Merryspring Nature Center is Celebrating a Half a Century of Horticulture

For 50 years the midcoast Maine preserve has been educating visitors on how its gardens grow — and much, much more.

The Maine Daylily Society bed at Merryspring Nature Center
Merryspring’s Maine Daylily Society bed contains varieties of daylilies that are bred by its members and are not available commercially.

Mary Ellen Ross grew up surrounded by plants. The daughter of a Connecticut greenhouse owner, she studied horticulture in college and, after graduating, took her knowledge to Camden. There, she and her husband, Ervin, launched Merry Gardens, a greenhouse that grew to be one of the largest mail-order houses of rare plants. The Rosses were passionate about horticulture education and welcomed visits from aspiring gardeners. Mary Ellen hoped those lessons would continue
at Merryspring Nature Center, a preserve on the boundary of Camden and Rockport that she founded in 1974.

This year, Merryspring celebrates 50 years of preserving Mary Ellen and Ervin’s legacy. The hidden gem in midcoast Maine is now visited by about 12,000 gardeners and nature lovers each year. “People come here to look at the gardens, take classes, volunteer, or just go for a walk in the woods,” Merryspring managing director Toni Goodridge says. “We have visitors of all ages.”

Open daily from dawn to dusk, with free admission, the park is home to an arboretum of native trees, meadows, gardens, a vernal pool, and four miles of interconnected trails. “We also have a fairy village with forts and houses that kids love working on,” Merryspring program director John Fromer says. Merryspring hosts around 1,200 young people each year through school visits, scheduled programs, and summer ecology camps.

workshop attendees at Merryspring Nature Center
Photo courtesy of Merryspring Nature Center staff

The gardens are the centerpiece. The herb garden includes culinary staples, medicinal herbs, and plants for dyeing fabric. The Maine Daylily Society has a daylily garden, and the horseshoe-shaped Ring Garden includes annual and perennial beds. A new shrub border was planted last year, the rose garden will be refurbished this year, and a native-pollinator garden is in the works.

The four miles of forest and meadow trails are outfitted with shaded benches so that visitors can linger. “There are a lot of places in this area where people can go for long, extended hikes,” Fromer says. “Merryspring is compact and easy to access. Visitors can go for a walk in the woods for an hour or two.” Merryspring is also popular with birders, especially during the spring migration, because its woods and meadows offer a high number of nesting sites.

To fulfill Mary Ellen’s vision, Merryspring’s education outreach program works with teachers to develop field trips with lessons on pollinators and soil science, as well as weather, astronomy, and native-plant and tree identification. The center hosts family-friendly ecology walks and two weeks of summer day camp. Adult education opportunities include talks from leading experts in ecology, conservation, and horticulture as well as workshops on animal tracking, apple-tree pruning, mushroom foraging, and more.

Merryspring will ring in its anniversary with a members-only reception on Friday, July 19, followed by a free Family Fun and Open Garden Day open to all on Saturday, July 20. Saturday’s festivities will include the burial of a time capsule containing news stories, memorabilia, and seeds. Fromer says, “It will be fun for somebody to dig it up 50 years from now.”

For more information on Merryspring Nature Center, visit 30 Conway Rd., Camden. 207-236-2239.