At Fryeburg Harbor Antiques & Fine Arts, the garden might just be the grandest canvas of all. An exclusive excerpt from a new bo
From the road there is no evidence of a garden. What you will notice is a little white Greek Revival farmhouse with a painted wooden sign in the neatly mowed front yard. At the base of the signpost, bright gold rudbeckias bloom amid delicate pink lacecap hydrangeas. Against the house, massive flower heads of PeeGee hydrangea glow their green-white of high summer. A handwritten card tucked into the screen door reads, “Give a shout — we’re in the garden.”
Fryeburg Harbor Antiques & Fine Arts is the venture of ceramic artist and gardener Eric Schottin and his partner, Joe Ferigno, a painter, interior designer, and educator. The shop, opened in 2003, is a finely tuned mix of antique treasures, expertly upholstered furniture, and Ferigno’s bold and joyful paintings. Exploring the artfully decorated rooms alone would be worth the trip, but you would miss the best part.
An endless variety of scale and texture envelops you the moment you set foot in this magical space. Where other gardeners might plant a handful of a single plant, Schottin plants by the dozen and introduces unlikely pairings with astonishingly beautiful results.
It doesn’t seem possible that just twenty years ago this ground was barren of all but a few swamp maples. The stone paths seem worn down by generations of farmers on their way to the fertile fields of the Saco River valley. Even the little pond, dug just a few years ago, suggests a long and mysterious history. And the way this garden is bounded on two sides by a feathery wall of Norway spruces and overhung with the many-fingered canopy of pine, maple, oak, and ash sets it in another time.As art students at Rochester Institute of Technology, Schottin and Ferigno were drawn to the beauty and culture of southern Maine. For Schottin, the attraction to the Fryeburg area was visceral.
The beautiful little brick farmhouse they now call home has undergone significant restoration at Schottin’s and Ferigno’s skilled hands. Defining the size and shape of the garden was an exercise in discipline. For several years different parts of the fifteen acres were put to varying uses. At one point Schottin and Ferigno planted a large perennial garden from which they sold bedding plants and freshly cut flowers. But back surgery made it impractical for Schottin to spend the time needed to tend the perennials. Most of the original perennial garden was given back to nature, and a self-imposed limit was put on the size of the gardened space.
Measuring only fifty by sixty feet, this space is the ideal counterpoint to the giant species that grow within its bounds. The leafy outer wall of evergreen is a visual and a mental perimeter.
Schottin’s skill at evoking a sense of history grew out of his first experiences designing gardens for others. Several years ago he was asked to restore the gardens at the Tate House, a pre-Revolutionary house museum in the historic Stroudwater district of Portland. The success of the Tate House garden led to six years of living and working at the Marrett House museum, in Standish, where Schottin rebuilt the extensive early-twentieth-century perennial gardens to their original splendor. He credits this work for his in-depth knowledge of uncommon plant species and his skill at designing spaces where these plants conjure a time long past.
With no formal training in horticulture, Schottin relies on his uncanny ability to remember virtually everything he learns about gardening. In early spring Schottin scavenges commercial greenhouses for plants that have over-wintered. The fact that they have survived untended throughout this long, cold period is a testament to their hardy nature. Once transferred to his own greenhouse, Schottin can nurture them until it is time to plant them outdoors. These resilient specimens are used to make the “instant” grand statements that are the hallmark of this garden.
Schottin is first attracted by foliage. Bloom season also strongly influences his choices. The spring view from the upstairs windows shows the puzzle-piece structure of the garden design.
But it’s late July through August when the gardens are their most spectacular.
But the true secret to the success of his gardens is this: Schottin refuses to follow any rules, even self-imposed ones, when he is designing for himself or his clients. He believes that anyone can be a better gardener by creating something truly personal. Pink and orange and purple and blue all cohabit harmoniously if the structure, size, and placement of the plants are given priority. Instead of a single Coleus variety, Schottin plants a crazy quilt of speckled green, tricolor orange, and deep magenta. Then he calms it all with the broad gray-tinged leaves of ‘Hadspen Blue’ hosta.
From November to March, Schottin abandons his garden for the winter warmth of the pottery studio. He was drawn to pottery by the same force that drew him to gardening: the urge to coax beauty from nature’s primary element, earth.
Ferigno’s involvement in the living landscape ranges from assisting Schottin with design to pruning storm-ravaged foliage. Because Ferigno is a special education teacher, his schedule grants him free time when the plantings are at their most spectacular. He produces anywhere from ten to fifteen paintings of the gardens each year, some of which he sells in the shop or in galleries around the region. Other paintings adorn the walls of their house — a constant reminder that Maine’s shortest and most anticipated season is never far off.
Giants in the Garden
Actaea (formerly Cimicifuga racemosa) These shade-loving perennials can grow to eight feet in ordinary well-drained soil. Long spikes of tiny, very fragrant white flowers appear in late summer. The textured split leaves of some varieties are deep purple. Hardy to Zone 3.
Joe-pye Weed (Eupatorium purpureum) An elegant, long-legged perennial with fragrant flower heads that bloom in late summer. This six-foot beauty, perfect for the edge of woodlands, thrives in moist soil in sun or part shade. Zones 4–8.
Elephant Ears (Colocasia esculenta) The tuberous bulbs of this three- to five-foot tropical plant can grow in northern climates if they are dug and stored for the winter. They prefer shade and rich, organic soil. Show them off as border plants or in large containers. Perennial in Zones 8–10.
Excerpted from The Inspired Garden, published by Down East.