Cathy Reynolds (left) and Betsy Steen price plants for the final sale. Facebook photo

Bowdoinham Public Library will host its 50th and final annual plant sale fundraiser at Mailly Waterfront Park this Saturday.

Plant Sale Chairperson Cathy Reynolds said they are calling it quits after five decades because more greenhouses are opening in the area, creating more competition, and volunteers are getting older.

“We’re all getting tired,” Reynolds said.

She said the volunteers and founders have been resilient and persistent for 50 years. Despite a global pandemic, Reynolds said they kept the sale alive during COVID with online sales and plant pick-up services. Traditionally, the sale has always been held at the Bowdoinham Town Hall, but with that building closed due to structural issues, the event has moved to the waterfront for its final bow.

The plant sale was founded in 1974 by Betsy Steen, Leslie Anderson, Billie Oakes, Sally Kelly and Gayle Cogan-Waldren. Needing a way to pay for two gallons of paint to spruce up the interior of the Bowdoinham library, the women dug up plants from their yards and placed them in Styrofoam cups salvaged from a Sunday night bean supper. The women stood outside a local store and sold their plants, raising $131 to pay for the orange and yellow paint that adorns the walls of the library. Over the past 50 years, the plant sale has raised over $340,000 to help pay for library books, programs, staffing and more.

Leslie Anderson (left) and Betsy Steen preparing for a plant sale in the 1980s. Courtesy of Kate Cutko

Library Director Kate Cutko said their fundraising represents approximately a third of the library’s annual operating budget. Last year, they raised almost $6,000. Going forward, Cutko said the library will rely on their newly established used-book store, Merryreading Books, located on 27 Main St., to raise funds.


“It will feel strange next year,” said plant sale founder Betsy Steen. “It’s been 50 years and it’s been great. We really enjoyed doing it. Part of what’s been wonderful is the community outreach; so many people have come to help and support us.”

Steen said with ample free time next year, she can tend to her own garden and finally dig up the weeds before they “reach her shoulders.”

Plant sale volunteers said hot items this year will include roses, white bleeding hearts, southernwood, horse chestnuts, green hostas, woodland phlox and succulent planters.

Reynolds said they have an inventory of 1,000 plants this year, with the majority being perennials. She said guests who don’t find what they are looking for will receive a handstamp to show at Enterprise Farm Greenhouse located at 819 White Road in Bowdoinham, which will donate 10% of the sale to the library.

Customers can also purchase a special edition tote bag and enter a raffle to win a quilt made by Elaine Graviet or a snazzy, blue outdoor planter.

“It feels sad to lose a 50-year-old town tradition, but hopefully, something new will rise. We will watch for the phoenix to come out of the ashes,” Cutko said.

The plant sale will be held at Mailly Waterfront Park at 1 Main St. in Bowdoinham from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday, May 20.

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Leslie Anderson (left) and Betsy Steen planting in 2016. Courtesy of Kate Cutko

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