Which is why I wasn’t surprised when Daniel Q. Haney, a college friend whose career I had been following as a senior medical writer for The Associated Press, contacted me about updates underway at Haney’s Hillside Garden at the Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens in Boothbay. The park is named for and financially supported by Hani and his wife, Susan.
Late last month, Honey, Andrew Brand, the park’s director of horticulture, and Lon Ames, the gardener whose main job is to tend Hillside Park, and I joined us on a two-hour tour of the site.
“We still retain the original intent and design,” Ames said. The work, which began two years ago, aims to deal with overcrowding that has occurred as trees and other plants have grown over the years.
Bruce Riedel originally designed Hillside Park as a wilderness park, with an emphasis on the existing rocks and ledge, and views through the trees of the Back River, Haney said. Its basic elements are slope, forest and edge of paths, as well as shadows and soil.
The park follows a winding path that descends from the grass near the original Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens Visitor Center (now the restaurant) almost to the beach. The trail is 1,000 feet long, which Ames noted meant he was dealing with 2,000 feet of border gardens on either side of the trail. Home gardeners often have trouble keeping up with a few hundred feet of flowering borders.
The bulk of the work so far – and there is still more to do – has been the removal of several large trees. The garden was always meant to be a combination of plants, stone, water and sun, but over the course of 17 years, the trees have grown too big and tall, blocking some views of the water and preventing the sun from reaching the garden floor.
Other plants were removed because they did not belong in a wild garden. For example, perennial hibiscus, a stunning non-native plant with huge flowers that come late in the season, was planted elsewhere.
At the same time, weeds and other low-growing perennials that obscured the visible ledge rocks along the paths have been removed, allowing visitors to enjoy the attractive mosses and lichens growing on the ledges. Invasive plants that had crept in over the years were removed.
Although there are some flowers in Honey Hillside Garden – patches of native cardinalflower, lobelia cardinalis and yellow helianthus were particularly attractive when I visited – they are not dominant. It is the foliage, with contrasting shades and textures, that is intended to create visual interest.
Not all of the plants in the garden are native to Maine, but Ames said they all fit the site and overall plan and serve a purpose. Most plants are species, meaning they occur in nature, rather than varieties, which are created artificially when humans pollinate two species. Many of the plants were chosen because they cover the ground and prevent weed growth, reducing the time gardeners have to devote to weeding in the future.
The Native Plant Trust, formerly known as the New England Wild Flower Society, is growing many of the plants for the project.
Ames is particularly excited about a grove of seven redwood trees that were planted earlier this year. I haven’t seen many redbuds doing well in Maine, but he said his chosen species, Cercis canadensis f. Alba, classified as hardy to zone 4, is hardier than other redbuds. The Botanic Gardens are located in Zone 6, which is milder than coastal York and Cumberland counties.
As the tour was winding down, I wondered if the other old gardens in the Botanical Garden were scheduled to be renovated. In theory, yes. But Brand said money must be saved first to pay for the work. He added that new parks will not be established until all existing parks are modernized.
Tom Atwell is a freelance gardening writer in Cape Elizabeth. He can be contacted at: email@example.com.
Fall is coming. This means that it is time to think about spring