City gardens require a different approach from suburban gardens. The space is smaller, and separation from the neighbors is often more of a concern in urban gardens.

Tony Elliott of Snug Harbor Farm in Kennebunk understood how to create a small garden for busy people when he created the garden that is part of the Portland Symphony Orchestra Designers’ Show House at 149 Western Promenade.

Although Elliott did some work on the property before the Hamlen House was opened as the show house, much of his work was done eight years ago, before the current owners, Ed Gardner and Steve DiMuccio, purchased the property.

“The previous owner saw a garden I had done and asked me to design this one with the same flavor,” said Elliott, who has been in business 20 years.

The owners were busy people who wanted a backyard with some privacy, wanted a calming garden where they could relieve some of the stress of the day and, as good cooks, wanted a kitchen garden.

“It is supposed to be a green and white garden, peaceful and serene, where the owners won’t have to do any gardening when they get home,” Elliott said.

The backbone of the garden is a stone wall that stands about 6 feet tall with a gray spindled fence another couple of feet tall on top.

The wall is at least half hidden by huge Tardiva hydrangeas, a close relative of but more striking than the older PeeGee or paniculata grandiflorum hydrangeas. Elliott planted those when he created the garden for the previous owners.

The other statement plant in the backyard, as well as the front yard, is a plant I think I have never seen — Eupatorium capillifolium. It stands about 5 feet tall, and is a bright green and looks at first glance like a larch or evergreen.

“This is an annual that we have been growing for years,” Elliott said. “When it gets a little frost it turns a beautiful burgundy.”

When I went online to check the spelling, I discovered that in parts of the South some people consider the plant, with the common name dog fennel, a weed or even invasive. That would not be a problem in Maine, unless global warming moves a lot more quickly than I think it will.

The kitchen garden has brick walks in the shape of a cross, for small plots separated by the brick. In the center of each plot is a passionflower, a tropical plant treated as an annual in Maine, climbing a wooden trellis. Around the passionflower are bright hot peppers — a different color in each plot, from yellow to orange to red and purple — and a variety of herbs.

Against a wall is an espaliered pear tree that actually produces some good-sized pears. Espalier is an old technique of training fruit trees along a fence, often against wall, so there are horizontal branches that get a lot of sun. Elliott created that for the previous owners, but he had to do some extensive pruning before the show house opened.

Elliott also created what he called a small Zen garden on a corner of the house, with a statue, a Japanese maple, a fall sedum and some other plants.

The garden by the sidewalk in front of the house was created for the new owners, and partly because of the show house.

“I knew there was going to be a tent out there a lot of the time, and I wanted to create another layer for people to enjoy in the front yard,” he said. “They have a lot going on in the front yard as far as the view and everything, while the back yard is supposed to be serenity.”

The show house closes today, so if you want to see it you have to act quickly. But if you miss it, go see Snug Harbor Farm at Route 9 Lower Village in Kennebunk or visit

Tom Atwell can be contacted at 781-6362 or at:

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