A Family Affair

A Jefferson garden grows — and grows — with contributions from friends and relatives.

By Virginia M. Wright
Photographed by Mark Rowe
The purple and white miniature foxgloves are a gift from Phil and Julie. The white lilac is from Al and Eleanor. Florence contributed the sweetly scented lily of the valley and the silvery-edged youth-and-old-age groundcover. The lemon-yellow daylilies that are here, there, and everywhere are from Nancy, which is fitting because she is the one who started it all.

“Most of the perennials have been given to us by family and friends,” says Mark Rowe of the gardens he tends with his wife, Kathy. “We walk through the gardens and we know exactly who gave us what.”

The Rowes live in the small, pastoral town of Jefferson, located about midway between Rockland and Augusta. Their house was built as a horse barn on the western shore of Damariscotta Lake in the 1920s by Kathy’s late first husband’s grandparents. Some years later, his parents moved it across the road to its current location and converted it to a home. The yard is sweeping and relatively flat — a tempting canvas for people who like to plant beautiful gardens. Over the past 16 years, the Rowes have transformed this formerly grassy expanse into one dotted with flowerbeds that attract the butterflies, hummingbirds, and songbirds that Mark, a retired portrait photographer, likes to shoot.

That was not, however, what they had in mind back in 1999 when they began tidying up the lone small flowerbed that had been planted by Kathy’s late mother-in-law, Nancy Brown. But Nancy’s daylilies needed to be divided, and the new plants had to go somewhere, and so the garden grew.

Then Kathy’s parents, Al and Eleanor Nisbet, offered their own gardens’ offspring — shasta daisies, red bee balm, hostas, and more — and the flowerbed grew some more.

Next, along came Kathy’s aunt and uncle, Arthur and Cynthia Johnson, with purple bearded irises, Mark’s stepmother, Florence Rowe, with spiky yellow loosestrife, and friends Phil and Julie Taylor with those miniature foxgloves. And so it went over the next few years, until the garden stretched a few dozen sinuous feet on either side of a grassy path.

“We went crazy,” Mark admits. “We had no plan. We just kept expanding.
A lot of it is trial and error, hope and poke. We split a lot of stuff, and we move a lot of stuff.”

As the plants begat plants, so too did the garden beget gardens. The path through that first flowerbed leads to a big, circular garden that has been planted around a tall cairn that Mark built with rocks plucked from an old stonewall in the nearby woods. Here grow coneflowers, balloon flowers, black-eyed Susans, false sunflowers, and, from Kathy’s parents Al and Eleanor Nisbet, red, purple, and white phlox. Around Mark’s studio-turned-guesthouse grow Florence’s ornamental oregano, Arthur and Cynthia’s hollyhocks, and Kathy’s cousin Margaret Linton’s Stella D’Oro daylilies. Several smaller gardens are scattered mazelike in front of the Rowes’ house, and Mark is often at the window with his lens trained on the bluebirds, catbirds, waxwings, and orioles that fly back and forth between the verbena tree and feeders.

It’s a lot to weed and mulch and deadhead, but the Rowes regard it as pleasure, not work. Good thing, because there are always more plants to divide — and that means more gardens.


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Virginia Wright

Virginia M. Wright is the senior editor at Down East.