Difficulty: Easy to moderate, depending on the trails you choose to explore. Several paths in the Central Gardens are wide, smooth and built to be wheelchair accessible. Trails outside the Central Gardens vary in difficulty; some are wide and surfaced with compacted gravel, while others are more challenging, traveling over unimproved forest floor with rocks and roots.
How to get there: The entrance to the gardens is on Barters Island Road in Boothbay. For GPS users, the physical address is 132 Botanical Gardens Drive, and the coordinates at N 43°52.54548, W 69°39.5454. To get there from the Boothbay monument on Route 27, across from the town common and gazebo, turn onto Corey Lane and drive 0.4 mile, then turn right onto Barters Island Road. Drive 1 mile, and the entrance to the gardens will be on your left, Botanical Garden’s Drive.
Information: A place so beautiful it’s almost overwhelming, the Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens opened in 2007 after more than 15 years of planning, building and planting. Located in the midcoast town of Boothbay, this outdoor destination comprises 270 acres of tidal shoreland and features several miles of trails that wind through a wide variety of themed gardens and coastal woods.
Key features of the gardens include the Vayo Meditation Garden; the Burpee Kitchen Garden; multiple scenic ponds filled with lily pads and frogs; a rose and perennial garden with a large rose arbor; the Lerner Garden of the Five Senses; a woodland garden; a garden of rare and extraordinary plants, a rhododendron garden; the Bosarge Family Education Center; and the Great Lawn, where events often take place behind the Visitor Center.
In addition, there are many areas in the gardens that were constructed especially for children, including the whimsical Bibby & Harold Alfond Children’s Garden, home to a greenhouse, Coloring Cottage, Story Barn, Maze Lawn, scenic Blueberry Pond, and whale stone sculptures that spout water, for those who’d like to cool off. Also, tucked in the woods nearby is a giant treehouse, a structure called the Bear Cave and a fairy house garden, where visitors can build their own fairy houses with natural materials.
The gardens are open to the public 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. April 15 through Oct. 31, with hours extended to 6 p.m. in July and August.
Visitors should start their exploration of the gardens at the Visitor Center, where you can collect a trail map and pay admission at an information desk. Admission is $16 for adults, $14 for seniors, $8 for children ages 3 to 17 years old, and children younger than 3 years old are free. Garden members also receive free admission, and there are special rates for groups, schools and camps. Once you pay admission, you’ll be given a sticker to display on your clothing during your visit.
Also in the Visitor Center is a well-stocked gift store and the Kitchen Garden Cafe, open 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. daily.
The gardens were constructed to be easily accessible. The Visitor Center and Central Gardens are ADA compliant, and there are benches placed throughout the grounds for visitors to rest. In addition, the gardens provide wheelchairs on loan at no charge on a first-come, first-served basis; and scooters are available to rent for $16 on a first-come, first-served basis for use in the Central Gardens.
Outside the Central Gardens, the paths become more difficult as the terrain involves more hills and trails enter the forest. Some trails are wide and surfaced with compacted gravel, while other trails are more traditional hiking trails over unimproved forest floor. These woodland trails stretch for several miles, visiting a waterfall and tracing the shore of Huckleberry Cove and Back River, where a boat landing is located with kayaks for rent.
Along the trails, and throughout the gardens, are educational displays on various topics pertaining to the gardens, as well as the natural landscape. There are also permanent and temporary sculptures scattered throughout the gardens by a wide variety of artists, and rotating art exhibits in the Visitor Center, Kitchen Garden Cafe and Education Center.
The gardens provide several special tours and services, all of which can be learned about at the Visitor Center. For example, the gardens offer kayak tours led by a registered guide; tours on the Beagle, the first fully-electric Coast Guard certified vessel in Maine; and one-hour tours of the gardens by quiet electric carts, led by trained docents. Call ahead at least one week prior to your visit to make reservations.
In the gardens, visitors are asked to walk only on the paths or lawns and to leave plants and wildlife undisturbed. Children must be supervised at all times. Climbing on garden sculptures, active sports (such as kite flying and bicycling), barbecuing and smoking are not permitted. Also, keep in mind that the gates are locked at closing. Exit before then.
Dogs are not permitted in the gardens (unless they are service animals), but they are permitted in the parking areas and on the adjacent dog trail if on leash at all times. There is a water spigot and water dish for pets in the picnic area beside the southern-most parking pod. Visitors are expected to pick up after their dogs; the gardens provide plastic bags for picking up dog waste, as well as trash bags where you can dispose of the waste.
For information, call 633-8000 or visit www.mainegardens.org.
Personal note: The Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens is a special place to me and my husband, Derek, because it’s the location of one of our first dates back in 2009. At the time, the gardens had only been open for two years, and they were still expanding. Yet it was still one of the most fantastical places I’d ever been, with a greater variety of plants than I’d ever seen, metal animal sculptures lurking on perfectly manicured lawns, and children building fairy houses in the woods.
The next year, in August of 2010, I returned to the gardens to write a story about the Maine Fairy House Festival, which was so popular that it is now a weekly event in July and August called “Fairy Fridays,” with a full schedule of fairy activities, including puppet shows, stories and crafts, fairy yoga, and music and dancing with the Great Bubble Machine. Picture hundreds of children wearing sparkly wings, dancing amidst flower beds and through the woods. It’s quite a magical event.
My third (and Derek’s second) visit to the gardens came on Sunday, Aug. 14, of this year. It was a sunny, hot day, and were were both tired after an eventful weekend in Portland for my 10th year high school reunion. Yet I managed to convince Derek that we’d be remiss to not stop by the gardens on the way home for a stroll through the flowers.
Walking from the parking lot to the Visitor Center to pay admission, I kept pausing to photograph different flowers with my macro lens, saying things like, “I’ve never seen this type before!” and “Oh, look at the color of that one!” Looking back on the whole visit, I feel slightly guilty. While I was in photographer’s heaven, Derek was probably not having quite as much fun on such a hot, sunny day. I kept looking up from my camera to see him waiting patiently in the nearest patch of shade.
The absolute best part of our visit, for me, was spotting a monarch butterfly and getting the opportunity to photograph it as it drew nectar from a bundle of purple flowers. Monarchs used to be very common in Maine, but in recent years, their numbers have plummeted due to several factors, including the destruction of their winter habitat in Mexico and the depletion of milkweed, their primary food source, throughout North America. So to see one of these large, stunning butterflies — with its bright orange wings veined in black, and its black body dotted with white — was such a treat.
Derek and I wandered the gardens for a few hours, taking the time to duck into the forest on the Brook Trail, which we followed to Huckleberry Cove. On a bench by the Cove, we enjoyed the breeze coming off the water, then hiked along the shore and up hill to the meditation garden, where I couldn’t help but dip my hands in water held by a giant, stone bowl sculpture made by sculptor David Holmes.
Before leaving the gardens, I stopped into the gift store and was pleasantly surprised to see so many interesting nature- and garden-themed items. Exercising restraint, I selected one thing to buy: a Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens T-shirt with a luna moth on the chest.
More photos from our 2016 visit: