CAPE ELIZABETH, Maine — Fairy houses, meadow mazes and a tree fort are just a few of the features planned for a children’s garden at Fort Williams Park.
The Town Council received plans for the garden last week and will review them in late February 2014.
The two-acre garden, near the park pond and lower tennis courts, is part of the park’s arboretum project, which was conceived as a means of ridding the park of overgrowth and invasive species, but has grown to include a variety of infrastructure additions and improvements.
“The garden’s specific features are designed to engage children, so they can learn while they play, and learn about the preservation of this beautiful space we’ve all been given,” said Kathryn Bacastow, co-chairwoman of the arboretum project.
Those features include a maze-like path through a meadow; an area for stream play, including a pump to transport pond water and a biofilter to clean it; a birch tree fort that will give access to the tree canopy, and an area for building miniature wooden shelters, or fairy houses, like one on Mackworth Island in Falmouth.
A stone seating circle, created years ago by a summer camp, already exists on the site and will be used as a gathering place for school classes and other groups.
The arboretum committee chose Portland-based firm Mitchell & Associates to design the garden following a contest among local landscape architects.
Mitchell’s initial design featured a wooden lighthouse and a lighthouse keeper’s cottage for kids to play in, but they were removed from the latest concept.
“It took a lot of discussion, but we ultimately decided that we wanted something that was very clearly not a playground,” said Lynn Shaffer, the project’s other co-chairwoman. “We were calling upon our memories of childhood and the time that each of us, in our own way, spent playing in the woods and open fields, exploring and creating and enjoying being in touch with nature. We’d like this site to create that kind of opportunity for the kids who visit it.”
The cost of the garden will be paid for entirely through grants and private donations. It has an estimated price tag of nearly $530,000, which includes nearly $80,000 for a sustainability fund for maintenance and upkeep. The arboretum committee has raised between one-quarter and one-third of the total, Shaffer estimated.
The garden is one of 14 sites planned for Fort Williams Park as part of the arboretum project.
The first, Cliffside, which includes a garden amphitheater and areas for viewing Casco Bay, was completed in 2012. The second, dubbed the Lighthouse View, is set to be cleared out and replanted in spring or summer 2014. The children’s garden will be the third. It’s time-line depends on fundraising; Bacastow estimated a 2015 completion date.
In keeping with the arboretum project’s mission, several invasive species will be removed during the garden’s creation and replaced with native ones. One strain of maple tree, in particular, has proved damaging in the area to the west of the park’s pond and tennis courts, where the garden is planned.
“They tend to have very dense foliage and create a climate underneath them that is unfriendly to any but their own saplings,” Shaffer said. “So they’ll be removed and replaced by other trees that will reforest the wooded areas of the site and create the kind of diversity that promotes growth among other plants and animals.”