July 25, 2010

More Gardens by the Sea

Yesterday’s forecast for Boston included oppressive humidity and temperatures near ninety. In short, a perfect day to be in Maine. And so, armed with the Garden Conservancy’s Open Days directory, we set out early in the morning for Kittery, just over the New Hampshire border.

What most people know of Kittery is the unfortunate collection of outlet malls that beckon at the first few exits of the Maine Turnpike. In stark contrast and just a few miles away, Route 103 hugs the coastline, offering a picture postcard view that has changed little in half a century. The Conservancy put together three gardens in Kittery, two of them on the ocean and the third on a marsh with ocean views. Herewith, a report, alas, without photos of the first garden.

What more do you need to say about a garden whose owners are thoughtful enough to provide live music for your enjoyment? Four generations of one family have lived for roughly 90 years at what is now a compound on Pepperell Cove, with generous views back to the Piscataqua River. A common garden binds what is probably five acres, three homes, a pool house and a wonderful, freestanding English greenhouse. The gardens are heavy on lilies and dahlias. They flow in a delightful pattern, following the natural contours of the land. An undulating daylily border follows the shape of the cove.

This is a garden that, while probably aided and abetted by outside maintenance, is definitely one individual’s vision. The identifying tags are hand-lettered and the breadth of specimens bespeaks a passion for the genus Liliaceae. The eye for the unusual also shows in the placement of specimens that punctuate the gardens. For example, on one side of the kitchen garden was a blackberry lily (Belamcanda chinensis which is not a true lily but, rather, part of the Iridaceae family). A few feet away, a pale blue Lisianthus bloomed shyly amid brassier specimens.

The music was an unexpected but welcome accompaniment. A guitarist and a keyboard/horn player offered soft, new-age-type music. There was a marvelous off-shore breeze that kept the air temperature in the low seventies. We could have stayed all day.

Usually because of a desire for privacy, the ownership and history of most Open Days gardens are limited to the names of the owners, and sometimes not even that. No so Braveboat Harbor Farm, where the legacy of Calvin and Cynthia Hosmer is everywhere. Most poignantly, there is a memorial bench overlooking the ocean. The Hosmer’s names are inscribed on the bench and, in the center, embedded in the granite, is Cynthia Hosmer’s wedding ring and the date, December 28, 1928. The Hosmers purchased the point of land in the late 1940s, spent six years clearing brush, and nearly fifty years creating a garden. While I neglected to bring a camera, I located some very nice photos taken by Karl Gercens in 2009. The middle one is of the memorial bench.

The garden, while attractive, is somewhat overwhelmed by its setting. There is a mown path to the rugged shoreline and a walk along that shoreline, from which not a single house is visible. The Hosmers were avid conservationists and deeded an easement on the bulk of their property decades ago. Instead of shingle-pile megamansions, there is only ocean, rock and a windswept meadow. What a legacy.

The third Open Days property billed itself as a ‘gardener’s garden’. It could be more correctly called a ‘landscaper’s garden’, an instantly mature garden put together at great cost within the past few years and destined to be ripped apart as the plantings outgrow their allotted spaces. It was beautiful, but it was also the least interesting of the three gardens.

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