The McLaughlin Garden in South Paris is, to make a feeble pun, growing. The existing garden will expand into the adjacent Curtis property, which nearly doubles its size. There’s precedent: More than 100 years ago, the two properties were one.
The nonprofit McLaughlin Foundation, which runs the garden, bought the next-door property in 2013. It plans to make the expanded garden look more like it did when Bernard McLaughlin lived there, “preserving and enhancing Bernard’s garden,” as Donna Anderson, executive director of the garden phrased it.
It will do so in part by incorporating some of his garden methods in both the original 4.5-acre garden and on the new 3.5-acre plot. McLaughlin bought the original property in 1936, establishing and tending a garden there for almost 60 years. He died in 1995 at age 98. (He left a son, who took some of the plants to his own property.)
The garden surrounds McLaughlin’s former home and connected barn, the earliest parts of which date back to 1840. A few years after McLaughlin died, the nonprofit was formed to protect the property from development, including a bid from Shaw’s. It maintains the garden and keeps it open to the public – McLaughlin used to allow visitors to walk through at any time.
“We want to look at Bernard’s practice of practical experimentation and celebrate that in the landscape,” Anderson said. “He was an amateur gardener, not a landscape architect, but had ideas about how he wanted people to experience the landscape.”
McLaughlin’s love of color, scent and texture were expressed in his garden in different ways in different seasons, she explained.
In the 20 years since the foundation took over, the garden has changed a lot. Plants have been added and the trees have grown, making the garden shadier.
The redesign is expected to take 15 years, including raising the money to pay for it, Anderson said. The nonprofit has already taken the first step – hiring the Saco-based landscape design firm Richardson & Associates to design the expansion. Final plans aren’t expected until later this spring. Meanwhile, I spoke with Anderson about some of the ideas under consideration.
One thing is certain: the house on the Chase property will be torn down. When that home was expanded in the 1950s, some support beams were cut. “To call it sub-par structurally is being kind,” Anderson said.
Beyond that, the foundation is leaning toward using the part of the Curtis property closest to Route 26, which is South Paris’s Main Street, for parking, a visitor center, a cafe and perhaps a greenhouse. The rest of the property – much of which is steeply sloped and wooded – would be devoted to plants and other aspects of gardening.
The natural springs in the garden may be deployed to create water features, such as ponds or waterfalls. Small (or pocket) gardens and gazebos may be added at the back to provide views and allow observation of birds and other wildlife. A children’s garden, perhaps with a fort or fairy houses, may be incorporated. And an area will be earmarked for Kristin Perry, the longtime horticulturist at the garden, giving her space to experiment with plants and do other work.
McLaughlin was an iris collector and a member of the Maine Iris Society, so an iris garden is also on the table, Perry said, as well as a place to display historic plants that McLaughlin collected, including daylilies and hosta.
The expanded McLaughlin Garden isn’t intended to compete with the larger and more heavily visited Coastal Maine Botanical Garden in Boothbay, Anderson said. “We see ourselves as a complement to them. Everything that happens here you could do at home. We are more intimate and home-related.”
The McLaughlin garden and mine have a lot in common – although the house there is older and the property larger. But we both have intensely planted areas and some areas left to woods. I’ll be stopping a few times a year to see how the renovation progresses. And I intend to steal some of their ideas – especially since Anderson said that’s part of the garden’s purpose.
Tom Atwell is a freelance writer living and gardening in Cape Elizabeth. He can be contacted at 767-2297 or at: [email protected]