trickery to help keep humans from discovering them. To this day, much of what we call coincidence and luck is really this fairy magic and trickery. 

In 1989, the discovery of the Rockland Runes on a beach just south of the Samoset Resort marked a major turning point in our understanding of fairy history in this region.  This two-by-three-foot stone, with its intricately carved runic characters, tells the story of the great fairy crossing, or Turas. We now know that during the Amanna dorcha a small band of water fairies set sail from western Ireland in their shell-shaped wooden boats, destined for Tir na nog but were caught in a great storm that blew them far south  into the Sargasso Sea near Bermuda.  Their boats wrecked, they floated on great mats of Sargasso seaweed for two moons until by chance they caught a ride on on the backs of migrating silver eels, or elvers, as they swam northwest to the rivers along Maine’s midcoast.  Exhausted and lost, the weary band made landfall on Monhegan Island and established a small settlement. 

Over time the fairies flew to the closer islands and mainland around what is now Boothbay Harbor and developed thriving communities. Even the name Boothbay comes from Beal Ba, fairy for “mouth bay.”  Here the water fairies lived openly and peacefully for more than 9,000 years, until the arrival of English, Scottish and Irish settlers signaled yet another Amanna dorcha that drove the fairies into hiding again.  Even as late as the mid 1800s, fairy sightings in this area were common, but nowadays they are increasingly rare as fairy houses and circles are inadvertently destroyed to make way for modern things.

While constructing the Shoreland Trail at Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens in the late 1990s, volunteers discovered a small fairy village on this very site. Although apparently unoccupied, it was obvious that the village was quite old and likely dated from the first settlement of the mainland by the Monhegan water fairies nearly 8,000 years ago.  Much of the site was in ruins, as a result of the land clearing for sheep farming here in the 19th century, but part of the circle and some of the dwellings remained.  Worried by the decline of the fairy community, young volunteers began rebuilding the houses and, happily, within a short time the fairies returned.

As Bill Cullina explained at the celebration, “When the current work is complete, the Ciorcal Mór (Great Circle) will again stand as the largest and most important ceremonial site of its kind in Maine. Joe Norton has also rebuilt the north and east walls of the famous Te-ach Uisce, or Water House, mentioned in the Rockland Runes, and over the course of the fall and winter he will add the symbols and runic characters to the various structures as described in the Rockland document. It makes my heart glad that in this garden of wonder and beauty we have provided a place for these ancient creatures and the magic and nature they represent. “

He thanked the Walbridge family for making the restoration possible and Joe Norton and his crew for the vision and hard work to build it. 

“Now, to complete the work and bring magic to the stones,” he concluded, “we ask the children in the audience to sprinkle them with this fairy dust discovered during excavation of the site.  Then, to welcome the fairies home, we would be grateful if you would build them houses great and small to show the little people they are most welcome here. Thank you and siúl i síocháin (walk in peace).”