A Grand and Green opening at Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens | Arts & Culture

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A Grand and Green opening at Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens

G is for Gardens, and for going green. Trumping all its previous successful efforts at environmental stewardship, on Friday, July 15, at 11 a.m., Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens in Boothbay will open its newest addition - the Bosarge Family Education Center, the greenest building in Maine.

Admission to the building is free on opening day. After opening ceremonies, everyone will be invited to plant seedlings in a sun-patterned "flower tower," take tours of the building, and view a slide show of native plants using the building's new technology. Refreshments, too, will follow a sun theme.

Tours for visitors and environment-related activities for children will go on all weekend. A concert by Divas World Productions on Saturday, July 16, 7-9 p.m., will fill the new building with music related to gardens. The concert is free, but reservations are required.

The Education Center is certified LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) Platinum. It will also achieve net-zero-energy status, generating as much or more energy than it consumes.

In addition to the structure's attributes, the gardens surrounding the Education Center will be a model of sustainable design. Dozens of illustrated interpretive panels  indoors and out, plus an electronic dashboard explaining the building and grounds and showing details of energy use in real time, will help visitors understand what makes this super-green project special, and will give them ideas they can use at home.

"We're asking everyone to wear green to the opening," says Executive Director Maureen Heffernan. "In its architectural style, the new Education Center complements our lovely Visitor Center; but even more, its state-of-the-art features and environmentally sustainable design and landscaping mesh with our mission to further education, research, and horticulture."

Fortunately, since it opened to the public in June of 2007, the Gardens' popularity has exceeded all predictions; but unfortunately, needs soon exceeded the building's capacity. With nearly 90,000 visitors last year, up from the 40,000 in 2007, the 9,500-square-foot Visitor Center has long since outgrown the space needed for programs and special events, staff offices, meetings, and visitor amenities. The Education Center will fill the bill for some time to come, thanks to its large and flexible areas for classes and presentations, gallery spaces, and a two-floor "West Wing" with rooms for offices and meetings. 

The design for the 8,000-plus-square-foot Education Center is the product of a collaboration between Scott Simons Architects of Portland and Maclay Architects of Waitsfield, Vermont, with input from committees of the Gardens' board members and staff.

How Does It Work?

While it represents the latest science, the Education Center's design is based on a theory that at first seems whimsical: If a plant designed a building.. Yet, the concept is immensely practical. After all, a building designed by a plant would function efficiently and generate more energy than it uses without a dependence on fossil fuels or toxic emissions. It would shape its structure to fit the character of the bioregion and maintain, or even add to, the value of its ecosystem. It would only produce waste that could be used by another system. It would conserve water by on-site capture and recycling. And it would adapt to changing environmental conditions, such as temperature and climate. The Bosarge Family Education Center does all this and, through tours and signage, will teach visitors how to follow its examples.
The walls and beams were constructed in a special shop run by the Bensonwood company in New Hampshire and brought to the Gardens, minimizing impact on the building site. Construction waste, too, was minimized. Super-efficient triple-glazed windows, foot-thick walls with an R-value of 40 and even-thicker roofs with an R-value of 60, and "smart" air-to-air heat pumps are among the features that will help keep the building cool in summer and warm in winter.

With 135 photovoltaic panels covering the entire south side of the roof, and another 102-panel array on the one-time tennis courts (a vestige of the housing development the Gardens' property was once intended to be), the Bosarge Family Education Center will generate a total of 55,184 kilowatt hours of energy annually. Energy not immediately needed will be transferred to an off-site grid to be returned and used as required. To help conserve energy, the building's design makes optimum use of natural lighting and high-tech light-detection features.

Water conservation is also built into the design. Faucets and fixtures use much less water than those in typical buildings.  Rainwater collected underground in a 1,700-gallon cistern will be used for toilets, radiant heating, and cooling.

In designing the five distinct planting zones surrounding the building, landscape architect Herb Schaal, FASLA, took into account the conditions and microclimates in each area - from full sun to full shade and from boggy to very dry - and matched the plants to the site, rather than vice-versa. Only native plants that will thrive are used, and no irrigation will be necessary. In fact, the rain garden areas will capture runoff and send it to the cistern for use in the building. Large deciduous trees on the south side of the building will help shade it from summer sun but, after they lose their leaves in the fall, will let in the sun's warmth in the winter.
Experts and Artists in Residence and on Stage

The first program in the Education Center will be a symposium, Designing Your Signature Maine Landscape, with presentations by three award-winning designers and plantsmen who've had a major impact on the Gardens: Herb Schaal, who, along with the Education Center plantings designed the sensory garden and children's garden and created an overall master plan for the Gardens; Bruce John Riddell, ASLA, who designed the Vayo Meditation Garden and other areas of the Gardens; and William Cullina, author of a number of highly regarded books and the Gardens' director of horticulture and plant curator.

The symposium is just the beginning of educational offerings in the new building. With its innovative collapsible interior dividers and flexible systems, the design of the high-ceilinged education-and-performance wing allows for three programs at one time. Children can be in one of the spaces learning to make Native American flutes or real Maine pickles or crafting terrariums, while adults can be learning about historical herb use in one space, while others practice their flower-arranging skills next door.

The Ina and Lewis Heafitz Endowed Lecture Series will enable the Gardens to bring top-notch speakers to the Gardens. The series will begin on Wednesday, August 10, with nationally renowned artist, landscape architect, and author W. Gary Smith. In his presentation, "From Art to Landscape: Unleashing Creativity in Garden Design," he will show how to make meaningful gardens that express both a sense of place and the individual's creative spirit. 

Fundraisers will have a new home in the Education Center, too. On Saturday, July 23, "Marilyn! Babydoll Reflects," a show featuring Marie Bosarge as Marilyn Monroe, will boost the annual fund. "Maine Meets Maui: A Luau at the Gardens" on Sunday, August 28, will make good use of the space for dinner, music, and auctions.

In fact, music will have a regular home in the Education Center. The acclaimed DaPonte String Quartet will present a series of concerts from July through October, with their Chamber Music Festival at the Gardens on three nights in August. Performances by other groups are also on the calendar.

Invited experts and artists will have studio space in the Education Center and will offer demonstrations, workshops, and tours - whatever best relates their expertise to visitors - in a series of week-long programs that begin even before the Education Center's grand opening. Herb Schaal, who is a talented watercolor artist as well as a landscape architect, will be first on the summer's In-Residence roster, with painting and landscape-design programs from July 5-9.

Next up, from July 18-22, is Barry Dana, a leader of the Penobscot nation, who will build a birch-bark canoe and conduct demonstrations of traditional basket-making and making temporary survival shelters. His week at the Gardens will end with the launching of the canoe. Continuing the In-Residence season will be wildlife artist Barry W. Van Dusen, woodblock-print artists Kim and Philippe Villard, and author and professor Dr. Michael Dirr, who wrote the book on woody plants, literally.
Funding the Education Center

The Bosarge Family Foundation, with a longstanding commitment to green design and a love for Maine, was so impressed by the Gardens' plans for its new education building that it presented the Gardens with a $2 million gift. The donation included a challenge: Raise $1.5 million, and it would match it. True to its history with challenges from foundations and individuals, the Gardens not only met, but exceeded, the amount needed to receive the Bosarge gift.

The groundbreaking celebration for the Bosarge Family Education Center last October was attended by Ed and Marie Bosarge, who have a home on nearby Southport Island; representatives of the Gardens; and professions from the green-building industry who were responsible for designing and constructing the Education Center.
A Setting Beyond Compare

In the four years since its grand opening, the Gardens has become one of Maine's top attractions and is often lauded as a world-class botanical garden. Its website, www.MaineGardens.org , offers a wealth of information, including calendar details. Additional information is available by calling 207-633-4333 or stopping by the Visitor Center, off Barters Island Road, a little more than a mile from Boothbay center.

The Education Center is just a few yards from the Visitor Center in the bustling Central Gardens area of Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens. Visitors to the 250-acre shorefront property are delighted as they discover exceptional plantings, stonework, sculpture, and water features in a dozen spectacular ornamental gardens; the Visitor Center with a steady stream of art exhibits by New England's finest artists, as well as the appealing Kitchen Garden Café and Gardens Gift Shop; and miles of waterfront and woodland trails.

Now, with the opening of the Bosarge Family Education Center, visitors will be able to take their exploration of the Gardens to a whole new level.

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