BOOTHBAY — After the Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens was forced to remain closed to visitors under the state’s stay-at-home orders, the Boothbay-based nonprofit launched online programming to interact with members and families.

The online programing, dubbed “CMBG at Home,” is a collection of classes, tours, blog posts, articles, recipes and photos available on its website and Facebook page. The organization also released content geared toward families, which encourages children to explore their own backyards and teaches them how to plant gardens of their own.

Founded in 2007, the Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens is known for its 325-acres of gardens, it also aims to inspire visitors to connect with nature through horticulture, education and research.

“We’re finding ways to engage with people and help them engage with nature,” said Kris Folsom, director of marketing & communications at the botanical gardens. “It’s giving us the opportunity to think outside the box and provide programming online to people outside of Maine.”

On Monday, April 27 a few horticulturists will show followers how they’re getting the gardens ready for another year via live-stream video on Facebook and teach viewers what plants prefer what kind of soil.

Earlier this month the Portland Press Herald reported Fedco Seeds, a seed cooperative in Clinton, got more than 600 seed orders a day several days that week, compared to maybe 170 a day in the past, indicating Mainers have taken an interest in gardening since being homebound.

“Who knows? Maybe some of this programming will live on after this crisis is done,” Folsom said. “We’re trying to find a silver lining.”

Gardens usually opens April 15, but it plans to remain closed through April 30. However, that could be extended if Mills lengthens her statewide stay-at-home order, which requires Mainers to only leave their homes for essential activities, such as grocery shopping, seeking medical care, or exercising outdoors.

While Folson said the Gardens doesn’t know when it will welcome visitors, she said the organization continues to hire 50 seasonal staff members and welcome back its 300 summer volunteers in anticipation.

“We’re looking forward to the day the Governor says we can open, but we’re thinking about how we can do that responsibly for our guests,” said Folsom. “We’re still hiring staff and doing all the behind the scenes work to get ready for our visitors.”

The gardens saw over 200,000 visitors in 2018 alone, from both across the nation and around the world. Folsom said last summer brought in about 113,000 tourists, the majority of whom visited in July and August.

Sharmon Provan, director of horticulture at the Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens, said her staff continues to prepare the 200,000 to 250,000 plants for summer visitors, but her employees are working to keep everyone safe.

“We’re working far apart from one another, we’re all using our own tools, and we’re monitoring who goes into what building so we can sterilize after everyone,” said Provan. “We have a nursing mother who uses our lactation room and some staff members have partners with health issues, so we all have to be careful.”

Provan said the hardest part is not knowing when the facilities will open to the public, but added she’s comforted knowing the nonprofit’s annual Gardens Aglow event in November and December, when some 650,000 LED lights are strung around the gardens, draws as many visitors as they see during the summer, giving them a sense of insurance.

“The uncertainty is the thing that weighs on everyone the most, but if there had to be a time for this to happen, now is the time,” said Provan.

Josh Pearce, database coordinator at the Boothbay Harbor Region Chamber of Commerce, said the Boothbay region will notice if the gardens are unable to open this summer because “They’re instrumental to this town.”

“The gardens attract a lot of people to the region that may not visit Boothbay otherwise,” said Pearce, who worked at the botanical gardens for two years. “It’s like the town comes to life when they open.”

Despite the threat of a shortened summer season, Pearce said Gardens Aglow alone brings increased business to the town.

“Towns in this area start to close around Labor Day, but now businesses stay open for that,” said Pearce. “Gardens Aglow gives local businesses another two or three months of business.”

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