After 17 years of growing, eroding and being battered by hurricanes, blizzards and thunderstorms, a garden will need some care that goes far beyond the usual weeding, fertilizing and watering.

Which is why I wasn’t surprised when Daniel Q. Haney, a college friend whose career as The Associated Press’s chief medical writer I watched from a distance, contacted me about updates underway at the Haney Hillside Garden at Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens in Boothbay. The garden is named for and financially supported by Haney and his wife, Susan.

From left, Dan Haney, Lon Ames and Andrew Brand stand in front of an orb donated and created by New York sculptor Henry Richardson. Richardson donated the orb before the garden first opened 17 years ago. Photo by Tom Atwell

Late last month, Haney and I were joined by Andrew Brand, the garden’s director of horticulture, and Lon Ames, the horticulturist whose prime job is tending the Hillside Garden, for a two-hour tour of the site.

“We are still keeping the original intent and design,” Ames said. The work, which began two years ago, is to deal with overcrowding that has occurred as trees and other plants have grown over the years.

Bruce Riddell originally designed the Hillside Garden as a wilderness garden, Haney said, emphasizing the existing rock and ledge, and the views through the trees of the tidal Back River. Its prime elements are the slope, the woods and the edge of the paths, as well as shadows and soil.

The garden follows a switchback trail that descends from the lawn near Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens’ original visitor center (now the restaurant) almost to the shore. The trail is 1,000 feet long, which Ames pointed out meant he was dealing with 2,000 feet of border gardens on the two sides of the trail. Home gardeners often have trouble keeping up with a couple hundred feet of flowering borders.


A major part of the work so far – with more to be done – has been the removal of many of the large trees. The garden was always meant to be a mixture of plants, stone, water and sun, but over 17 years, the trees grew big and tall, blocking some water views and preventing the sun from reaching the garden floor.

Other plants were removed because they did not belong in a wilderness garden. For instance, a perennial hibiscus, a striking non-native with huge blossoms that come late in the season, was transplanted elsewhere.

Ledges and mosses in the Haney Hillside Garden at Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens. Photo by Tom Atwell

At the same time, grasses and other low-growing perennials that had blocked the visible ledge rocks along the paths were removed, allowing visitors to enjoy the attractive moss and lichens that grow on the ledges. And invasive plants that have crept in over the years were removed.

Helianthus in the Haney Hillside Garden at the Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens. Photo by Tom Atwell

Although there are some blossoms in Haney Hillside Garden – patches of the native cardinal flower, Lobelia cardinalis, and a yellow helianthus were especially attractive when I visited – they are not dominant. It’s the foliage, with contrasting shades and textures, that’s meant to create visual interest.

Cardinal flowers along the trail in the Haney Hillside Garden of the Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens. Photo by Tom Atwell

Not every plant in the garden is native to Maine, but Ames said all fit into the site and overall plan and serve a purpose. Most of the plants are species, meaning they occur in nature, not cultivars, which are artificially created when humans cross-pollinate two species. Many plants were chosen because they cover the ground and prevent weeds from sprouting, which will lessen the time gardeners must devote to weeding in the future.

The Native Plant Trust, formerly the New England Wild Flower Society, is growing many of the plants for the project.

Ames is especially excited by a grove of seven redbud trees that were planted earlier this year. I haven’t seen many redbuds do well in Maine, but he said the species chosen, Cercis canadensis f. alba, is rated as hardy to Zone 4, hardier than other redbuds. The botanical gardens are in Zone 6, milder than coastal York and Cumberland counties.

As the tour was winding down, I wondered if the other older gardens at the botanical garden are slated for rejuvenation. In theory, yes. But Brand said first money must be found to pay for the work. He added that no new gardens will be established until all the existing gardens are updated.

Tom Atwell is a freelance writer gardening in Cape Elizabeth. He can be contacted at:

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