In Nobleboro, a Gung-Ho DIYer Reimagines Her Scraggly Midcoast Lot

And builds one very charming potting shed.

Amy Manning built and fitted out the airy shed entirely with reclaimed materials and bric-a-brac.
By Jesse Ellison
Photos by Hannah Hoggatt
From our April 2024 Home & Garden issue

Spending even a brief time with Amy Manning on her three-acre property in Nobleboro, just off Route 1, will produce the impression that she is lousy at sitting still. Manning, by her own admission, constantly bounces from project to project, and she has, over the last several years, almost single-handedly transformed the rocky, sloping, scrubby backyard of the home where she lives with her husband and daughter into something that looks straight out of a fairytale. “All of it came about because of the pandemic,” she says. “We were bored. The day they said, ‘You can’t go anywhere for two weeks,’ we said, ‘Okay, let’s build an orchard.’”

Amy Manning doing some potting in her potting shed
Amy Manning doing some potting in her potting shed. She built and fitted out the airy shed entirely with reclaimed materials and bric-a-brac.

The orchard — with its pear, apple, peach, and almond trees — turned out to be just the beginning. Manning also put in a weeping willow and weeping cherry, splashes of arboreal whimsy, and assembled a discarded cupola roof and four old windows into a display case for flowers and topiaries. When she found a free shed on Facebook Marketplace, the family hauled it to their property, turning it into a “she shed” that Manning now uses as a showroom for the antique furniture she refurbishes in her basement workshop, the clocks and coffee tables she makes out of wooden spools from the telephone company next door, and the signs and shelves she fashions from pallets otherwise bound for the dump or burn pile.

In the spring of 2021, after swearing she was done with projects for a while, Manning had a vision for a greenhouse. It was inspired not by a desire to do any actual gardening per se, but instead by a set of antique windows she’d found in Blue Hill and her boundless enthusiasm for taking on new challenges. “I wanted to build a greenhouse just to see if I could build a greenhouse,” she says with a laugh. “And now I’m like, ‘Oh, I should garden.’” The day she started building, Manning had the ground prepped and the base timbers in place and leveled by lunchtime. That fall, her husband, Randal, suddenly had to have open-heart surgery and wasn’t allowed to lift anything heavier than a gallon of milk, so she finished the project on her own. She has come to call it her potting shed.

“Really, it’s a story more than it is a thing,” said Manning, taking in the view of the almost entirely transparent post-and-beam structure from the sunlit room in the main house where she and Randal sip their coffees each morning. The only part of the potting shed sourced from a big-box store was the paint. Everything else was found in junk shops, antiques stores, and give-away piles up and down the Maine coast. There are stories attached to each timber, brick, and window, Manning says. She looks at those original windows she and her family drove to Blue Hill to pick up and remembers how, on that trip, they discovered their new favorite Thai restaurant. And when she gets out her seeds each spring to pot them at the antique workbench, she remembers how she and Randal, right after his surgery, splurged on it — a joint gift to celebrate their wedding anniversary.

These days, Manning enjoys futzing around her backyard so much — bouncing between the workshop, the sheds, the yard — she finds it hard to leave, even when her family wants to go on vacation. “They have to drag me away,” she says. She also takes pride in what she’s modeling for her daughter, Emily, who turns 21 this year. Manning hopes that someday, when Emily is out on her own and getting ready to tackle a big project “she can be like, ‘Oh yeah, I can do that. Mom used to do it.’”

May 2024, Down East Magazine

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