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SAVORY Explores: Guardians of the Seeds

Theresa St. John Headshot

Theresa St. John

Aug 29 2023
Guardians of the Seeds

Guardians of the Seeds – Reconnecting with nature on a mystical, magical walk with trolls.

Booth Bay Harbor, Maine, is a popular year-round tourist attraction for a myriad of reasons; its numerous shops are filled with items you won’t find back home, it boasts a variety of restaurants that rival the cities and towns nearby, it offers the freshest seafood, fishing opportunities, art galleries, and so much more. One of the state’s taglines is #welcomehome, and I can see why.  

From May 1st to October 22nd, the Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens is a place you won’t want to miss when traveling through what New Englanders like to call ‘Down East.’  Set on more than 300 acres, this Botanical Garden offers an escape into nature’s beauty – encouraging an enchanting reconnection between visitors and the fragile earth around us. And during the holiday season, they invite people to enjoy their Gardens Aglow celebration – where over 750,000 LED lights are strung through 14 acres of the property’s central gardens.     

The garden’s Native Butterfly and Moth House, located in a 2,160 square-foot Gothic-style hoop house, something I’d never heard of before, allows one to view each stage of the pollinator’s growth. Others can watch honeybees carry out their everyday chores – like gathering food and water for the colony or cleaning their hive when they visit the Learning Apiary and Native Bee Exhibit 

The Lerner Garden of the Five Senses might be small – less than an acre in size, but it creates a fantastic oasis that appeals to sight, smell, touch, taste, and sound.  Visitors can meander through paths of fragrant herbs and flowers and walk over bridges that offer panoramic views of the gardens and fountains. There are even edible fruits, vegetables, and flowers throughout. My favorite section of this garden was the large area where we could sit and relax, listen to frogs croaking, birds singing, and the sound of water – it was incredibly peaceful and filled me with a sense of calm.

Guardians of the Seeds
Pictured: Lilja

World-renowned Danish artist Thomas Dambo, based in Copenhagen, Denmark, is known for his recycled artwork and activism – and today, his trolls can be found worldwide! When COVID-19 hit, the projects he’d been commissioned to start were canceled; instead, he had to return home from Puerto Rico, quarantining for fourteen days and staying put for months on end – like the rest of us. The promise of 2020 becoming the most jam-packed year of his art career was now up in the air. Who knew what was going to happen with the pandemic in full swing? 

The artist and his team had planned to build 25 sculptures all over the world – including Australia, Burning Man, and the Olympics in Tokyo. In the blink of an eye, everything was called off, and the uncertainty was killing him.    

“I hardly ever get depressed, but this was a tough time,” he says on a YouTube video. “Was I going to be able to keep my workshop? How was I going to pay my bills? Would I have to let my assistants go? It was a hard place to find myself.” 

Thomas says that whenever he faces a challenging situation, he turns to building, creating something with his hands. He was determined that if his business was going to fail during COVID-19, it would be while he was doing something he loved – and this is where he came up with the idea of ‘The Journey of the Giant Troll Folkfest.’ He’d begin with a 10-piece, nationwide, Coronavirus-Friendly Treasure Hunt – featuring his giant trolls hidden in the wild all over Denmark. Unfortunately, all the wood he’d put aside for the project was taken by someone who “probably thought it was recycled wood no one needed, that it had simply been discarded on the side of the road.” It was another blow to his mental state at the time. “I had no budget for more recycled materials – I needed to connect with others around me.”  

Guardians of the Seeds
Pictured: Roskva

Thomas reached out on his social media channels, asking if there were people who’d like to help, explaining what had happened, and hoping some folks would respond. The result was overwhelming! He received an enormous container filled with boards. Others offered to make cakes for the team, and hundreds of volunteers asked how they could help – willing to do whatever Thomas requested while working on the project. Someone even donated a boat! Amid the lockdown, exciting things were happening! 

“Slowly, what looked to be the saddest days of my life turned out to be the best summer in a long, long time,” The artist shared with viewers ways he could show his American wife his native country, spend quality time with friends and family, and rediscover parts of Denmark he’d forgotten over the years. “I think the point of my story is that no matter how dark and depressing it may seem, there’s always a way you can turn that negative energy upside down to channel it into something positive.”  

Five enormous trolls await discovery in the woods at Maine’s Coastal Botanical Garden. They remind us that Mother Nature stands up and fights back if we mistreat her. But, if we treat nature in a positive way, she gives us more than enough to feed our family. Each of the 20-foot sculptures, located in different parts of the garden, carries a message to the world.  

My friend and I picked up an informative map from the front desk and searched for The Guardians of the Seeds one hot afternoon in late June. The photos I’d seen on social media didn’t do them justice. I’d grown up in the woods of Massachusetts. My four sisters and I roamed the forests around our home as often as possible growing up. We spent hours creating a place we called “The Mystery Forest.” It featured a fairy’s forest, a witch’s forest, a fairy pond, miles and miles of old stone walls that marked our way, and a fallen tree named Gorgo -which we imagined could fly us anywhere we wanted to go. No wonder the Trolls fascinated me! They were magical and would fit right in with my childhood adventures!  

It’s hard to believe that these five trolls took only about two months and about 500 hours to build. Help was enlisted from one hundred and fifty people to create magical details from recycled wood. They are an excellent addition to his now 80 trolls located worldwide – in places like China, Australia, Belgium, Puerto Rico, Mexico, and South Korea. “It is good to teach people that fantastic art can be made from what would otherwise be trash.” Thomas smiles, sharing that he now employs 15 full-time team members who help him build sculptures from other people’s waste. 

While searching for the trolls, our feet covered more than five miles. There were flowers, shrubs, and trees marked with scientific names everywhere we looked. My friend adores gardening and told me she was in “seventh heaven” as we made our way through each section. We ooohed and ahhed, taking photos to share with others after our visit became an excellent memory.  

Guardians of the Seeds
Pictured: Soren

Roskva was the first giant we ran into – and it’s easily accessible to anyone who wants to get up close and personal. We saw her from across a small body of water and could tell how big she was compared to the little humans she towered over. It’s said that she stands for the tree trunks – promoting the fact that they have many lives and uses in nature. Roskva watches the four seasons and remembers every little thing that happens around her.  

Lilja is the youngest troll. Even though she is still a baby, she stands tall and holds the scent of tree flowers in her chubby hands. She’s entranced with colors and flowers and spends hours watching bees and butterflies that visit her while flying high among tree branches. When insects take pollen and nectar, they also give back to the tree. They help spread pollen, and flowers become fruit. Lilja knows that inside all fruit lies the seeds for the next generation.  

People claim that Birk holds the roots of trees and is the wisest of trolls. He knows the tree’s roots are as large and vital as their trunks and branches, which reside above ground. And in the forest where he lives, he knows all origins are connected, making it easy to signal who needs food or might be in trouble from pests and disease. Birk quietly listens to the soil and takes its secrets to other living creatures. He also love roots so much – his long, straggly beard is fashioned from them! 

We needed to wander through the garden’s Fairy Village while on our quest and were delighted to find a mysterious, magical village made by visitors’ hands. People of all ages paused, collecting items from the woods – pinecones, sticks, acorns, birch bark, stones, shells, and more- to create a tiny home for a fairy they imagined might need protection from the elements of nature. Posted signs encourage volunteers to use only items found on the forest floor – not living things you’d also find in this fantastic setting. I loved watching an elderly gentleman stooped over with age, carefully making a fairy roof with acorns and a walkway to the miniature front door with broken shells. “That looks inviting!” We called out to him. The man smiled back at us. “I hope so,” he replied. “I think a family of fairies could live there.”  

Guardians of the Seeds
Pictured: Birk

Soren was the most whimsical troll, playfully throwing his arms and legs into the air. I loved his exuberance and sense of curiosity. He believes that tree branches are alive – and that they are indeed filled with life. Numerous animals and insects call the woodland treetops home – birds fashion nests and feed their babies, while a variety of lichen, moss, and fungi can only exist with the help of the trees.  

We came upon Gro deep in the woods. Some paths leading to the trolls are steep, and good sturdy shoes are recommended. We made our way to the top of a secluded knoll, and there, this imaginative being was sitting meditatively on a gigantic boulder – I just wanted to hug her! Instantly, I felt peace and calm – like everything upside down in the world had been turned right-side up again. Folklore says Gro is a wanderer who fades away in the cooler seasons of fall and winter but reappears with the first signs of springtime. Stories tell us that Gro knows trees gain nourishment from sunlight through their leaves, which in turn feed caterpillars who feed birds, bears, and all sorts of things between the two. Gro believes leaves are magical – they can turn sunlight into food for critters in our forests! 

The map we’d grabbed contained a word puzzle. Once we learned which part of the tree each troll represented and protected, we wrote the word into the appropriate spot. When we found all five clues, we discovered the secret place seeds were held was in the heart.  

The message is this: we all need to do our part to save the environment and guard the resources we have. We need to be stewards of the earth – which is constantly changing. Spending time outside in the fresh air, sunshine, and nature helps lift our spirits and improve our moods. It also makes it easier to become healthier and more productive when we feel well. Seeing so many children running around searching for trolls, screaming with delight when they found them, sent another clear message: We need our trees, forests, and land for every future generation. Our planet depends on saving them. 

As for Thomas Dambo? He is happily creating parts of his 81st troll back home in Denmark. When he is finished – somewhere between July 27th and August 4th, 2023, he will ship and install the still unnamed troll at an undisclosed location in Teller County, Colorado. Thankfully, he has the help of five to eight team members, a few local carpenters, and five to seven daily volunteers to complete the task. Isak Heartstone, a 15-foot troll built with locally sourced scrap wood and other materials, already resides in Breckenridge. I have a strong feeling the two neighbors will become fast friends.