Summer vacation 2: downeast Maine and Kingsbrae Garden


(I meant to write this shortly after the post about our trip to the Pacific northwest, because I thought it would be interesting to compare the flora, both wild and cultivated, of the two northern locales.  But something else always seemed to require my attention, and now two months have gone by.  Luckily, photos of flowers never wilt.)

Part the First: Introduction

near Cutler

Towards the end of summer it is our habit to rent a little cottage on the coast of Maine and spend a quiet week hiking, fishing, and sampling the lobster rolls from as many different seafood takeouts as possible (the best this year:  Bayview Takeout on Beals Island).  The primary appeal of the area (apart from summer temperatures a good twenty degrees F cooler than North Carolina) is the coastline.  As a youngster, I imprinted on rocky shores in Cornwall and Norway, so the sand beaches and dunes of North Carolina, pretty as they are, can’t compete.  The granite slopes tumbling down to cold, deep water are evocative of happy childhood memories, and there can hardly be a better way to spend a summer afternoon than exploring a rocky tide pool.

Great Wass Island Preserve

We go far enough “down east” to leave the heaving mass of vacationers behind, and it’s not unusual to have a couple of miles of shoreline or a mountain trail all to ourselves.  Just an hour’s drive to the west, there are traffic jams in Acadia National Park, but we often see more wildlife than people.

I’m not very good at distinguishing grey seals from harbor seals.  I think this is a grey.

Afternoon visitor to the cottage garden
eagle 2
Not sure if the Noble Symbol of our Nation is reacting to current politics or has a fish bone stuck in his throat
Low tide

I just can’t get enough of this scenery.

Tunk mountain
The view from the top of Tunk Mountain is worth the climb.
water striders
Water striders on Jones Pond, Gouldsboro


Part the Second:  Wildflowers

Of course, whenever we go for a drive or a hike, I keep my eyes open for interesting plants.  This year, I noticed some similarities between the coast of Washington and that of Maine, despite more than 3000 miles,several mountain ranges, and four degrees of latitude separating the two locations.

In both places, one of the most common wildflowers is Chamaenerion angustifolium (fireweed):

Chamaenerion angustifolium (fireweed)

Spiraea species are also common along the roadside.  In Washington we saw pink flowered Spiraea douglasii and S. densiflora, while in Maine we see the white S. alba. Both fireweed and white meadowsweet are native to the mountains of North Carolina, but I have never seen them growing in the piedmont.  Too hot in summer, I would imagine.

Spiraea alba (white meadowsweet)

I saw some very interesting plants during a hike in Great Wass Island Preserve, where part of the loop trail runs just above the high tide line.  There’s really no trail at all for several miles, just occasional blazes painted on the rocks.  The cracks in the rock accumulate enough soil for plants to survive in what must be one of the harshest environments imaginable: baking in summer, frigid in winter, and dry when it isn’t being lashed by salt spray.

Great Wass Island
Great Wass Island Preserve

This is the home of a very pretty Campanula species that almost seems too delicate to grow in such a tough habitat.

campanula 2
Campanula sp. (bellflower)


Nearby, I also found and odd little plant with a cloud of tiny purple flowers above prostrate leaves:

sea lavendar
Limonium carolinianum (sea lavender)

I also found a succulent that I tentatively identified as a sedum.  When I looked it up later, I discovered that I wasn’t far off.

Rhodiola rosea, formerly Sedum rosea (roseroot)
roseroot 2
Beside this R rosea are the sword-like leaves of immature Iris setosa (beachhead iris).

The interior of the island is a shield of bare granite that the trail crosses to return to the parking lot.  Where a thin layer of acidic soil has accumulated on the rock, lichens and moss form a carpet among various ericaceous shrublets and stunted Pinus banksiana (jack pines).  In early August, the soil and moss was bone dry, and the leaves of wild blueberries and other ericaceae were already taking on their autumn colors.


Where the topography of the rock results in poorly drained pockets of peat, sphagnum moss and carnivorous plants grow.  I saw numerous Drosera rotundifolia (roundleaf sundew) and a few Sarracenia purpurea subsp. purpurea (northern purple pitcher plant)


This plant was growing in shade, so it has much less red pigmentation than plants growing in a more sunny location.  The presence of red veins in the pitchers shows that it is not the all-green Sarracenia purpurea subsp. purpurea forma heterophylla

For comparison, here is a red plant that I found a couple of years ago in Quoddy Head State Park, a little further northeast towards the Canadian border:

Sarracenia 2

And here are the shorter, wider pitchers of the southern subspecies, Sarracenia purpurea subsp. venosa, growing in North Carolina :

Sarracenia 3


Part the Third:  Kingsbrae Garden

No matter where we travel, we like to visit local botanical gardens, so one morning we drove about a hundred miles and crossed into Canada to visit Kingsbrae Garden in St. Andrews, New Brunswick.  On the drive up Route 9 to the border crossing at Calais, we stopped at what may be the most beautiful highway rest area I have ever seen.

rest area with lobelia

It also had the smelliest outhouse, but I didn’t take a photograph of that.

Along the stream, bright red Lobelia cardinalis were in full bloom.

rest area with lobelia 2

Interestingly, the same species was blooming at the same time in my garden 600 miles to the south.

Kingsbrae Garden was well worth the trip.  It isn’t all that large, but it is beautifully landscaped and contains a wide variety of native and exotic plants.

The first area a visitor encounters is a formal knot garden.


Kingsbrae succulent
Sempervivum in bloom

Below that is an informal perennial garden:


There’s a pond:


And interesting shrubs:

Kingsbrae hydrangea
Hydrangea paniculata
Cephalanthus occidentalis (buttonbush), native to New Brunswick and North Carolina
Rhus typhina (staghorn sumac), also native to New Brunswick and the mountains of NC

The sculpture garden incorporates works by Canadian artists:

Something Stirs by Joel Palmer
Salmon Vortex by Alanna Baird
Cascade by Donna Mayne

And there are Alpacas.  At lunch time, they come out to the main lawn to mingle with the visitors.


If you find yourself in New Brunswick (or in Maine and have your passport), Kingsbrae is well worth a visit.

4 thoughts on “Summer vacation 2: downeast Maine and Kingsbrae Garden

  1. …and I call myself a gardener….
    We were just East of there this summer, at St George, and I didn’t even suspect there was a botanic garden nearby! I’ll have to put it down on the list for next time.

    Liked by 1 person

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