Having lived in the DC area for several years, I’ve been spoiled by the amazing US Botanic Garden and the National Arboretum, so it takes quite a bit to impress me. But, when we learned about the 300-acre Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens and the wildly impressive sculpture found inside, we had to check it out!
The Basics & Getting There:
Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens
132 Botanical Gardens Drive
Their regular season is May 1 – October 17, although they do have a drive-through winter lights event, which makes me wish we were back in Maine for Christmas because I’m sure it’s amazing.
Driving to the gardens was easy, and only took a little over an hour from our Airbnb outside of Portland. Once we arrived we were impressed with the large accessible parking lot and easily pulled into a space. This year they were requiring timed entry tickets and we intentionally planned an early time slot so we could beat the crowds. The parking lot still had plenty of open spaces when we left several hours later, so parking doesn’t look like it would be an issue at any point. For others, there are several other parking areas on the property, all connected by smooth, paved walkways.
Guardians of the Seeds by Thomas Dambo:
This is what we came here for. Dambo is a Danish environmental artist with giant trolls on display worldwide. This particular exhibit, Guardians of the Seeds, is a group of 5 trolls and the signage tells a story as you visit each one. Gathering those clues, you can then search for the stash of seeds. You can learn more about Dambo on his site. His work uses recycled wood that would be discarded.
We were able to reach 4 of the 5 trolls. Two are considered accessible from wheelchairs. We managed a third that is considered possible from a wheelchair, and by defying certain death we made it to a fourth. Roskva, Lilja, Birk, and Soren. After that, we made our way back to the shuttle path and hitched a ride back to the main gardens. Know that it involves some steep inclines and rocky uneven trails with protruding tree roots. It is not recommended for wheelchairs for a reason. This will require hours of hiking by active, fit guests. Definitely, anyone walking should have suitable footwear. I used my freewheel attachment again, but on those steep inclines and declines, I did require two others to hold on to my chair to slow my descent, and to push from behind on the inclines. We are glad we made the effort, but it did require teamwork.
These trolls are huge. You can look at the photos on the botanical garden website ahead of time, but even knowing in advance what they will look like and knowing that they are giant, they are surprisingly tricky to spot. They blend into their environment shockingly well. At each location, you will read their story sign and gather clues to solve the mystery of where they hid the seeds. They suggest you allow 3-4 hours to find all the trolls.
But even then you won’t have really seen it all! The botanical gardens alone are well worth the visit. While the forest trails for the trolls may have been tricky to handle on wheels, they have done a very nice job making the rest of the gardens accessible. On your first visit, it is worth picking up a map at the ticket counter. It’s nice to just wander and see where the paths send you, but then you can check to see areas you may have missed. It is all beautiful, but the children’s garden was particularly impressive.
You may know I love books, and their children’s garden is divided into sections themed by children’s literature. How cool is that? So many interactive elements, sculptures, and surprising touches that you may not even notice at first glance. Much larger and more interesting than most children’s areas at other public gardens.
We were really impressed and spent more time in this area than we had planned. If there were features that were difficult to explore on wheels, they almost always had an alternative route that was clearly marked. There were restrooms within this section, but for easy accessibility, you will appreciate the restrooms at the very beginning of the visitor welcome center.
The garden does have an “accessible cart” to help visitors along with certain parts of their exploration. It is an extended golf cart that does require climbing up into the cart. They do have a step stool to make it less of a climb, but there is no way to make this happen without climbing up and in. I did use this cart as a lift back to the main garden area after rolling all over the gardens tracking down giant troll sculptures, but I did have someone to lift me up into it, and then we rested my wheelchair on the back trunk and two people with me held it in place. Without a group of 3 like that, it wouldn’t be helpful. It is best for people who are ambulatory but have difficulty with long distances. Additionally, they offer “accessible cart” tours that are free on Wednesdays.
But overall we were really happy with their accessibility. There was plenty of placard parking in a close lot right next to the visitor center. In the visitor center, you’ll also find large restrooms are available off to the side as you enter. Garden maps indicate accessible routes and they have plenty of signage as you are out exploring. Their cafe was not open due to covid, but from what we could see, it was welcoming as well.