A ribbon-cutting and other celebratory events are set for Friday at Fort Williams Park.
A monarch butterfly flits from plant to plant, dragonﬂies dart around with the sun glinting on their diaphanous wings and a blue heron comes to rest among the cattails.
So that children could enjoy the beauty of their natural work, as well as have fun playing within that world, the new Children’s Garden at Fort Williams Park in Cape Elizabeth was created. The 1.5-acre space, located near the back of the park and adjacent to the tennis courts, includes a cascading stream, a woodland fort, rock faces to climb and bridges to cross.
There is also a newly refurbished area, called the Council Ring, which once served as a bandstand and is now envisioned as a place for storytelling and live performances.
It’s taken several years of planning and fundraising, but the garden will officially open to the public with a special ribbon-cutting and other celebratory events scheduled for Friday, Sept. 9.
James McCain, the arboretum director for the Fort Williams Park Foundation, has overseen the Children’s Garden project. He said it’s a thrill to finally see it come to fruition.
“We’ve been talking about this garden and planning for so long to finally see it in three dimensions is fun and exciting,” he said.
What he’s most enjoyed about the project was the ability to custom fit the various elements of the garden to the site chosen.
“Any doubts I had have been all laid to rest seeing people’s response” to the new garden, McCain said. Although the formal opening won’t take place until later this week, people have been able to walk through the garden as it has taken shape throughout the course of the summer.
McCain’s favorite part of the garden is the woodland area, where the designers foresee children engaging in building fairy houses, playing in the Peter Pan-type fort and tunneling under the Chinese juniper.
Entering the woodland area, with its historic white birch, red oak and ash trees, McCain said, is like “entering an oasis, where the temperature drops immediately and all is calm.”
Although the woodland area is his favorite now, McCain also foresees falling in love with the grassland meadow, which has been planted with native wildflowers specifically designed to attract beneficial pollinating insects.
He’s already seen children playing in the stream, which cascades down the slope from a small, man-made pond, to the naturally occurring, larger skating pond at its foot.
The point of the Children’s Garden, McCain said, was to create “a natural play space with playful elements to engage the kids more. There’s a deficit and a lack of such natural experiences for kids these days,” and that’s something the garden is designed to fix.
Mike McGovern, Cape’s outgoing town manager, who has overseen the transition of Fort Williams from a former military base to a popular municipal park, said this week that the new Children’s Garden would be “enjoyed by generations of children thanks to the support of so many donors who contributed” to its creation.
Molly MacAuslan, chairwoman of the Town Council, said the Children’s Garden is “another beautiful addition to the park. So many folks have worked so hard to bring it to life from a set of plans on paper and we’ll all enjoy exploring it this fall and into the future.”
While the basic elements of the Children’s Garden are now in place, McCain said that more could be added in the future, such as a proposed polished granite slide.
The garden was designed by Sashie Misner and John Mitchell of Mitchell & Associates Landscape Architects in Portland, and nearly $436,000 was raised from various sources to fund the project.
The Fort Williams Foundation raised $151,554 in grants and another $147,550 from the sale of memorial paving stones in the Council Ring, according to McCain.
The remainder came from donations from private individuals, as well as various local businesses. The foundation also held several special fundraising events that raised another $27,713.
McCain said the location of the Children’s Garden was chosen because it occupies a more secluded, quiet spot in the park “away from all the touristy” attractions, such as the world-famous Portland Head Light.
In addition to elements like the stream, bridges, a gopher tunnel and more, McCain said hundreds of new trees and shrubs and thousands of perennials have been planted.
Those plantings include “dozens and dozens of native species that will create a wave of summer color,” McCain said.
The garden has three major spaces: the “open, sunny meadow with blowing grasses and flowers,” the water elements and “a small woodland where we’ve really increased the biodiversity with a lot of New England woodland plants,” McCain said.
The garden, he said, is “a great legacy project and there’s still more to come.”
The gopher tunnel and exposed rock ledge in the Children’s Garden.
The top part of the stream in the new Children’s Garden.
A Peter Pan-type fort graces the woodland area of the new Children’s Garden.
A memorial paving stone in the Council Ring at the new Children’s Garden quotes from “The Lorax,” by Dr. Suess.
The new Children’s Garden at Fort Williams Park includes water elements, meadow plantings and more.
Levi Ready helps put the finishing touches on the new Children’s Garden at Fort Williams Park last week.
James McCain, the arboretum director for the Fort Williams Park Foundation, shows off the small, man-made pond that is one of the features of the new Children’s Garden at the park.
A stream cascades through the new Children’s Garden at Fort Williams Park in Cape Elizabeth.
A closer look
The new Children’s Garden at Fort Williams Park in Cape Elizabeth will officially open on Friday, Sept. 9, at 4:30 p.m. Bring a picnic supper and enjoy the opportunity to fully explore the new space.
The lower pond marks the transition from the wider park to the new Children’s Garden.