A Blooming Windfall

June garden bouquet of peonies and poppies

June garden bouquet of peonies and a poppy

When we decided to buy a house in Maine, we drew up a wish list. About the only thing on that list that we didn’t get was a garage. But we more than made up for it with two things that were so far above our expectations that they weren’t even on the list–a view that continues to astound and a perennial garden.

The perennial garden was an unexpected windfall.IMG_1296We’ve never stayed in one place long enough to invest in a perennial garden. Imagine how I felt to suddenly have a ready-made garden ready to unfold.IMG_1739

When we moved here at the end of May, there were a few flowering tulips and lots of emerging plants and shoots.

The garden in May.

The garden in May.

I recognized some of the shoots, our realtor recognized others, but some were a complete mystery. An early visitor advised that we take it slowly the first year and–for the most part–leave the garden alone to see what evolved. Who knows, what might appear to be a weed in June could turn out to be a spectacular September bloomer.


Early June

Late June. The peonies were spectacular.

Late June.



It was wise advice. The big artichoke-looking plants, for example, didn’t produce anything like artichokes but instead sent up stalks with prickly orbs, that then became covered with tiny blue flowerets covered with bees. These exquisite, whimsical blue-globe thistles were our favorites. IMG_1060We also were puzzled by vigorous stalks with graceful, but vaguely marijuana-like leaves. Could our predecessors have peppered a few marijuana plants in the garden? The plants didn’t look quite like marijuana, but they didn’t resemble any flowering plants that I knew. I little internet research suggested they were cleomes. And a few weeks later that was confirmed by the delicate but stately-spidery blooms that climbed up the stalks for weeks and weeks.IMG_2052

I realize that we will never have this experience again. We were the fortunate recipients of someone else’s garden, a blooming, living testament of their vision, taste, and labor. I felt a bit like Mary Lennox in one of my favorite childhood books, “The Secret Garden,” navigating the wonder of an unknown garden.IMG_0868

Every week brought us something new. Irises, yes, but what kind? Oh, sweet, vivid deep-blue Siberians. IMG_0695A perennial garden is personal. It reflects the gardeners who planted it. We only briefly met the previous owners of this house, but learned something about them through watching this garden unfold.IMG_2076

They thoughtfully designed the garden for continuous blooming throughout the growing season.







They took account of color contrasts

Daisies almost smothering lavender

Daisies almost smothering lavender


and texture contrasts.IMG_2600IMG_2668IMG_2646

They designed for low-maintenance–no finicky, fussy plants–all well-suited for the site and (except for a few lilies) pest and disease resistant. I appreciated that the garden was clearly designed to attract pollinators and to provide food for birds. We were inundated with butterflies, moths, all kinds of bees and wasps, and an excited group of hummingbirds all summer long.IMG_0599IMG_1120IMG_2631

Finally, they didn’t forget fragrance and included lilies and moon-flowers to intoxicate the night air. Actually the moon-flowers, Datura (a potent hallucinogen), are a bit finicky this far north, strumpets in this Maine garden. Their large, tropical-looking buds slowly unfurled to fragrant white trumpet blossoms, that then became spiky seed pouches. All new to me and I loved this plant at every phase.

Datura buds and furled blossom

Datura buds and furled blossom.  Check out the Cleome marijuana-like leaves on the left.

Sweet-smelling blossom unfurled

Sweet-smelling blossom unfurled

Blossoms turn to seed

Blossoms to seed

Aside from a few tweaks, we will keep this garden as it is. We will add more perennial beds later, but will keep this windfall garden much as we received it.

Our October garden bouquet

Our October garden bouquet

21 thoughts on “A Blooming Windfall

    • Yes, it feels like an ongoing gift. Better than receiving beer of the month–we had new surprise plants and blooms every month. This is a good growing area, we definitely have an extended season here on our hillside perch. We just had our first frost two nights ago. Time to put the garden to bed.

  1. We can identify with finding such a garden. Ours, though, has been a continuing voyage of discovery, since all was overgrown with brambles, a neglected neighbour’s lonicera hedge, weeds, and self-seeded trees. Well worth it

    • You have made amazing transformations in your garden. We had one super invasive clematis that I’ve been trying to control all summer, but otherwise this garden was well-behaved. We will be carving out new gardens and an orchard over the next years. It’s all fun and, as you said, well worth it.

  2. That is a garden obviously created with love and passion and a lot of garden knowledge by the previous owners. I can imagine they were so happy to have you buy and cherish their beautiful garden. What a great year of discovery it has been as all those perennials slowly came to life. It is a delight for me that you have shared it with us. No wonder you are not wanting to travel at the moment you may miss something coming into blossom.

    • Yes, the previous owners very thoughtfully created this garden (their renovations of the house were likewise thoughtful). I imagine it was wrenching to let it go, but we told them that we loved to garden and would take good care of the perennials. I hope it helped. This first year, we have found it hard to leave this place for even short trips. It’s been like a continual vacation just to be here.

  3. Wow – what a gardening gift you received along with a house to call home. The skills of the previous gardener are certainly evident. Enjoy!! Now you need to think about that garage with winter coming. LOL We have one car in a garage and one out and every time I have to clean the one outside I swear I’m going to sell it just so I don’t have to clear it off all winter. 🙂

    • I know–a house AND a gorgeous garden. On top of that, we have old apple trees, a rugosa hedge, and about eight varieties of lilacs, which bloomed for almost two months. I continually mentally thank all the gardeners who enriched this property.
      I’m not looking forward to scraping the cars this winter! At least we are retired and don’t have to get up early to go to work. The garage is going to have to wait. A sauna and greenhouse come next. Although we may be singing another tune by spring.

  4. Wow, what a wonderful display. They obviously put an enormous amount of thought and love into their garden and it’s great that you guys are appreciating it now too. Zoe also looks pretty happy it! Enjoy!

    • I don’t think that the former owners could have found anyone that would appreciate the garden more than us. You are right about Zoe. She loves this place and sits on the lawn surveying her domain whenever we are outside. I’m looking forward to hearing about your new purchase.

  5. What a wonderful bonus to get with your house. I am envious of your beautiful garden. I started from scratch, and although I have been working on my garden for more then 20 years, it doesn’t yet have the mature beauty of yours.
    I have no doubt that the previous owners were relieved to pass on their garden to someone who would appreciate it and care for it. A good friend of mine sold an urban townhouse with a beautiful pocket garden that she had created. She didn’t feel that she could take any of the plants from the garden with her because it seemed like such an important feature of the house. But the new owners didn’t feel that way; she was heartbroken when she learned that they had torn it all out and replaced it with a paved patio.

    • Yes, we are so fortunate. Funny, but I feel a responsibility to keep this garden going much as it was envisioned. It’s a bit as if we’ve adopted a living creature. I felt terrible when we cut down some cedars and a magnolia from the garden, but the nearby apple trees had cedar rust and the magnolia was outgrowing the garden and blocking our view. So down they went, but not without a few heartfelt “sorry”s from me.

      Your poor friend. I wonder if the new owners felt any pangs when they destroyed her garden. When you sell a house, you hope that what you have planted will live on, but you never know–even with bulbs and bushes. So many people don’t want to be bothered with gardening and some just view plants as messy nuisances.

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