What pairs best with the exquisite landscapes of the Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens in Boothbay? Local purveyors of food, drink and sustainable products, of course.
This is what the more than 400 guests of the Tastefully Maine: Midsummer Food & Spirits party enjoyed while strolling through the fabulous organic gardens Thursday night.
As much of Maine was withering under the oppressive heat that evening, the gardens were awash in a welcome sea breeze and cooler temperatures than what could be found inland and in southern Maine.
Spread throughout the gardens were representatives from more than 30 restaurants, caterers, wineries, distilleries, bakers, chocolatiers and specialty food makers, who offered up tasty morsels and sips. In addition, more than 20 vendors sold environmentally friendly products. The warm evening air was enlivened by the big band sounds of The Edith Jones Project.
The party raised more than $10,000 in support of the nonprofit organization.
The first people I met at the soiree were Stephen and Julie Wright of Windham, who were celebrating their 27th wedding anniversary.
“We were going to come up anyway and then heard about this event and we said, ‘Let’s go,’ ” Julie Wright told me as the couple sampled the fine beverages and eats.
“It’s a totally perfect night,” Kelly Arnau of Falmouth said.
She attended the party with her husband, Jimmy Arnau. The pair were on vacation and spent the week hugging the coast in an attempt to escape the heat.
“It’s a gorgeous setting,” said Rebecca Daigle of South Portland, who writes the Maine Foodie Finds blog. “It’s a nice time of year for the event. You get the tourists and it’s still an easy drive from Portland.”
The gardens, which opened to the public in 2007, have experienced impressive growth in both the number of visitors and the size of the gardens. With 250 acres, the property offers plenty of room for expansion and this year saw the opening of the Bosarge Family Education Center, a sustainably constructed building that generates more energy than it uses, and the Haney Hillside Garden.
“We were involved for 15 years before anything was built,” Susan Haney told me. “We think this is a wonderful cultural institution for Maine.”
A namesake of the Hillside Garden, she attended the festive evening with her husband, Daniel Haney, who serves on the board. The couple, who grew up in Maine, now spend winters in St. Petersburg and summers in Boothbay.
“We expect over 100,000 visitors this year,” Executive Director Maureen Heffernan told me. “We hope this becomes a hub for gardening and education as well as community events and cultural events.”
Heffernan then introduced me to board members Karen Bartholomew, Martha Heald and Ina Heafitz, who graciously gave me a tour of the Lerner Garden of the Five Senses. This magical space engages all the senses and is specially designed to appeal to people using wheelchairs or who are blind, hearing impaired or have other disabilities.
“One of the things that is so exciting for me is to see all the unusual plants,” Bartholomew told me as we strolled along the cobblestone path. “Some ideas for this garden came out of a sensory garden in Japan.”
Speaking of the gardens as a whole, Heald told me “it appeals to little kids all the way to senior citizens. The kids go bonkers for the (Bibby and Harold Alfond) Children’s Garden.”
The gardens also include a Burpee Kitchen Garden and a Rose & Perennial Garden, among many others.
“It amazes me how many people say this garden is on their bucket list,” Steve Berger of Boothbay Harbor told me. Berger, who works for party sponsor Knickerbocker Group, attended the party with his wife, Cathy Berger.
“Every month is different around here,” Stephanie Bacon told me.
She and her husband, Hoyt Walbridge, split their time between their home in Cape Elizabeth and their cottage in Boothbay. Both volunteer at the gardens as docents.
“For us it’s a nice way to take a two-mile walk,” Bacon said of her work as a docent.
Board member Larry Townley told me about seeing the property for the first time 15 years ago.
“Nobody would say they expected this,” Townley told me. “This is an incredible evolution over time.”
Staff Writer Avery Yale Kamila can be contacted at 791-6297 or at: