Friends, readers and relatives from as far away as Dublin and Colorado have been contacting my wife Nancy and me for advice as they begin sprucing up properties that haven’t been tended for years. They have the time, because the pandemic has rearranged their schedules, and some have even discovered that they enjoy working the soil.

Now these new gardeners will be able to see how the experts do it.

Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens in Boothbay, which is rated by TripAdvisor as among the top botanical gardens in the United States, reopened on June 1.

Of course, it isn’t operating in the same way it used to.

Reservations for a specific time must be made in advance, both for visitors buying tickets and for members, who are admitted free (last weekend, the garden posted on Instagram that its opening week was sold out). Also, the number of people allowed in the gardens at any one time is limited — for now, no more than 200 visitors per day. Last year, the garden, which normally opens in mid-April, averaged 400 visitors a day.

Some features, especially in the Children’s Garden, are closed. Some paths are limited to one-way travel, and guided tours and on-site programs will not be offered until at least July, according to Kris Folsom, marketing and communications director. Garden visitors are asked to wear masks when they are in buildings or when appropriate distancing is impossible outdoors. Part-time staff members are monitoring to ensure the new rules are followed.

But the garden is worth these minor inconveniences. Even while the garden was closed earlier this spring, the staff has been getting them ready for the season, Folsom said; fortunately, the organization has not had to lay off any full-time staff because of lost revenues. I spoke with Folsom in early June, and she added that the Giles Rhododendron Garden was looking especially lovely just then.

Visiting the botanical garden, even with the limitations, will be especially informative for people who have just begun or resumed gardening because of pandemic stay-at-home orders. They can discover plants they don’t know about, and see how professionals mix colors and plant shapes. Even without guides and classes, a walk through the garden is educational.

One thing the staff hasn’t been doing is implementing the garden’s master plan. Folsom said the plan, which includes a conservatory, has been put on hold, in part because of the pandemic. Also, the organization hasn’t yet replaced former executive director Bill Cullina, who left last year, and the new hire may have other ideas. I had wondered, and Folsom chuckled when I mentioned it, if a conservatory – sort of a greenhouse for subtropical and tropical plants – would be a wise choice while so many of us are worried about being inside at close quarters with a crowd.

Other public gardens in Maine are opening up, too. The McLaughlin Garden in South Paris is now open from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Wednesdays through Sundays, but all fundraising events are canceled through June. The gift shop is open and plants are for sale, Managing Director Karla Horecky said.

Fort Williams Park also reopened June 1, though parking has been reduced as a way to prevent the park from becoming overcrowded. As usual, the Friends of Fort Williams Park have been maintaining the gardens the organization created there.

In Bar Harbor, the Asticou Azalea Garden reopened June 4, with a limit of 25 visitors at a time. The Thuya Garden and Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Garden remain closed. One of the things I was most looking forward to this summer was a tour of the Beatrix-Farrand-designed Rockefeller garden, as part of the now-canceled Garden Federation of Maine convention. Maybe next year.

But I will be visiting public gardens this year, and you should, too.

In addition a couple of trips to Boothbay, I will make many trips to Fort Williams Park (Bias alert: I’m a member of the Friends of Fort Williams Park board), gardens and parks in Portland and anywhere else I see beautiful plants.

It just makes me feel good.

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


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