The arrival of spring is very quiet in Maine. It took me a couple of years to recognize and appreciate the swelling of catkins, the blossoming of fuzzy pussy willows and the blushing reds worn by deciduous forests as the red maple flowers start to bloom. The scent of the sea awakens the senses as the water warms and the rockweed is revived after a long winter freeze. Native flowers start to emerge, but we have to look very closely at the tiny leaves which emerge donned in purples and reds, camouflaged against the soil. This is the fourth year we have started growing our native plants from seed, and the first wave of plants are now established, sending out new tendrils of growth underground to fill in available space. Finally the plants are able to establish ground and deter weeds on their own! Last fall, new seeds were sown in the gaps created by a final weeding of the flower beds. As the first seeds start to germinate, we are mindful to keeping these areas of slow growing seedlings well weeded until they too gain a foothold. Spring snow will still occasionally blanket the earth, and the added moisture encourages these natives to burst forth in May despite the cold in April.
The first season at the SEED barn involved a lot of work taking down invasive plants and folding them back into the earth in a Hugelkultur fashion. Mid way through the season, the Blue Hill and Brooklin Garden Clubs visited the grounds in a demonstration on how we are using available materials to build Hugelkultures. Conversation on why it is important to address invasive plants ensued since many invasives are initially introduced as decorative garden plants. Bringing attention to the fact that many nurseries, especially in the big box stores, continue to sell invasive plants is important to know for avid gardeners. Below, we see an example of a Hugelkultur bed in the second season as new plants become established. An introduction to the SEED Library offered members new ideas on what native plants could potentially be worked into the landscape. The tour ended with a description of how to tie in an aquaponic system into the small scale terracing approach developed by grandpa in the new greenhouse.
When we purchased the 1835 house and barn built by John Cheever, the barn was sagging and at risk of needing to be torn down. The previous owners had poured a new foundation for the main house, but the barn was in sad shape. A big reason for buying this home was the barn space, so we felt it was worth saving. The lofty space is relatively cozy for a barn with a dramatic stone fireplace that had been added later. The way the wood was put together evidenced mastery of material expressed by the shipbuilder who constructed it. We also felt the space would be improved by playing more to the surrounding water, so we took measures to bring the outdoors in through large openings cut into the walls as set of three tall windows facing Conary Cove and four sets of French doors. The double glass doors open to the patio, a new front porch built as a formal entry, and the typical raised bed greenhouse designed by Peter Leonard (grandpa). Through her career of owning a boutique Denver Real Estate firm, Sonja Leonard Leonard (grandma) took on multiple renovations of old houses. She developed a refined sense of preserving the historic characteristics of a house, while updating the style of living to fit today’s taste and standards. As with other properties in Denver and Taos, we collaborated as a family to determine the interior architectural design as well as the finishes to make the cohesive space.
The wooden interior of the barn is rich with history, as if the antique planks of wood held the stories of generations of families who shared the space. We wanted to preserve the ancient wood, but we also wanted to extend the season in which we could comfortably use the space, so we framed the outside of the barn to add insulation. This allowed us to mount a set of solar panels on the south side, above the greenhouse. The greenhouse offers passive solar heat gain which warms the space through the colder seasons. While it’s not enough to dwell comfortably without extra heat from the renai, it certainly takes the edge off while leaving it cold enough to preserve the seeds we are working with as part of the SEED barn. We then shocked the community by choosing a soft, sea green color for the exterior. The response from our neighbors being, “We don’t paint barns green here.” Typically people don’t cut giant holes in their barn either, so we dismissed it as simply being from ‘away’.
We had a LOT of dirt from excavating around the perimeter of the barn. In order to provide a bit of protection from road noise, we stretched out the pile along the front of the house as the foundation of the garden intended to be a living seed library for native plants that would be used in restoration work around the peninsula. using the excavator to place the large stones that came out from under the original floor, a layer of ‘good’ dirt was delivered and spread over the fill to provide a nourishing hold for the new plants. The high clay content of soil from this land provide moisture even through dry seasons, so it is a nice balance to establish a new garden.
Vast expanses of lawn cropped short surrounds most homes in rural Maine. While it is a sought after aesthetic for many old timers, it is not a landscape that offers support for local wildlife. For pollinators, lawn is a vast desert with little in the way of food or shelter. In this windy place by the sea, it meant that we had few pollinators dwelling here. Known as the ‘Manor House’, the family who sold us the property practiced this common but ecologically disruptive way of landscaping. Not only does it lack protection for wildlife, it consumes quite a lot of gas to keep it maintained. We have focused on changing this method of working with the land to cultivate pollinator friendly spheres around our new home.
Grandpa has always prioritized his greenhouse, building them in urban settings as well as rural ones, and he even designed his dream-house as a casita wherein the greenhouse took up a third of the floorplan. Here we can see his first mark to disrupt the overwhelming expanse of lawn. Ultimately, a new foundation needed to be dug for the barn in order to save the structure. We trailed that dirt across the front of the property as a large berm which doubles as native plant garden and protection from road noise. After building the greenhouse, the lawn has been steadily shrinking as we build berms, sink hugelcultures and roto-till swaths of grass to explore various methods of meadow restoration and cultivation of nourishment by the sea.