When we first moved back to Maine, we heard about the Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens but were hesitant about traveling up to the Boothbay area with two kids for the day. It seemed like too much to handle in the car for just a couple hours in the gardens. It's safe to say we were wrong! We have been members for a few years now and love to make the trip a few times a month. Since we’ve been making the trek for awhile now, we’ve ironed a lot of details out and I have my top seven tips to share with you.
Before I begin, I want to encourage you to check the Garden's website for COVID-19 updates. Some indoor sections require masking up, so I always pack one for each of us just in case. However, most of the features are outside so we consider it a very pandemic-friendly place to visit.
Secondly, if you are wondering about the cost, there's a section on their website for Ways to Save. They strive to be accessible for all and there are a number of ways to save on your ticket price--there is a Gardens for All program, certain free days for Boothbay & Lincoln county residents and children's days, free admission for Personal Care Assistants and Active Duty Military. Many local libraries also hold passes. Currently, regular ticket prices range from $55 for a family (two adults and two children) to free for children three and under.
Become a member of the gardens. This isn’t a must-do, but we find that the membership pays for itself after a few trips up. If you’re hesitant on buying a pass, think of it this way: every time you go, something has changed! There are also member perks such as member’s hours--think of all those magic hour moments you can get! We actually JUST took advantage of member's night and it was the best experience I've had: a beautiful glow and WAY less crowds. Becoming a member also makes you part of their Reciprocal Membership Program, meaning you can visit other botanical gardens with your pass. Along with unlimited visits, you get discounts in the Garden Shop and classes/events (and Gardens Aglow), along with special member's events. A membership also makes for a great family gift :)
Make a day of it. The drive from Portland is about 1.5 hours (give or take with the summer traffic) and sometimes that‘s too much with kids. So, we like to make stops or make a day of it. There are plenty of land preserves in the area--check out Boothbay Region Land Trust or the Kennebec Estuary Land Trust for a list of trails (check out my previous story for a look at Thorne Head in Bath). There are also a ton of local restaurants and shops in the area--hello Boothbay Harbor! Another idea is to check out the local islands--Southport is home to Cape Newagen Alpaca Farm, where I've sourced some fiber and got to meet their adorable alpacas!
Go on a weekday. We've found weekday trips are more manageable and fun because there are less crowds. (As of writing this article, you still need to make a reservation to go.)
Spend time in the Bibbi and Harold Alfond Children's Garden. This garden is NOT just for kids! This is definitely my favorite part of the gardens--the colors are glorious and there is plenty to do to keep the kiddos entertained (if you bring them) while you wander. There are structures to play in, explore fairy houses, a boat to play in, ponds to explore (tons of tadpoles and frogs), a tree house and cave, chickens, books, a sand box, a HUGE tunnel made from gourds and vines... And don't forget to take a photo of the adorable cat fence!
Take your time exploring and USE THE MAP! There is SO much to take in. Like...enough where it can be overwhelming. Grab a map at the Visitor Center and take your time exploring! On the way in, we always walk through the Butterfly House (if it's open--see below for more details) and we take in the sights and sounds over the bridge (sooo many frogs). I love to start out at the children's garden and make our way through the zen/meditation garden, the arbors, the lawns (the Great Lawn is a fun spot to run around), and end in the Garden of the Five Senses. On the way out we always check out the bees. And, don't forget to look out for those giant trolls!
Different times of the year means different blooms. In the spring, check out the Giles Rhododendron and Perennial Garden. In the summer, make your way through the Butterfly and Moth house! And in the later summer, the Children's Garden is alive with bright, beautiful colors and fruits and veggies! In the fall, the pumpkins come out and the trees change colors. And of course, the winter features Gardens Aglow--all kinds of lights and snow.
Check out their calendar for events. Speaking of Gardens Aglow...there are a ton of different classes and events at the gardens. One time we went in the fall and there was a cider making demonstration. Daily, there are book readings and chicken feedings in the children's area. There are also Lincoln County resident days with free admission and every Wednesday is free for kids in July/August 2021 thanks to L.L. Bean!
The gardens are a magical, wonderful place to visit. I hope you enjoy!