Do all the warmer places to the south along the Eastern Seaboard empty out in August, as everyone descends on Maine? Often, these visitors want you to entertain them.

My wife and I have a solution: We send them off to see some of Maine’s many beautiful gardens. Sometimes, if we like the guests and have free time, we join them. Other times, we simply give them directions and send them on their way.

Maine’s preeminent garden is Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens in Boothbay, rated by TripAdvisor in 2013 as the top botanical garden in the country.

Even the most casual gardener should spend a half a day there, taking in the intensely planted gardens, which cover only a small percentage of the 270-acre property. Garden geeks could spend several days and still not see everything, while parents of young children should expect trouble getting their youngsters to leave the Alfond Children’s Garden.

My favorite sections are the Lerner Garden of the Five Senses and the Haney Hillside garden: two wildly different visions of beauty.

The sensory garden is closely planted and sunny. There are many blooming shrubs and perennials to see, smell, touch and study, reading labels and comparing colors and shapes and asking yourself what you’d like to see in your own garden. The touch of the human hand is strikingly apparent.

The hillside garden, by contrast, is a shady switchback path that descends from the more formal gardens planted around the visitor center down to Back River. Here the human hand is concealed; it seems as though the garden just happened to grow there on its own. In truth, a lot of work has been done with stones and shrubs. It looks wild and very beautiful.


McLaughlin Garden and Homestead in South Paris is a much more personal garden, created mostly by one person, the late Bernard McLaughlin. The 2-acre grounds are an integral part of the house and barn that were his home for decades. While it has many plants, so things are in bloom throughout the gardening season, it is best known for its 200 lilacs. The perennials – including hosta, astilbe, daylilies, phlox and sedums – run beside paths, and everything is protected by many mature trees.

These gardens feel like a visit to your grandparents’ farm – if they had a farm and if they spent all their time planting ornamentals.

South Paris is a busy town – it seems that everyone is driving through on their way to someplace else. The main route bustles with franchise restaurants, car dealerships and chain drugstores. The McLaughlin Garden, which is open dawn to dusk seven days a week, is an oasis.


Closer to home, well to my home anyway, the Greater Portland area has many gardens worth visiting.

Your guests will doubtless go to see Portland Head Light at Fort Williams in Cape Elizabeth – it is spectacular and quintessentially Maine coast.

After they’ve seen the lighthouse and admired the ocean views, advise them to walk through the Cliffside and Lighthouse View gardens, which were installed over the past four years and remain works in progress.

Already, though, the gardens show a sustainable way to handle shorefront property that was previously overrun by invasive plants. The crew removed much of the soil, planted mostly native species, mulched heavily and now relies on a combination of volunteers and staff to keep invasive multiflora roses, bittersweet, honeysuckle, swallowwort and more from returning.


When your guests head to downtown Portland – whether to meander through the Old Port or stop by the Portland Museum of Art – advise them to pop into Longfellow Garden behind the Wadsworth-Longfellow House at 489 Congress St.

This Colonial Revival garden was created by the Longfellow Garden Club in 1926. It’s behind the house and seems an almost secret place. Just one plant – a lilac – is truly tied to the Longfellows’ occupancy; it dates to before the time Henry’s sister, Anne Longfellow Pierce, gave the property to the Maine Historical Society. When I worked in downtown Portland, I often used the Longfellow Garden as a refuge from the pressures of deadlines and balky computers.

The city of Portland is noted for its excellent plantings, but I especially recommend two spots.

The Karl Switzer Rose Circle has been a part of Deering Oaks park for decades, but it was replanted in 2013 as a test garden for Earth-Kind low-maintenance roses rather than the (typically high-maintenance) All American Rose Selections it had displayed in earlier years. A few weeks ago when I stopped by, the circle was bursting with blossoms. It’s not only nice to look at but also a great place to get ideas for easy-care roses to plant in your own garden.

Recently when I was early for an appointment and had some time to kill, I happened to see the sign for Baxter Woods, so I took a walk. The woods run from Stevens to Forest avenues – the official address is 389 Forest Ave. The plot has some huge, magnificent trees, with signs telling walkers about each and more signs explaining the history of the property.

The temperature under the trees was degrees cooler than on the nearby sidewalk. While not a take-your-breath-away, knockout garden like in the Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens, it’s a relaxing spot for a stroll.


If your guests are headed to Mount Desert Island, Maine’s most famous tourist spot, suggest two world-class gardens, which lie close to each other in Northeast Harbor.

Thuya Garden is located at Thuya Lodge, and offers great views, wonderfully blooming perennials and shrubs, well-designed stone work and lots of the northern white cedar (Thuya occidentalis) that give the lodge its name.

The nearby Asticou Azalea garden is best seen in spring, so you’re too late for this year. It was built at the Asticou Inn to preserve azaleas, irises and other plants that came from the garden of Beatrix Farrand, a famous landscape architect (and the only woman to be a founding member of the American Society of Landscape Architects) who lived in the area for many years. She died in 1959.

These are just a few of the best gardens in Maine. There are many more, should your guests come back the following summer and need more entertaining.

And even if you don’t have company as an excuse, you should visit these gardens yourselves.

Tom Atwell has been writing the Maine Gardener column since 2004. He is a freelance writer gardening in Cape Elizabeth and can be contacted at 767-2297 or at:

[email protected]

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