Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens      
  Therapeutic Horticulture Program
at the Lerner Garden of the Five Senses
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Name:         Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens

                    Therapeutic Horticulture Program

                     (Located within the Lerner Garden of

                     the Five Senses)

Physical Address:

                    Barter’s Island Road

                    Boothbay, Maine

Mailing Address:

                    P.O. Box 234

                    Boothbay, Maine  04537



Phone:        207-633-4333

Hours: to 5 p.m. daily, year-round

                   (closed Christmas & Thanksgiving)

What Makes the Coastal Maine Botanical

Gardens’ Therapeutic Horticulture Program


People travel from all locations to visit the internationally-acclaimed Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens in Boothbay.  One could easily spend an entire day exploring and enjoying the incredible diversity of the gardens that are situated on the 250 acre coastal and wooded property.  Sixteen webpages of photos from the gardens have been incorporated in this profile so that visitors to the Unique Maine Farms’ website could have an idea of the scope of the gardens. These pictures are only a tiny sampling of all of that the gardens offer.  Unique Maine Farms purposely navigated to the Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens on a Friday morning recently to learn more about their Therapeutic Horticulture program with some visually impaired individuals from the Boothbay area that takes place within the Lerner Garden of the Five Senses.  It is this innovative and interactive program that will be the focus of this profile.

Several years ago, the Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens realized the significant role that gardening could play in the lives of people faced with all types of physical and mental challenges.  In 2009, thanks to the generosity of Lyn and Daniel Lerner,  and several other individuals, the Lerner Garden of the Five Senses was created. A Therapeutic Horticulture program was instituted that reached out to various groups in the area with special needs.  Individuals with disabilities from Mobius Inc. in Damariscotta, and individuals from the Lincoln Home in Newcastle, which is an assisted living facility, started coming once a week to participate in gardening activities in the Lerner Garden of the Five Senses at the Boothbay gardens.

Irene Brady Barber is the Therapeutic Horticulture Coordinator at the Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens.  She is a professional landscape designer and horticulturist. Not only does she have an exceptional background and knowledge of gardening, she also has a degree in Human Behavior from the University of San Francisco.  She will complete coursework for her certification from the Horticultural Therapy Institute at Colorado State University in 2014.  Irene has had a great deal of experience working with individuals who are developmentally challenged.  Through the Therapeutic Horticulture Program at the Lerner Garden of the Five Senses, she has introduced gardening to people with conditions ranging from Down Syndrome to cerebral palsy, dementia, and autism.  Irene also leads Wellness Sessions for Caregivers and Loved Ones and Group Therapy Sessions at the Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens.  She is also one of the instructors in the Gardening Later in Life Workshops.

Irene explained that the philosophy of the Therapeutic Horticulture program does not center around the finished product.  It is the process of participating in a supportive and nurturing outdoor environment which provides the many benefits.  The individuals involved in the program receive clear instructions and gentle assistance and learn firsthand about the experience and process of working with plants.  Their participation can help in stimulating cognitive activity, reducing stress levels, and encouraging social interaction.

Four years ago the VIP (Visually Impaired People) group from the Boothbay area began coming to the Lerner Garden of the Five Senses at the Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens to participate in the Therapeutic Horticultural program. The VIP group was established in 2000, when Joan Stark arranged for a monthly program for visually impaired people to take place at St. Andrews Village, a retirement community in Boothbay Harbor.  Joan was informed by her doctor that she would be facing a loss of sight and that there was a support group in Portland.  Due to the travel involved in getting to Portland, Joan decided to begin a group in Boothbay.  She explained that many people with visual impairments face feelings of isolation.  There is also the factor that many visually impaired people experience a sense of denial and feel that reaching out for help is simply not an option.

Joan had the utmost praise for the Therapeutic Horticulture program at the Lerner Garden of the Five Senses at the Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens which enables her to “play in the dirt.”  She explained that she can’t see well and getting up and down is extremely challenging for her.  She was most appreciative of the way the Lerner Gardens are positioned at a waist-high level and that a great deal of help is provided with information about how to plant and prune.

VIP was established to provide an opportunity for visually impaired individuals to gain knowledge about helpful technologies and to have an opportunity to share their personal experiences and to also be able to socialize.  The group is open to all those who are dealing with the loss of sight; caring for the visually impaired; or those who might be interested in reading to others. An average of fifteen members meet on the first Tuesday of the month at 1 p.m. at St. Andrew’s Village in Boothbay Harbor. Each month a speaker is scheduled who shares knowledge about the technology, services, and opportunities that are available for those with visual challenges.  The VIP group is very grateful to the Iris Network and the Maine Division of the Blind and Visually Impaired for their support. People interested in finding out more about the VIP program are encouraged to contact Joan Stark at 207-633-2498 or Mollie Moore at 207-633-3810.

It was Mollie Moore who proved to be a major inspiration in the creation of the Lerner Garden of the Five Senses.  She had lost her sight overnight from a case of pneumocccal meningitis in 2000, and had heard about other sensory gardens.  She and her husband, Wells Moore, traveled throughout the country and to England and Canada observing sensory gardens.  They had input from people that they sent to observe sensory gardens in Japan and China, as well.  Mollie expressed her pleasure in the fact that the garden is doing what it was intended to do - providing gardening opportunities for everyone, no matter what the disability.

Wells Moore, who is a docent and volunteer at the Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens, explained that the sensory garden is introduced first on a tour of the property because it encourages visitors to fine tune their senses and to become more aware of all that is offered in the other gardens on the property. Wells Moore, along with his wife, Mollie, are charter members of the Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens.  They joined the non-profit organization in 1996, and remain very active in lending all types of support.

Wells arranged for volunteers in the community to read the Boothbay Register so that an audio version of the local newspaper could be produced for the enjoyment of the members of the VIP group who are no longer able to read the paper.  He also helped to arrange a reduction in expenses for any individuals with a disability needing to access a taxi service on the Boothbay peninsula for transportation to various appointments.

It is clearly obvious that a special camaraderie has  formed among the members of the VIP group that participate in the Therapeutic Horticulture program at the Lerner Garden of the Five Senses at the Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens on Friday mornings.  They arrived with great attitudes, smiles on their faces, and a willingness to help out with the planting and care of the Taste Garden.  On the Friday that Unique Maine Farms visited, Marilyn and Alethe sowed several trays of seed for the Taste Garden.  Richard helped to plant lemon verbena and other plants.  Joan and Mollie worked on filling several large clay containers with an assortment of herbs.

Irene Brady Barber, and her volunteer, Betsy Bradford, were well prepared for the arrival of the VIP group.  They had set up work stations and taken out the necessary gardening tools, soil, and containers.  For individuals who were unable to see the containers, Irene had attached various velcro-shapes to the outside of the container.  This shape could be recognized through touch by the visually impaired person and when they were handed a plant in a pot with a corresponding velcro shape they were able to determine where the plant needed to be planted.

Several thoughtful adaptations have been introduced into the Lerner Garden of the Five Senses.  There are raised beds with wheelchair access, special work chairs, vertical gardens, and railings to enable independence. Ergronomically-designed garden tools are provided. The garden was designed with wide, level paths and a large activities pavilion that provides shade.  There is a pergola and a picnic area. The vertical gardens enable individuals with mobility issues to garden standing up so that they can avoid having to bend and tend a garden on their knees as is the customary procedure with a conventional garden.

Alethe Donaldson is a member of the VIP group.  She was never a gardener before coming to the Lerner Garden of the Five Senses at the Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens.  She described herself as a “greenhorn who has learned so much.”  She travels from Thomaston to participate. Richard Butler ran a florist business for forty years.  He and Marilyn Greenleaf both enjoy participating in the program.  They have a flower and vegetable garden at their home.

Diverse fragrances from the flowers and herbs delight the olfactory senses of the visitors to the Lerner Garden of the Five Senses.  An appreciation for texture and touch is addressed as visitors are encouraged to feel the plants, stonework, and water.  There is a Reflexology Labyrinth where people are encouraged to walk barefoot to experience the smooth river stones. A taste garden has been constructed and visitors have the opportunity to sample a variety of herbs and edible plants.  The colorful plants, fountain, pond, and cascading water appeal to the sense of sight.  Various sounds from the garden include the splash and trickle of water, the rustle of the plants, the movement and noise of the birds in the garden, and the sound of voices echoing in the Sound Stone.

Irene Brady Barber explained that no matter what one’s ability level might be, the Therapeutic Horticultural program provides individuals with the opportunity to “learn new skills while enjoying the emotional, physical, and social advantages of growing and tending plants. The Therapeutic Horticultural program is set in the beautiful Lerner Garden of the Five Senses.  It is truly worth a drive to Boothbay to visit this garden.  It is an amazing property with an innovative program that invites a whole new understanding of personal interaction in nature. Each of the five senses is addressed in such creative and unique ways in this magnificent garden that was purposely designed to be enjoyed by absolutely everyone.

Photo courtesy of the Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens’ website:

Photo courtesy of the Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens’ website:

Photo courtesy of the Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens’ website:

Members of the VIP (Visually Impaired People) program pose for a photo.  From left: Irene Brady Barber, Betsy Bradford, Mollie Moore, Wells Moore, Alethe Donaldson, Blake Donaldson, Marilyn Greenleaf, and Richard Butler. Missing from the group photo was group founder Joan Stark.

From left:  Mollie  Moore and Joan Stark work on filling the large clay container with herbs, as Irene Brady Barber, the Therapeutic Horticulture Coordinator, looks on.

Volunteer Betsy Bradford lends a hand to Richard Butler as he prepares to plant some herbs in the Taste Garden.

Alethe Donaldson and Marilyn Greenleaf plant some calendula seeds for the Taste Garden.

Irene Brady Barber holds a plant with the velcro triangle on the outside of its container.  A visually impaired person can feel the triangle shape and match it to a corresponding triangle that has been placed in the spot where it should be planted.

The vertical gardens enable individuals with mobility issues to garden standing up so that they can avoid having to bend and tend a garden on their knees as with a conventional garden.

Entrance into the Lerner Garden of the Five Senses at the Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens is on a cobblestone path that leads under the beautiful weeping larches.