Monday, March 18, 2013

Maine Monday: Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens

Mother Nature may be about to dump a foot of snow on us tomorrow, but I'm ignoring her and looking forward to spring. In just a few short weeks (or months, it seems) we'll be out enjoying the colors of spring while stomping around in our mud boots.

One of our favorite places to explore is the Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens. Located in Boothbay, Maine on 250 beautiful acres, the Botanical Garden is a stunning place to bring the kids for a day of adventure and exploration. Boothbay is only an hour north of Portland, and the Botanical Garden is open year round. Admission is free from November through March, otherwise it's $14 for adults, $6 for children, and under 3 they're free. We bought a family membership ($90) after our third visit and wished we'd joined the first time. . .  Membership also gets you reciprocal admission to over 300 gardens throughout the US and Canada, which makes it a great deal if you travel.

Sometimes we'll break up the drive with a lunch stop at Lion's Pride in Brunswick. This British pub has gourmet pub food (not the greasy fried kind), hundreds of unusual beers on tap, and a great kids menu. If you're just looking for a snack (and you follow the rules of C&G travel), stop at Gelato Fiasco on Maine Street in Brunswick for a little sugar boost before you head up the coast to the Botanical Gardens.

The best thing about the Botanical Gardens is that it looks different every time we go. The plantings and flowers change right along with the seasons. And with lots of wide open spaces the boys never run out of trails to take. We pick up a map at the main desk and let them direct us along. There is a lovely cafe if you need to pick up a snack or want to eat lunch on the outdoor patio. Be sure to bring along some water bottles, as all that running around works up quite a thirst.

In the children's garden you will find a vegetable garden to walk through, a playhouse with toys and books, a water pumping station (always a hit, no matter what the temperature), and a beautiful rainbow garden with flowers across the whole color spectrum. A labyrinth encourages them to slow down and follow the path, while you can sit on the nearby porch swings under a shaded trellis. Or let them loose in the treehouse and watch them traverse the rope high off the ground.

A walk down to the water will bring you to the meditation garden, filled with giant granite rocks quarried from around Maine. It's very peaceful, and even the little C&Gs will stop for a bit and take in the silence. After about 5 minutes they're ready to follow the waterfront path through the woods to the fairy village. This is always a big hit and they'll spend as long as we let them scavenging natural materials to build a few fairy houses. Along the way are plenty of rocks, stumps, and trees to jump over or climb on.

If all this activity gets too exhausting, a golf cart shuttle will stop along several points in the gardens to give you a lift back to the main house. We leave it up to the boys to find out where we are on the map and where the shuttle stop is if they're too tired to walk. Back around the main house you'll find the kitchen garden, filled with every kind of herb. There's also a five senses garden with a pebbled labyrinth to follow in your bare feet, a waterfall and tall grasses that whisper in the breeze, edible lettuces, and colorful flowers and plants to see and smell. It's a nice way to wind down the day before hopping in the car.

If you time things right, you'll be back in Brunswick around cocktail/dinner time and you can stop by my favorite funky Mexican place, El Camino, for tasty margaritas and chips and guacamole. The menu has lots of innovative dishes, made with fresh local produce, meats and seafood. The choices might be a little too creative for the kiddos, but they're always happy to make up some cheese quesadillas.

And don't forget to make a detour down Maine Street for some more Gelato Fiasco. There's nothing wrong with gelato twice a day. . .

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