As I write today, we are all in the midst of a week of cloudy, dreary and down pouring weather. Oh well, it seems the brown-eyed Susans, the coneflowers and the peony poppies don’t mind as they are popping all about the landscape. And the toads are happy – really happy. I just got a new toad house for my birthday and I am hoping they will take up habitation soon.

Toads are extremely good for your garden and for you, quite frankly. They eat mosquitoes, black flies and slugs. Yes, slugs. So every toad makes a dent in how many mosquito bites you get and how many slugs you don’t have to hunt down.

There are some really interesting toad houses available now and they can be a fun piece of garden décor. They also provide a cool damp place for toads to hang out during hot, sunny days. But since I don’t think toads actually appreciate architecture, you can make them just as happy with a broken clay pot. If you have a clay pot that is cracked or broken on the edge, just make that broken part twice the size of a big toad (and do try to get any sharp or jagged pieces smoothed out), turn the pot upside down in a shady spot under some plants, and you have yourself a toad house. Both the toads and your garden will thank you.

Thank goodness for gardeners with vision

As part of my birthday celebration, my husband and I went to the Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens in Boothbay Harbor. These are relatively new gardens started by a small group of devoted volunteers in 1996, when the first 128 acres of the now 248 acres were purchased. More than 3,600 feet of the garden sits on tidal shorefront and the rolling and sometimes steep hillsides are dramatic with massive stone ledges. You have to admire gardeners when they get a vision in their heads.

Unlike some gardens I have visited, this is a series of gardens connected by trails and pathways rather than solid garden plantings in every direction. They have a kitchen garden, a rose and perennial garden, a woodland garden and a forest pond garden as well as a meditation garden and a birch allee. As a young and very much still-developing garden, there are some areas that will require growing time before they are spectacular, but the promise is there.

The trail system is enchanting, relaxing and thoroughly enjoyable. The new visitor center and café are a treat. When we were there, a display of kinetic sculpture by acclaimed artist George Sherwood could be seen throughout the gardens. They were some of the most amazing and enthralling pieces I have ever seen. The constantly moving and rotating parts of these metal sculptures made them captivating. The sculpture exhibit, “Wind and Light,” will continue until Aug. 15 – and really is worth the trip.

The entire complex is a treat, but my two favorite parts both play to children and those of us who are still children confined to adult bodies. The Fairy House Village lies along one of those meandering paths in the woods. I could tell you to take a left at the North Star and fly straight on until morning, but you will find it more easily with the garden map they give you. At first glance, you could very well get an impression that a bunch of squirrels and chipmunks have run amok in this particular patch of trees. But upon closer inspection – and do bend down and go through the child-size entrance – you will see hundreds of tiny fairy abodes built by creative little fingers and huge imaginations.

The rules for fairy house building are really quite simple. You can only use what you find on the ground like rocks, sticks, pine cones and leaves. You cannot pick anything living nor can you use anything you brought with you. I was just amazed at some of these that had been fashioned with archways, rock pathways, birch bark roofs and pine cone furniture. Make way Frank Lloyd Wright!

When you leave here, you can take a lovely walk through the woodland garden and the birch allee back to the great lawn.

The second part I favor is the children’s garden or what is to become the children’s garden. Due to a generous $1.5 million matching grant from the Harold Alfond Foundation, a new children’s garden is scheduled to be completed in 2010. This summer, however, the site of the future garden holds eight temporary display gardens designed by some of New England’s best talents.

There is a dragon sprouting nasturtiums and other colorful flowers, a Victorian playhouse surrounded by plantings, an amazingly large fairy house, an interactive area with a big bird’s nest the little ones can sit in and a really neat tepee. After seeing these temporary displays and reading the plans for the permanent garden, which will include interactive areas, I can’t wait. Children’s gardens are really also for adults, they just don’t say that. I am hoping this Maine children’s adventure will give the amazing Enchanted Woods Children’s Garden at Winterthur in the Brandywine Valley of Delaware a run for its money.

For more information on the gardens or the Maine Fairy House Festival, go to www.mainegardens.org.

Until next time, don’t forget to keep on top of those weeds because the rain has made them healthy and hardy; welcome the toads to your garden and watch out for them when you mow; spend some time with a child and bring some magic back into your life; and don’t forget it is time for blackberries.

Happy gardening.

Jody Goodwin has been gardening for more than 25 years. She lives in Turner with her husband, Ike, her two dogs and two cats. She can be reached by writing to her in care of the Sun Journal, 104 Park St., Lewiston, Maine, 04243-4400 or by e-mail at [email protected]

For those of you who might be interested, the Coastal Maine Gardens will hold a Maine Fairy House Festival Aug. 8, 9 and 10, with a long list of fun activities for fairy fans. These include workshops on making fairy wands, crowns and tutus, costume parades, storytelling and of course, fairy house building. Tracy Kane, author of “The Fairy Houses Series,” will hold a reading and signing as well as conduct a workshop on how to build a fairy house. My 3-year-old granddaughter attended this same kind of event with the author earlier this summer at L.L. Bean and had a wonderful time. So grab a small child and make your way to Boothbay Harbor for a fun day of imagination. If you have the child but can’t get to Boothbay, just try the backyard, it can be just as much fun.


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